Sunday, August 9, 2009

Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Text and photo copyright (c) John Zada and John Bell 2009

“My whole life was preparation for this job,” says Ismail Serageldin, as he sprouts a wry smile and gazes out of his 5th story office window overlooking the Alexandria corniche.

What might otherwise seem like an unusual comment coming from a man who gave up a sparkling career in international development to return to Egypt to take up a job as the head of a library, begins to make sense as the scale of the enterprise to which he heads comes into focus.

Serageldin, a former Vice President of the World Bank and longtime socio-developmental guru is today commandeering of one of Egypt's most ambitious projects: he is the Director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, a gargantuan library-cum-cultural centre inspired by Alexandria's ancient library of antiquity.

The $220 million brainchild of Alexandria historian, Mustafa al-Abbadi, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (meaning “Library of Alexandria” in Latin), is the modern incarnation of one of the most esteemed institutions of learning and knowledge in history. The Bibliotheca, whose ancient predecessor vanished under dubious circumstances in the late Roman period, took several years to build and first opened its doors to the public in October 2002. In addition to providing Alexandria University with a top-notch research facility, the library was undertaken as part of a larger effort to reinvigorate Egypt's second city by recapturing the same spirit of learning that once made Alexandria one of the epicenters of knowledge in the ancient world..

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