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Library of Alexandria

Library of Alexandria: Alexandria’s Crown Jewel

In the ancient world, the Library of Alexandria was the biggest. In the 4th century B.C., Alexander the Great built the city of Alexandria, which became the cultural and intellectual center of the Hellenistic world.

Plutarch, a Greek historian, wrote about how Alexander the Great started the city of Alexandria. He said, “They say that after he conquered Egypt, he wanted to create a big, busy town and name it after himself.

As the architects had told him to do, he had almost finished measuring and defining the site.”

When Alexander died, the city was run by the first two Ptolemies. They worked hard to make Alexandria the beautiful capital of their kingdom.

They did this by making it the best place for science and culture at the time. Ptolemy I Sóter built the Library, and his son, Ptolemy II Filadelfo, built the Museum.

These were the two most important buildings at the time. The Lighthouse, the Royal Palace, the Gymnasium, the Serapio, and the royal tombs are other things to see in Alexandria (the Soma).

The Great Library of Alexandria

The Library was the most famous and representative building in the Museum, which was a place where the best scientists and writers of the time lived and worked.

More than 500,000 papyrus rolls were on its shelves with documents about science, literature, philosophy, etc.

The most important job in the Museum was that of a librarian. It was home to some of the world’s most famous and wise people, like Zenodotus of Ephesus, who was the first to organize Greek theatre performances and Homer’s songs, Apollonius of Rhodes, Eratosthenes, Aristophanes of Byzantium, Apollonius Pantograph, and Aristarchus of Samothrace.

Callimachus of Cyrene stands out as one of these librarians. Ptolemy II gave him the job of cataloging the Library’s books. In response to this request, Callimachus, who some people call “the father of librarians,” made the “Pinakes,” which means “tables” in ancient Greek.

These were “tables of eminent people in each field of knowledge along with a list of their works,” They helped organize and catalog the bibliographic collection of the great Library of Alexandria.

This “catalog” comprised more than 120 rolls or tables that categorized the whole collection of documents in great detail. Unfortunately, none of these Pinakes have been kept, but ancient authors wrote about them, so we know they were real.

Scholars from every field of study visited this Library. They studied great people like Euclid, who made the laws of geometry; Archimedes, who found the principle of hydrostatic thrust; Hipparchus of Nicaea, who taught everyone about trigonometry and defended the geocentric view of the universe, Eratosthenes, who made a map of the inhabited world in geography, and the astronomers Timócaris and Aristo.

Library of Alexandria

The Decline Begins

Most historians agree that more than 40,000 rolls of the Library were destroyed forever in the “first fire” caused by Julius Caesar’s military strategies in the year 48 B.C.

Later, Mark Anthony rebuilt it and added 200,000 Pergamon books to it. The “second destruction” of the Library happened in the 4th century A.D., when a group of Christians led by Bishop Theophilus I broke into the building, stole things, and set fires to jewels of ancient wisdom in all areas.

Even though it went through many ups and downs, it kept its status as a great city and intellectual capital until 640 AD, when a Muslim army led by Amr ibn al-As took the city.

Tradition says that this general was the one who carried out Caliph Omar’s order to destroy the Library.

After almost 1600 years, the international community, through UNESCO, paid for a project to rebuild the ancient Library of Alexandria.

It was reborn in October 2002 to recapture the spirit of the original Alexandria Library and is located in the same place where the great thinkers of ancient times once walked.

The Norwegian firm Snohetta made the new Library look like an angled disc or a sundial.

About the author

Egypt Planners Team is a highly experienced travel agency specializing in memorable trips to Egypt. The team comprises expert travel planners and tour guides with a deep knowledge of Egypt's history, culture, and top tourist destinations.