It’s National Library Week in the United States, so it’s as good of a time as any to talk about one of the world’s most famous libraries – the ancient Library of Alexandria.
After the death of Alexander the Great and the founding of the Ptolemaic Dynasty in Egypt, the Library of Alexandria was created in the new capitol to be a great repository of the world’s knowledge collected up to that point in history. At its zenith, the library’s collection of ancient scrolls may have numbered in the hundreds of thousands and ranging in subjects from philosophy to physics and astronomy to biology and medicine and much more.
The Library of Alexandria served as much more than just housing for books and scrolls though. Ancient researchers and scientists came here to study, and learned men gave lectures to students in order to pass on the acquired wisdom and knowledge of the time.
Centuries later, one of history’s greatest losses of ancient knowledge occurred when the great Library of Alexandria was destroyed by fire. Historical sources differ on whether there was one great fire or multiple fires over time that eventually destroyed the entire complex. But what’s indisputable is that the library’s invaluable collections did indeed go up in flames and are sadly now lost forever.
The modern Bibliotheca Alexandrina that sits along the corniche in Alexandria is a memorial of sorts to the ancient library and also serves as a center of modern scholarship in Egypt. It opened in 2002 and is an architectural gem overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. While the modern version will never be a replacement for its ancient namesake, it’s still a beautiful reminder of how glorious and advanced ancient Egypt was and certainly worth a drop-by when you’re in Alexandria.