A grand library by the sea (A tour of Alexandria's Bibliotheca)

By Kriti Mazumdar

When you hear the word Egypt, the first thing that comes to mind is The Pyramids. Next in line are the Pharaohs; and then, the most powerful Queen Cleopatra. But did you know that this ancient land of mystery housed the first and one of the biggest libraries of the old world?

The Royal Library of Alexandria was a treasure trove of scriptures and knowledge in the ancient era. This temple of books was dedicated to the nine goddesses of arts, also known as the Muses. However, the Roman conquest and the Muslim invasion brought forth the destruction of this sacred place. And the raging Mediterranean Sea stood witness to the rise and fall of this major house of knowledge.

Fast forwarding to the present, today in the same place stands the famed Bibliotheca Alexandrina. During my 7-day visit to Egypt, I had the amazing opportunity to go to Alexandria – a pretty little city nestled beside the gorgeous sea.

It was a beautiful Saturday morning in December. After having a sumptuous breakfast in Cairo, I took a local bus to Almaza Bus Station, aka Heliopolis. After a breezy 3 hours the city of Alexandria appeared with its quaint yet cosmopolitan look. It was quite chilly outside, but the smoky street food warmed my heart. For lunch I had a nice sweet potato roast and meaty sub. My next stop was the flea market in the city. The place was bursting with life and laughter. I felt a strange kind of thrill walking through the busy lanes of the market place. Jackets, shawls, hijaabs, scarves, spices, jewelry, footwear, handicrafts...the list could go on and on.

After lazing around the Egyptian bazaar, I met Hamid, a 23-year old taxi driver. He offered to take me to waterfront promenade cornice in Alexandria. This gorgeous trail runs along the Eastern Harbour and has a magnificent view of the Mediterranean. He stopped in front of a strange looking architecture that dominated the surrounding buildings. I walked close to this structure and the bookworm in me squealed in delight! It was Alexandria’s famous library, Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

The old library of Egypt had been destroyed thousands of years ago. But the Alexandria University in collaboration with the UNESCO, and aided by the Hosni Mubarak Government, built this impressive monument. It was inaugurated in 2002 and measures a whopping 220,000 sq ft. The main building architecture is reminiscent of a sundial. I was impressed with this fabulous modern creation with a lingering taste of the mystic ages.

As I walked around the library with shelves after shelves of old manuscripts and ancient knowledge, a had goose bumps. The place was eerily quiet although there were numerous students and avid readers occupying corners and benches engrossed in books.

A couple of hours later as I came out welcomed by a soothing evening, everything seemed like a dream. After a nice hot cup of refreshing Egyptian tea, I sat in a cafe by the cornice. I had an exotic sheesha enjoying the vast expanse of azure blue. By 7 PM I was back at the bus stop. And after a comfortable 3 hour nap in the AC bus, I was back in Cairo. But the memories of this lovely city and the experience inside the Bibliotheca Alexandrina shall forever be etched in my mind.

As always thank you so much for taking out time and reading my blog.

Always keep smiling, it makes you look beautiful!


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