Libraries play a fundamental role in society as they are considered a gateway to knowledge and culture. The resources they offer create opportunities to learn beyond time and space. They encourage literacy and education and help share new ideas and perspectives. They are the foundational block of any innovative society.

Have you ever given a thought to when the world first started forming libraries and what are the most important libraries that ever lived? Though the Library of Alexandria wasn’t the first of its kind, yet it holds a prominent history in Egypt. The story of the rise and fall of the Library of Alexandria is much more complex and crucial for the modern world.

The Library of Alexandria was one of the largest and most significant libraries of the ancient world.

Though the library was the largest library of the ancient world, the details about it are a mixture of history and legend. The rulers of Egypt set one of the most audacious goals of history of collecting every knowledge of the world under one single roof between c. 180 and c. 145 BC. The idea of constructing the massive library first came to Alexandra the Great after he established himself as a conquerer. But he died even before the construction began.

Library Of Alexandria

His successor Ptolemy I Soter revisioned his dream and began constructing the library. He laid the groundwork for the library. The Library was built in the Brucheion (Royal Quarter) as part of the Mouseion. But more than Alexandra’s vision of empowering knowledge, Ptolemy I Soter’s main purpose behind the library was to show off the wealth of Egypt. The library was built with grand Hellenistic columns and used native Egyptian knowledge. It consists of lecture halls, classrooms, meeting rooms, dining rooms, gardens, and shelves. Ptolemy I Soter started filling the library with the collection of scrolls, and Greek and Egyptian columns.

Yet the basic idea behind the library was to incorporate all the knowledge of the world. Thus he invited several scholars from around the world to come to Alexandria at his expense to study and contribute their own manuscripts. Yet, despite the number of scholars, the library only holds knowledge from a certain part of the world. Thanks to Alexandria being the hub for Ships traveling through the Mediterranean, a lot of sailors cross the city from around the world.

Ptolemy III imposed a policy on all the ships arriving at the deck to pass only if they turn their books for copying. Once the library scribbles the texts, they sent the copies back to the ships. This way, the rulers managed to add thousands of scripts and scrolls from most of the world. But this thriving knowledge also attracted book hunters in search of new knowledge. To combat this rising enemy, Alexandria ended all of their exports of the Egyptian papyrus used to make scrolls.

This way the library attracted thousands of books and had access to knowledge like never before. But this cluster of knowledge needed segregation to allow smooth access. The great scholar named Callimachus of Cyrene made the first index. He created Pinakes of 120 volume catalog that sorted all the available manuscripts separately and made the navigation more organized.

Under several head librarians, the library thrived. Along with manuscripts, poems, prose, scientific works, and commentaries also housed the library. Some astounding discoveries made ways as the scholars found that 1600 years before Columbus, Eratosthenes recognized the earth was round and even measured a close circumference and diameter. Heron of Alexandria created the first steam engine thousands of years before the Industrial revolution. All these discoveries suggest that if the Library had survived, many of the major discoveries would have been discovered years before they actually were.

So what led to its downfall?

Library Of Alexandria

People believe that in 48 BC, Julius Ceaser accidentally burned down the library during the Civil War. His soldiers set fire to some of the ships docked at the port while trying to clear the wharves to block the fleet belonging to Ptolemy XIV. The fire reached the city from the port and burned down a major part of the library. It is believed that the fire destroyed some 40,000 scrolls from the Library of Alexandria. But the fire didn’t destroy the entire library and after the besiege of Alexandria by Ceaser, he redeveloped the library with its surviving texts.

The library slowly started vanishing centuries after when it was changed from Greek to Roman and from Roman to Christian and Islamic. All these changes destroyed the libraries as many rulers found it offensive to their culture to promote knowledge against their beliefs. Many of them even considered it blasphemy if someone tried to access the library. This way the great Library of Alexandria vanished and today only its ruins remain.

The modern idea of reviving the library came in 1974 and the UNESCO completed the project by 2002. The library was named  Bibliotheca Alexandrina and today functions as a modern library and cultural center. To honor the great and prestigious Library of Alexandria, the aim behind Bibliotheca Alexandrina is to house all the international books, manuscripts, and degrees under a single roof.

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