Bibliotheca Alexandrina was built in 2002 as a memorial to one of the largest and most important libraries in antiquity, the Royal Library of Alexandria. The old library was burnt down and with the fire many of its books were destroyed. The modern library may not be as important and rich as the previous one, yet it’s still a large library and a major cultural center including three museums, four art galleries, a planetary and a laboratory where they rescue and fix old manuscripts. They also have a good section of children’s books which can be fun to explore if you’re on holiday with your kids.
The new Library of Alexandria, the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA), is dedicated to recapturing the spirit of openness and scholarship of the original Bibliotheca Alexandrina. It is much more than a library. It comprises the following:
The Main Library (which can hold up to millions of books) and its affiliated libraries: the Francophone Library, the Depository Library, and the Maps Library
Six specialized libraries:
Construction of the new library began in 1995 and it was officially opened seven years later in 2002. The building as it stands today is well and truly a masterpiece, and definitely worth a visit even if you have no interest in reading any books. The library has received countless donations in the form of books, manuscripts and other forms of valuable historical records. The library which was designed to hold around eight million books is essentially home to several individual libraries, along with a conference center, lecture rooms and etc. The main reading room alone covers an area of 70,000. There is also a special library for the blind and a separate library for children. In addition to all this, the New Library of Alexandria is also home to four art galleries for temporary exhibitions; fifteen permanent exhibitions; a planetarium and a sophisticated laboratory for repairing manuscripts.
From an architectural point of view, the New Library of Alexandria is truly a striking four story building. The roof of the building also has a large glass paneled section representing a sundial which has a diameter of 160 meters. This glass sundial is located directly over the library’s main reading room, 32 meters below.The walls are made from gray Aswan granite and feature carvings representing 120 different scripts. No amount of words can accurately describe the New Library in Alexandria, so anyone visiting the city should seriously try to visit the venue in person.The library is a great source of pride for Egypt, and it’s been recognized internationally as a place educational excellence. It should come as no surprise that the library even has a “book print on demand” facility which can be used by those visiting the library.
The Antiquities Museum has a well-curated exhibition of artefacts cherry-picked from sites across Egypt that romp from the Pharaonic through to the Greek and Roman periods, and into the Byzantine and Islamic eras. There's a fine collection of 2nd-century coloured funerary masks, intricately decorated mummy cases and faience blue shabti (funerary statues), and some gorgeous Greek-era statuary.
The Planetarium is a futuristic neon-lit sphere, looming on the plaza in front of the library like a mini Death Star from Star Wars. It shows 3D films focused on space exploration, the natural world and Egyptian history, all aimed at educating children, on a rotating schedule (see website). It also has an Exploratorium, as well as the History of Science Museum underneath, also targeted at groups of Egyptian school children. The museum covers the contribution to science of three key historic eras – Pharaonic Egypt, Hellenistic Alexandria and the Islamic era.
Tours of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina run every 45 minutes in English between 11.45am and 4.30pm Sunday to Thursday and on Saturdays from 12.10 to 3pm. Note that while the library has a wide range of kid-friendly activities and diversions, little ones under the age of six are not admitted to the library room. Helpfully, day care is available during opening hours.