Thursday, November 7, 2013

Alexandria Attractions: Bibliotheca Alexandrina



The Royal Library of Alexandria, or Ancient Library of Alexandria, was one of the largest and most significant libraries of the ancient world. It flourished under the patronage of the Ptolemaic dynasty and functioned as a major center of scholarship from its construction in the 3rd century BC until the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 BC. 

The library was conceived and opened either during the reign of Ptolemy I Soter (323–283 BC) or during the reign of his son Ptolemy II(283–246 BC). As a symbol of the wealth and power of Egypt, it employed many scribes to borrow books from around the known world, copy them, and return them. Most of the books were kept as papyrus scrolls, and though it is unknown how many such scrolls were housed at any given time, their combined value was incalculable. 

According to the earliest source of information, the pseudepi graphic Letter of Aristeas composed between Bc180 and 145 BC, the library was initially organized by Demetrius of Phaleron, a student of Aristotle, under the reign of Ptolemy I Soter (c.367 BC—c.283 BC). Other sources claim it was instead created under the reign of his son Ptolemy II (283–246 BC). The Library was built in the Brucheion (Royal Quarter) in the style of Aristotle's Lyceum, adjacent to and in service of the Museum (a Greek Temple or "House of Muses", whence the term "museum").    

The Library at Alexandria was in charge of collecting the entire world's knowledge, and most of the staff was occupied with the task of translating works onto papyrus paper. It did so through an aggressive and well-funded royal mandate involving trips to the book fairs of Rhodes and Athens. According to Galen, any books found on ships that came into port were taken to the library, and were listed as "books of the ships". Official scribes then copied these writings; the originals were kept in the library, and the copies delivered to the owners. Other than collecting works from the past, the library served as home to a host of international scholars, well-patronized by the Ptolemaic dynasty with travel, lodging, and stipends for their whole families.

According to Galen, Ptolemy III requested permission from the Athenians to borrow the original scripts of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, for which the Athenians demanded the enormous amount of fifteen talents (450 kg) of a precious metal as guarantee. Ptolemy III happily paid the fee but kept the original scripts for the library. This story may also be construed erroneously to show the power of Alexandria over Athens during the Ptolemaic dynasty. This detail is due to the fact that Alexandria was a man-made bidirectional port between the mainland and the Pharos island, welcoming trade from the East and West, and soon found itself to be an international hub for trade, the leading producer of papyrus and, soon enough, books.

The famous burning of the Library of Alexandria, including the incalculable loss of ancient works, has become a symbol of the irretrievable loss of public knowledge. Although there is a mythology of "the burning of the Library at Alexandria", the library may have suffered several fires or acts of destruction of varying degrees over many years. Ancient and modern sources identify several possible occasions for the partial or complete destruction of the Library of Alexandria.

During Caesar's Civil War, Julius Caesar was besieged at Alexandria in 48 BC. Many ancient sources describe Caesar setting fire to his own ships and state that this fire spread to the library, destroying it.
In 2002, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina was inaugurated near the site of the ancient library, intended as a commemoration and emulation of the Royal Library of Alexandria.  
Source: Wikipedia 


** Official website for Bibliotheca Alexandria 

  • More pictures for the modern Bibliotheca Alexandria Click here 

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