The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is a major library and cultural center located on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea in the Egyptian city of Alexandria. It is both a commemoration of the Library of Alexandria that was lost in antiquity and an attempt to rekindle something of the brilliance that this earlier center of study and erudition represented.
The idea of reviving the old library dates back to 1974, when a committee set up by the University of Alexandria selected a plot of land on the for its new library, between the campus and the seafront, close to where the ancient library once stood. The notion of recreating the ancient library was soon enthusiastically adopted by other individuals and agencies. One leading supporter of the project was President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt; UNESCO was also quick to embrace the idea of endowing the Mediterranean region with a center of cultural and scientific excellence. An architectural competition, organized by UNESCO in 1988 to choose a design worthy of the site and its heritage, was won by the Norwegian company Snĝohetta from among more than 1,400 entries. At a conference held in 1990 in Aswan, the first pledges of funding for the project were made: USD $65 million, mostly from the Arab states. Construction work began in 1995 and, after some USD $220 million had been spent, the complex was officially inaugurated on 16 October 2002.
The dimensions of the project are vast: the library has shelf space for 8 million books, with the main reading room covering 70,000 m² on 11 cascading levels. The complex also houses a conference center; specialized libraries for the blind, for young people, and for children; three museums; four art galleries; a planetarium; and a manuscript restoration laboratory.
The library's architecture is equally striking. The main reading room stands beneath a 32-meter-high glass-panelled roof, tilted out toward the sea like a sundial, and measuring some 160 m in diameter. The walls are of gray Aswan granite, carved with characters from 120 different human scripts.