In a world where eBooks and web search replace concrete libraries, the world’s oldest library still holds a critical value. Realizing the historical weight harbored by the walls of Al-Qarawiyyin library, the Moroccan Ministry of Culture approached Aziza Chaouni, a Canadian-Moroccan architect, to renovate and renew the building. Located in Morocco, the oldest library in the world which was established by a woman in 859 and now restored by another one, now reopens its doors after 12 centuries with a wing for the general public.
Al-Qarawiyyin library was established in Fes, Morocco by Fatima Al-Fihri, a rich Tunisian immigrant who was dedicated to know more about the world. Fatima initially supervised the construction of Al- Qarawiyyin mosque which also worked as an educational institution for many years. Later Al- Qarawiyyin complex expanded to include a university and a library. Today, the University was moved to another part of Fes, but the mosque and library remain at the ancient complex.
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The library is home to over 4,000 treasured Islamic manuscripts! The collection includes the original “Muqadimma” by the famous 14th century historian, Ibn Khaldun, the original manuscript of the legal system of Islam, and most importantly, the original 9th century Quran. With its deep-rooted history and its unique collection, Al- Qarawiyyin library was recognized by UNESCO as the oldest operating educational institution in the world.
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Built 12 centuries ago, the world’s oldest library suffered from climate changes, humidity and infrastructural deficiencies. By 2012, the history carried by the library was crumbling to dust, until Aziza Chaouni came to the rescue. Chaouni didn’t only restore the old building but also equipped it for the needs of the current users. She told TED that “[she] didn’t want the building to become an embalmed cadaver!” Instead, she found a balance between preserving the old and serving the new. Chaouni turned the library, which was only accessed by the privileged scholars who had formal permissions, into a place for the public to wander in.
Since Al- Qarawiyyin library was reopened in May, 2016, visitors from all around the world wandered between the book stacks, sat in the reading rooms, and talked about the unique manuscripts while sipping the coffee they got from the newly added small cafe.
With another historical fingerprint, Morocco must now stand at the top of your travel bucket list.
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