The Bibliotheca Alexandrina also known as Alexandrian Library was first built in 288 BC at Alexandria a major city in northern Egypt, about 181 kilometres away from modern day Cairo. The library had religious significance, as it was originally a temple with a huge collection of religious manuscripts and rare copies of the Qur’an.
The library became prominent when Alexander the Great made the city the capital city of his empire in 320BC. The library housed 700,000 scripts and was open to scholars from all cultures as the city was a centre of diverse cultures. History states that it was mandatory for every scholar who studied at the library to leave a copy of his or her writings. This explains the large number of books that the library held at the time. However, successive conquests by Roman emperors Julius Caesar and Thyosyos saw the library burned down and destroyed in 48BC.
In 1988, 1300 years after the library was ruined, the Government of Egypt, in conjunction with UNESCO and the International Union of Architects sponsored an architectural competition for the design of a new library. Snøhetta, a Norwegian architecture company won the competition and proceeded to design the building. Construction begun in 1994 and was completed in 2002 at a cost of about $220 million.
The new structure is located on the historic eastern harbor of Alexandria, almost exactly where the old library and the royal palace of the Ptolemies once stood. The design of the library is the shape of a tilting disc design rising from the ground reminiscent of the rising sun. The partly slanting roof of the main library is designed to allow sunlight ensuring better natural lighting. Solar sails have been installed at the ceiling to diffuse sunlight into the interior space. The roof also operates as a connecting link allowing visual access to the exterior and vice-versa.
The complex comprises three main elements: the pre-existing conference center, the planetarium and the new building. The spectacular Main Reading Hall with its elegant thin columns that create a true “cathedral” effect can comfortably accommodate 2,000 readers at a time. The building has an exterior curved wall made of granite from the Aswan region. The wall has calligraphic inscriptions in 120 languages. The library is surrounded by a moat instead of fences.
Bibliotheca Alexandrina was awarded the best construction design in the world for the year 2000 by The Civil Engineering, a British engineering and construction magazine. It also received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2004.
Image(s) source: Google Images