|The ancient library was
founded by Aristotle's pupil, Demetrius of Phalerum, in
the fourth century BC. By the middle of the first century
BC, the Alexandria Library contained perhaps 700,000
manuscripts on papyrus, all fully catalogued with a
summary of their content and shelved alphabetically By
author.. It was the largest collection of books the world
had ever seen.
As its fame spread, many noted scholars took up residence in the library.
The library stood for at least 300 years after its foundation. In AD 30 the library was partly lost to fire and finally destroyed by earthquake.
It wasn't until 1974 that the idea of reviving the old library was taken up again. The University of Alexandria formed a committee which decided to locate the reborn library on a plot of land along the seaside boulevard on the Mediterranean, a site near the probable location of the original library.
In September 1988 an international competition was launched by UNESCO and the International Union of Architects to find a design that would rise to the architectural challenge of providing in one structure a functional library, an inviting public building and a monument to civilization.
The winner - chosen from more than 500 entries from 77 countries - was Snohetta, an Oslo architecture and landscape firm. The design features a cylindrical building, set in a pool, with a L-shape cut out of its plan; the cylinder 's gridded glass roof stands downward until part of it disappears below ground level.
The cylinder - a 160 meters in diameter - echoes the hieroglyph meaning "sun" with a dramatic rise and fall of the building above and below ground. The highest point of its tilting roof is 32 meters above ground, and the building descends to 12 meters below ground level.
The interior will consist of seven primary and 14 secondary levels in the form of terraces, all within one great cylindrical form. Natural light, admitted by the dramatic angled glass roof, will be diffused and controlled by a complex system of baffles like upside-down umbrellas.
The massive curving outer wall, built of concrete, will be covered in calligraphic carvings. The design is an abstract composition of letters from different ancient and modern languages.
The new library will be far more public than the ancient one can ever have been. The Bibliotheca Alexandrina will become one of the world's 20 biggest national repositories of books. Its ultimate capacity is eight million volumes, and it will include science and calligraphy museums and a music library as well.
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