Bibliotheca of Alexandria

The Royal Library of Alexandria in Alexandria, Egypt, was once the largest library in the ancient world. It is generally thought to have been founded at the beginning of the 3rd century BC, during the reign of Ptolemy II of Egypt, after his father had built what would become the first part of the library complex, the temple of the Muses—the Musaion (from which is derived the modern English word museum). The Library flourished under the patronage of the Ptolemaic dynasty. It had many names because of its greatness and the number and variety of books it contained.


It has been reasonably established that the library or parts of the collection were destroyed by fire on a number of occasions (library fires were common enough and replacement of handwritten manuscripts was very difficult, expensive and time-consuming). To this day the details of the destruction (or destructions) remain a lively source of controversy. The Bibliotheca Alexandrina was inaugurated in 2003 near the site of the old library.




Alexandria was selected by Alexander the Great as the capital of his empire in 320 BC, and it soon became the most powerful and influential city in the region. The original Library of Alexandria was founded in 288 BC by Ptolemy I (Soter) under the guidance of Demetrius of Phaleron. It was a temple to the muses (Mouseion in Greek; Museum in Latin) and functioned as an academy, research center, and library. The great thinkers of the age flocked to Alexandria to study and exchange ideas.

The original library was located in the royal district of the city, with an additional building for storage on the harbor, and a "daughter library" located in the Serapeum in the southwest part of the city. As many as 700,000 scrolls, the equivalent of more than 100,000 modern printed books, filled the shelves. The library was open to scholars from all cultures and both girls and boys. At the ancient library of Alexandria:

According to an account 100 years later, Ptolemy convened 72 rabbis to translate the Hebrew scriptures into Greek - this was the Septuagint(from the Greek word for "70"), which was the version of the Bible used by Hellenistic Jews and early Christian theologians

Aristarchus was the first person to state that the earth revolves around the sun, 1800 years before Copernicus Eratosthenes proved that the earth was spherical and calculated its circumference with amazing accuracy, 1700 years before Columbus

Hipparchus established the first atlas of the stars and calculated the length of the solar year accurately to within 6.5 minutes Callimachus the poet described the texts in the library organized by subject and author, becoming the father of library science Euclid wrote his elements of geometry, the basic text studied in schools all over the world even now Herophylus identified the brain as the controlling organ of the body and launched a new era of medicine Manetho chronicled the pharaohs and organized Egyptian history into the dynasties we use to this day Zenodotus and the grammarians established the basics of literary scholarship with their meticulous definition of the Homerian text for the Iliad and the Odyssey

It is not clear exactly when the ancient Library of Alexandria was destroyed. It was probably badly damaged by fire during Julius Caesar's conquest in 48 BC and may have been destroyed along with the entire royal quarter. during the campaign of Aurelius in 272 AD. In 391 AD, the bishop of Alexandria burned the Serapeum to the ground, which finally put the institution of the library to an end.

Plans began to resurrect the ancient library and its scholarly ideals in 1974. Initiated by Alexandria University, the idea was enthusiastically supported by the international community. In 1988, UNESCO sponsored an architectural competition for designing the new library, which was won by the Norwegian firm Snøhetta.