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The Library of Alexandria : Echoes of A Great Past



Egypt through Egyptian Eyes editor Adel Murad

Adel Murad

The Library of Alexandria:

Echoes of A Great Past

Professor Mohsen Zahran, manager of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, or the Library of Alexandria, has no doubt about the symbolism of the structure. "The library symbolizes the rising sun; it expresses universality. It also has the appearance of a microchip". The building indeed looks futuristic and timeless.


It is some 2,300 years ago since the Pharaoh Ptolemy built the world's first great library in Alexandria. It soon became the center of knowledge in the old world, before it burnt down in 48 BC. Many mathematical theories were conceived in the old library and, at one time it was considered the intellectual memory of the ancient world. Although, no physical trace of the old library remains, the power of its knowledge survived through the generations.

The new library is hoped to be a landmark as much as the old one was. The project was conceived more than 10 years ago, with a declaration from an international group that included renowned personalities such as President Mitterrand of France, Queen Sofia of Spain, Melina Mercouri of Greece and Mrs. Susan Mubarak of Egypt. UNESCO and some Arab states helped in funding the project, at a cost of $ 200 million.

Five of the eleven floors are below sea level, with novel solutions to guard against flooding. The competition to design the building attracted 523 entries from 77 countries. The winner was a Norwegian company called Snohetta. The theme of the winning design is said by the company to take the viewer into the past and the future. Balfour Beaty, a British construction company, built the library in a joint venture with Arab Contractors of Egypt.

The design presented many challenges to the construction team, including mounting 20-ton beams on slender columns, and positioning skylight panels so as to exclude direct sunlight. The concrete cylinder rises at an angle of 16 degrees on the Mediterranean shore. The outer wall is clad in 4,600 light grey Aswan granite panels engraved with letters from the world alphabets. Inside, the polished parquet floor is made from American white oak, the desks and tables are made from Norwegian wood. Seventy-five miles of computer cables have been installed and more than a million books have been placed on the shelves.

The library includes a planetarium, science, calligraphy, and archaeological museums, conference and exhibition halls, and conservation and restoration labs. The complete project will create a world-class research library specializing in the civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean. The stock of books will ultimately total eight million, with space for 50,000 audio-visual items. There are some 3,500 seats inside and the library will be capable of accommodating 10,000 visitors per day.

The project is not without its critics in Egypt. Some argue that the concept of a library of books is becoming obsolete in the age of the internet. Others point out that the money spent on the library could have provided for 15 hospitals. However, the project Bibliotheca Alexandrina remains a source of pride to most Egyptians, maybe as much as the old library was to the people of ancient Alexandria.

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Diving Adventures to Cleopatra's City

The sunken archaeological site in the harbour of Alexandria, named Cleopatra's City, is opening up for non-scientific divers for the first time since its discovery in 1992. There are more than 4,000 artifacts on the underwater site scattered beneath shoals of reef fish. Ancient statues, headless sphinxes and massive blocks engraved with hieroglyphics, surround parts of the lighthouse of Pharos, which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Divers will be accompanied by a marine archaeologist who will point out objects, helping to make sense of the undersea treasure. A good briefing before diving will also help divers draw a mental map of what to expect. The first trips to the site will be offered in the summer of next year (2002) by a UK based company called Regaldive (www.regal-diving.co.uk) and will combine the experience with highlights of Cairo and Alexandria.

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Egyptian Customs:

Instead of waiting for the tooth fairy, Egyptian toddlers throw their milk teeth in the direction of the sun, and sing a song asking the sun to take away the ugly tooth and replace it with a beautiful one. Some say the habit goes back to ancient times.

Types of Travel to Egypt by Jimmy Dunn

Neil Bush Family Visits El Gouna by Hazel Heyer

Party Time in Ancient Egypt by Ilene Springer

Camel Trekking in the Sinai by Joyce Carta

Nuweiba by Jimmy Dunn

Egyptian Hajj Painting by Sonny Stengle

Where Have All the Pharaohs Gone by Anita Stratos

Marvelous Melokiyah by Mary Kay Radnich

Exploring Isis by Catherine C. Harris

Never Mind, Just Crossing the Moon by Arnvid Aakre

Editor's Commentary By Jimmy Dunn

Ancient Beauty Secrets By Judith Illes

Book Reviews Various Editors

Hotel Reviews By Jimmy Dunn & Juergen Stryjak

Kid's Corner By Margo Wayman

Cooking with Tour Egypt By Mary K Radnich

The Month in Review By John Applegate

Egyptian Exhibitions By Staff

Egyptian View-Point By Adel Murad

Nightlife Various Editors

Egypt On Screen By Carolyn Patricia Scott

Restaurant Reviews Various Editors

Shopping Around Various Editors

Web Reviews By Siri Bezdicek

Prior Issues

July 1st, 2001
June 1st, 2001
May 1st, 2001
April 1st, 2001

March 1st, 2001

February 1st, 2001

January 1st, 2001

December 1st, 2000
October 1st, 2000
September 1st, 2000
August 1st, 2000

July 1st, 2000

June 1st, 2000

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