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 By IND on March 14, 2016

The ancient al-Qarawiyyin Library in Fez, founded in 859 by a woman, is the oldest working library in the world, holding ancient manuscripts that date as far back as 12 centuries and will reopen in May after a major renovation.

World Bulletin / News Desk

The Moroccan Ministry of Culture on receiving a multimillion dollar grant requested Canadian-Moroccoan architect Aziza Chaouni the historic al-Qarawiyyin library to safeguard its contents and make it suitable for public use, according to TED, an educational non-profit organization.

The al-Qarawiyyin complex, which includes a mosque, library, and university, was founded in 859 AD by Fatima El-Fihriya, the daughter of a rich immigrant to Fez from modern-day Tunisia. Well educated and devout, she vowed to invest her entire inheritance on a mosque and knowledge center for her new home.

Well educated and devout, she vowed to spend her entire inheritance on building a mosque and knowledge center for her community. According to UNESCO, the result is the oldest operational educational institution in the world, with a high-profile role call of alumni. Mystic poet and philosopher Ibn Al-‘Arabi studied there in the 12th century, historian and economist Ibn Khaldun attended in the 14th century, while in medieval times, Al-Qarawiyyin played a leading role in the transfer of knowledge between Muslims and Europeans.


Precious manuscripts under threat

Th deteriorating condition meant precious manuscripts were under threat from the elements. “When I first visited, I was shocked at the state of the place,” says Chaouni. “In rooms containing precious manuscripts dating back to the 7th century, the temperature and moisture were uncontrolled, and there were cracks in the ceiling.” At risk: ancient volumes covering centuries of knowledge in fields from theology to law, grammar to astronomy. Although scholars were given access to the materials, the library’s deteriorating condition meant it had long been closed to the public.

Chaouni said her team took special care to revive and imitate the building’s original features, such as the fountains and the intricate “zaleej” tilework. The rebuilt library will also use sustainable technologies – such as solar panels and rainwater collection systems – to prepare it for the future.

Structural Challenges

Throughout the years, the library underwent many renovations, but it still suffered from major structural problems, a lack of insulation, and infrastructural deficiencies like a blocked drainage system, broken tiles, cracked wood beams, exposed electric wires, and so on,” says Chaouni of the practical architectural challenges she faced.

Cleaning delicate plaster carvings without breaking them was hard, too. And the project was



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