The world’s oldest library “al-Qarawiyyin Library” opened in 859 has long been a source of fascination for residents in Fez, Morocco, as few of them have ever passed through its doors: its maze of rooms were closed off to all but a few scholars and students of the university where it was housed. “We knew where it was more or less, but could not enter. It was this big, mysterious place,” recalls Aziza Chaouni, a Fez native and the architect who has overseen al-Qarawiyyin’s restoration. “I had no idea what lay behind its gigantic iron doors.” In 2012, a woman from Morocco’s Ministry of Culture contacted Chaouni for an assessment. When the Toronto-based architect and engineer stepped inside the building, however, she was shocked to discover it was rotting. “It was exquisite, but it was in a very bad state,” she recalls. Over the centuries, rain water poured off the roof of the neighboring mosque and infiltrated the library. After excavating, Chaouni discovered what she described as a river running underneath the floors. To rescue the structure from further damage, she built an underground canal system to lead the water into the sewer. “When you have books and water, it’s a horrible recipe,” she says.
Though the structural changes were, she admits, a major undertaking, they pale in comparison to the work she’s done to bring the 9th century complex into the 21st century. Making it modern, and making it open to the public — and not just to researchers — are the cornerstone of Chaouni’s vision for al-Qarawiyyin. ...“Hopefully, by digitizing, we can make some of these manuscripts available online, and spread the knowledge way beyond Fez and Morocco,” she says. Though the library isn’t yet open to the public, it is expected to be in 2017... All from: http://thechronicleofeducation.com/2017/01/31/worlds-oldest-library-gets-modern-look/
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