I’m a nerd when it comes to libraries. Anyone who knew me as a kid knew that I was obsessed with reading. Unfortunately, life gets the better of you and time is something that all too often is in short supply. My reading hours may have dwindled but tell me that there is a large library in the vicinity and I will be drawn to it like a fly to honey. Ever since I set foot in Egypt, Alexandria has been a tantalizing carrot in the distance. The reason… The Bibliotheca Alexandrina!
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina may not be the same ancient library of Alexandria, home to the largest collection of the literature in the ancient world. It still does justice to the old legacy. That however is something that I will tell you more about as I talk about what we learned in our tour of the library.
LOCATION AND ENTRANCE FEES OF THE BIBLIOTHECA ALEXANDRINA
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is located on the coast of Alexandria is at the heart of the city. The impressive building is hard to miss and is one of the most well-done buildings in the city. It stands out in contrast to the buildings around it. That doesn’t come as a surprise considering the amount of money (Cough.. Cough… $200 million!) that was invested into turning the library into a reality.
The library allows visitors to enter and tour its womb. The entrance fees for tourists is EGP 70. Interestingly enough the annual membership fees are EGP 100 for locals and EGP 500 for foreigners.
Note that the entrance fee includes a free tour of the library which I highly recommend. The tour takes place in different languages and is scheduled every 45 minutes. Our guide Nadia was exceptional and her knowledge about the library was immense! The big bonus was that she did not mind the gazillion questions I kept asking!
THE BUILDINGS THAT COMPRISE THE LIBRARY
Three main buildings can be seen in the library grounds: The Main library, The Conference Centre and the Planetarium. Each of these structures in itself are beautiful. We however had a chance to explore just the main library building and that is what we will talk about.
If you have a moment I would suggest stopping at the miniature representation of the library complex. This is where the tour of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina starts. Your guide will explain the structures and the symbolism that went into designing the buildings. I found it intriguing and fascinating. Let me try and pin down a few salient points that really blew my mind.
THE CONFERENCE CENTRE
The conference centre was designed to reflect the architecture of both ancient and modern Egypt. If you look at the roof of the Conference centre from the front, you will notice that it is shaped to form 4 pyramids. 4 columns rise up to support the roof. The roof and the columns merge gracefully to form a modern building.
The planetarium is spherical and is intended to resemble Earth. It apparently has shows that are available in both 2D and 3D formats which is so cool!
THE MAIN LIBRARY
Inside the main building of the library.
The library has a slopping roof and semi-circular wall. If you look at the wall from above, you will notice that it isn’t so much a circle as an incomplete circle. This is to symbolize that knowledge is a continuous process. The wall itself has letters written on it from 120 languages both living and dead. The letters do not form any words but rather are a symbolic part of the structure.
The gardens of the library have twelve olive trees that were brought in from Jerusalem. Olive trees have long been considered the sign of peace. The twelve olive trees represent twelve months of peace.
LET’S HEAD INTO THE BIBLIOTHECA ALEXANDRINA SHALL WE?
One thing is for sure, there is a lot of security at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Food is not allowed within the premises. We were however permitted to carry our bottle of water inside. Another couple of rules that do need to be noted is that children below the age of 16 aren’t allowed into the main reading rooms. There are age appropriate library sections that specifically cater to children. So, it does not mean that they miss out. If you are touring with a child, will have to take in turns to visit the main reading rooms. There is a viewing area where children (and you) can get a peek into what they contain though so fear not.
THE INTERNAL DESIGN
The words of Shakespeare printed into a seat!
The internal design of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina is somehow where the whole wow factor lies. I have never been to a library this size, so I may be a bit biased. The slope of the roof is designed to let light in and give the library a cheerful feeling. The ceiling slopes at a 16-degree angle but it isn’t just a single slope. This helps ensure that the light is filtered in and does not damage the books inside. It also looks pretty so it is really a win-win.
Another point to pay attention to is the walls. One of the larger walls has rectangular shaped holes in it. While it does look decorative. There is a deeper meaning behind it. These holes mimic the ones that were used in the original library of Alexandria to store scrolls. While the design is symbolic, it also serves to reduce echoes and helps keep the library quiet.
Other walls also have holes punched into them for the same purpose. This includes the bronze wall which has been polished to perfection.
WHAT’S IN THE BIBLIOTHECA?
The main building has so much in it that it totally blows my mind. With a total of 11 floors, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina houses so many different sections. From what I gathered in our short time there, this is what it holds.
- 11 speciality libraries
- 13 research centres
- 15 permanent exhibitions
- 4 museums
- A rare book restoration centre
As you can see, you can spend a lot of time wandering through the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. While, the tour itself takes just 45 minutes, try to stay for a bit longer because the it just gives you a glimpse of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. What you want to do is wander between the racks, head to the museums, marvel at the artefacts, pour over maps or maybe shop in the gift store!