Ancient, Secret Library Gets a Facelift
University of al-Qarawiyyin library undergoing repairs
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 19, 2016 5:30 PM CDT
An original manuscript by Ibn Rochd.   (Samia Errazouki)
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(Newser) – The settling dust from renovations and the banging of tools aren't ideal sights and sounds for a library—but this is no ordinary library. Founded 12 centuries ago in Fez, Morocco's University of al-Qarawiyyin library is one of the world's oldest, home to unique Islamic manuscripts treasured by historians. Yet it's been largely hidden from the public, reports the AP. The architect leading its restoration, Fez native Aziza Chaouni, didn't even know it existed until she was asked to work on it. King Mohammed VI is expected to inaugurate its reopening soon. Chaouni is hoping it will mark an ideological change, too, and open to the public for the first time in its long history. Until now, the privilege of using the library has been limited to scholars who seek formal permission, and authorities haven't decided yet whether to change that.

From calligraphic designs on the walls to ceramic patterns on the floors and wooden carvings on the ceilings, the fingerprint of almost every ruling dynasty since the 9th century can be seen in the architecture. A devout and wealthy Muslim woman provided the endowment for building al-Qarawiyyin in the 9th century. Originally a mosque, it expanded in the 10th century to become a university. The library houses a collection of manuscripts—kept in a secure room, with strict temperature and humidity control—written by renowned thinkers from the region, including Ibn Khaldun's "Muqadimmah." Other texts, which are in the process of being digitized, include a 9th-century Koran. The restoration is fixing a plumbing issue that increasingly threatened to drench the rare manuscripts in sewage water.