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Bibliotheca Alexandrina
History and Background

Mission and Objectives:

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina aims:

To be a center of excellence in the production and dissemination of knowledge and to be a place of dialogue, learning and understanding between cultures and peoples.

BA Objectives:

The unique role of the Library of Alexandria, as that of a great Egyptian Library with international dimensions, will focus on four main aspects, that seek to recapture the spirit of the original ancient Library of Alexandria. It aspires to be:

The world’s window on Egypt.
Egypt’s window on the world.
A leading institution of the digital age.
A center for learning, tolerance, dialogue and understanding.

Director’s Message:



The New Library of Alexandria, the New Bibliotheca Alexandrina is dedicated to recapture the spirit of openness and scholarship of the original Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Its mission is

to be a center of excellence for the production and dissemination of knowledge, and to be a place of dialogue and understanding between cultures and peoples.

It is our hope that the New Bibliotheca Alexandrina will be a worthy successor to the Ancient Library of Alexandria. That great Library was a unique ecumenical effort of the human intellect and imagination, and remains engraved in the memories of all scientists and intellectuals to this day.

The Ancient Library is undeniably the greatest chapter in the history of Alexandria. Our great city, founded by Alexander and home to Cleopatra, has had a remarkable history of 2300 years. It is a city of living history and renewed imagination that has inspired creative talents from Callimachus to Lawrence Durrell. In addition, the past is suddenly coming alive as underwater archaeology is bringing to light the sunken treasures of Alexandria, capturing the imagination of the world with glimpses of bygone glory.

That is the setting for the New Library of Alexandria. The beautiful new building, with its distinctive granite wall covered by the letters of all the world’s alphabets, is today a recognizable landmark of the new Alexandria.

Before we turn to the future, it is only fitting that we should salute all those whose vision and dreams launched this great enterprise more than quarter-of-a-century ago, from UNESCO to the architects and engineers, and contractors, from the management of the project to the workers who labored in the quarries, from the Associations of Friends of the Library all over the world to the eminent people who served on international commissions, from the generous Government donations to the many individual donations. All must be thanked for having brought us to this important achievement.
Above all, we salute the driving force behind this project, H.E. Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak, who has tirelessly championed the cause of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, and has charted the course for its continuing development. She presented her vision for the future highlighting the four objectives of the great enterprise.

The New Bibliotheca Alexandrina is to be:

  • The window of the world on Egypt;
  • The window of Egypt on the world;
  • An instrument for rising to the digital challenge;
  • A center for dialogue between peoples and civilizations;

The way forward is difficult and challenging. The Library seeks to establish itself as an international center of excellence. In terms of our collections strategy, we focus on: First, the Ancient Library of Alexandria, Alexandria and Egypt; Second, the Mediterranean, the Arab world (without duplicating other efforts underway) and Africa, then the rest of the world. In terms of thematic focus, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina’s specialized centers and departments undertake a number of specific projects and activities which complement and support one another in a coherent fashion. These projects all contribute to the BA’s mission.

The means to move forward is partnering with many eminent institutions of learning around the world, either in an ongoing manner or around specific events such as seminars, conferences and exhibitions. Equally important to these links with eminent institutions are the links to the civil society in Egypt and the world. It is here that the 34 Associations of Friends of the Library have an invaluable role to play.

It is also challenging to link-up electronically with the rest of world. We have already put together a complex web of agreements to bring the marvels of the digital age to all parts of Egypt and the region, and to bring the fruits of Egyptian creativity and scholarship to the new digital world of instant communications and electronic publishing.

Supported by the Council of Patrons, guided by the Board of Trustees, and in constant touch with the Friends of the Library of Alexandria, in Egypt and all over the world, the staff of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina are moving forward to build, over the years to come, an institution worthy of bearing that great name. In the words of our Chair of the Board of Trustees, we hope it will indeed be “a source of pride for Egypt and the world”.

Ismail Serageldin
Librarian of Alexandria



Reclaiming the Legacy of the BA:

First, There was the Dream…

Egypt. Land of the Pharaohs ... Gift of the Nile ... Awesome legacies of grandeur and achievement ... Monuments that defy time and reach to us across the millennia ...

To this land, 2300 years ago, in 331 BCE, Alexander the Great, Aristotle’s pupil, brought his dream of culture and conquest, of uniting the world and launching a new era. Alexander selected the site for a new capital: Alexandria. His successors in Egypt, the Ptolemies, built Alexandria, and made it the intellectual capital of the world.

The history of Alexandria is a record of the ongoing civilizations with all the cultural implications that the word means: art, music, literature and science, politics—all humanities. From the beginning, Alexandria developed rapidly into one of the world’s greatest and most influential cities and remained so for 1000 years during three successive periods of history: Ptolemaic, Roman, and Byzantine. It became Egypt’s new capital and was destined to grow into a cosmopolitan city.

Its lighthouse, the Pharos, was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

A greater legacy was the Ancient Library of Alexandria. Launched in 288 BC by Ptolemy I (Soter) under the guidance of Demetrius of Phaleron, the Mouseion, or temple to the muses, was part academy, part research center, and part library.

The great thinkers of the age, scientists, mathematicians, poets from all cultures came to study and exchange ideas.

The 700,000 scrolls, an equivalent of more than 100,000 modern printed books, filled the shelves. The Library was open to scholars from all cultures. Girls and boys studied regularly at the Ancient Library. On this very spot:

  • Aristarchus, the first to state that the Earth revolves around the Sun, a full 1800 years before Copernicus.
  • Eratosthenes proved that the Earth was spherical and calculated its circumference with amazing accuracy, 1700 years before Columbus sailed on his epic voyage.
  • Callimachus, the poet, described the scrolls in the Library organized by subject and author, becoming the Father of Library Science.
  • Euclid wrote his elements of geometry, the basic text studied in schools all over the world to this day.
  • Herophilus identified the brain as the controlling organ of the body and launched a new era of medicine.
  • The Septuagint, the first translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek, was created.
  • Manetho chronicled the pharaohs and organized our history into the dynasties we use to this day.

They, and many others, were all members of that amazing community of scholars, who mapped the heavens, organized the calendar, established the foundations of science and pushed the boundaries of our knowledge as they unleashed the human mind on myriad quests.

They opened up the cultures of the world, established a true dialogue of civilizations, promoted rationality, tolerance and understanding and organized universal knowledge.

For over six centuries the Ancient Library of Alexandria epitomized the zenith of learning. To this day it symbolizes the noblest aspirations of the human mind, global ecumenism, and the greatest achievements of the intellect. The library was destroyed over sixteen hundred years ago ... but it continues to inspire scientists and scholars everywhere.

It disappeared slowly, suffering a gradual decline from the time of Caesar and Cleopatra. Indeed, the first disaster was in 48 BCE, when part of the Library was accidentally set a fire during the Alexandrian War of Julius Caesar.

Marc Anthony offered Cleopatra 200,000 scrolls to make amends for the losses. Yet, subsequent upheavals within the Roman Empire resulted in the gradual neglect and ultimate destruction of the Library.

By 400 CE, the Library had vanished, and the era of Alexandrian scholarship came to an end a few years later. Yet, the memory of the Ancient Library of Alexandria lived on.

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