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Bring On The Books

A Quran, a Bible and a Microsoft manual were among the first books put on the shelves of a new library built not far from where Egyptian ruler Ptolemy I Soter's renowned original stood in antiquity.

The Biblioteca Alexandrina, which took international cooperation, a decade of planning and millions of dollars to create, stands along the harbor, only yards from the believed site of the library of 2,000 years ago.

Ptolemy I Soter's library on the grounds of the Royal Palace thrived for 250 years. The bulk of it was believed destroyed by fire in 48 B.C. when Julius Caesar attacked Alexandria harbor in his war against Rome.

The new seven-story Biblioteca Alexandria will open April 23, 2002 - U.N. international book day.

In a ceremony Wednesday, Alexandria Gov. Abdel Salam el-Mahgoub placed the first book- a handwritten manuscript of the Muslim Quran by Ibn al-Bawab, a renowned seventh century caligraphist- on the shelf.

Next came a Bible, the collected novels of Egyptian Nobel-laureate Naguib Mahfouz and a copy of "The Days" by Egyptian scholar Taha Hussein.

Moustafa al-Abbadi, an Alexandria native who spent years studying the ancient library, placed his book on the library's history on the shelves.

"To see this monument is like a dream come true," said al-Abbadi, 72, a professor of Greco-Roman history at the University of Alexandria.

Then a copy of the Microsoft Excel 2000 handbook was placed on the shelves.

The Biblioteca Alexandrina aims to be a research institution that will attract international scholars. But the detention of human rights activists, the marginalization of opposition parties and the recent trial of an Egyptian intellectual accused of apostasy clouded Egypt's intellectual and cultural atmosphere.

Al-Abbadi believes that what goes on outside will not affect activities and aspirations under the library's dramatic, sloping glass roof.

"The library is permitted to acquire any book, in any language, and has no restrictions whatsoever placed on it. This is not just talk, it was said in a presidential decree," al-Abbadi said.

At one point, construction of the library fell more than two years behind schedule and was $30 million over budget.

The library can hold 4 million to 8 million books, said library general manager Ismail Serrag Eddin.

The ancient library stored approximately 500,000 scrolls - some containing more than one work. Tens of thousands of other works were kept in at least one satellite library elsewhere in the city. Resident scholars wrote, translated foreign works and gathered compilations of other manuscripts.

At the adjoining Museion academy, scholars made advances in math, astronomy, geometry, applied science and medicine, taking advantage of the observatory, zoo and botanical gardens on the grounds.

The new library has begun welcoming scholars and sponsored two seminars last year in the nearby conference center.

"We have the building," al-Abbadi said. "Everythinelse depends on what we can do with it."

By Omar Shama
© MMI The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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