The World’s Oldest Library Reopens: The Guardian

fez-libraryKhizanat al-Qarawiyyin, located in the old medina of Fez, is widely believed to be the oldest library in the world, dating back to the ninth century. It was founded by the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Once it is restored, it will be open to the public.

“‘It was like healing wounds,’ says Aziza Chaouni, a Fez native and the architect tasked with restoring the great library. …

“The must of old books permeates the reading room, and the copies feel fragile and dusty, wearied by years of disuse. Some are wrapped up to prevent them disintegrating in your hands.

“‘The people who work here jealously guard the books,’ says one of the caretakers. ‘You can hurt us, but you cannot hurt the books.’ …

“The Qarawiyyin library was…founded by a woman. In the ninth century, Fatima al-Fihri, the daughter of a wealthy merchant from Tunisia’s Kairouan, arrived in Fez and began laying the groundwork for a complex that would include the library, the Qarawiyyin Mosque, and Qarawiyyin University, the oldest higher education institution in the world – with alumni including the Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides, the great Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun, and the Andalusian diplomat Leo Africanus.

“‘It has to continue to live,’ [Chaouni] says. ‘I hope it will open soon, and the public will come and enjoy seeing the manuscripts for the first time. But I also hope that the people from Fez will use the space like a second home. The library’s value is not simply to preserve it for tourists, but that it is functioning.’

Read the full article:

Photo: Kareem Shaheen

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