The al-Qarawiyyin Library of Morocco University, one of the world’s oldest library which carries historical treasures like unique Islamic manuscripts is set for another renovation. Situated in the old medina of Fez, the library started centuries ago yet it’s been largely hidden from the public.
Even local architect tapped by government was not aware of its extinction until she was asked to lead on its restoration. Arch. Aziza Chaouni who also trained as an engineer, specializes in restoring old buildings acquired her degrees from Harvard and Columbia universities. The library is currently limited to scholars who seek formal consent. Chaouni hopes it will leave an ideological change as well as it opens to the public for the first time in its long history as King Mohammed VI is expected to inaugurate its reopening soon.
As told by Abdelmajid El-Marzi, an imam and administrator, al-Qarawiyyin used to be a mosque in the 9th century when Fatima al-Fihri, a devout and wealthy Muslim woman from a Tunisian town in Kairaouan provided the endowment for its building. It later expanded to become a university in the 10th century. The library showcases walled calligraphic designs, floored ceramic patterns and wood carved ceilings exhibiting the architectural fingerprint of the many ruling dynasties during the 19th century.
Library curator Abdelfattah Bougchouf said the library houses a collection of historical manuscripts including that of Ibn Khaldun’s “Muqadimmah, a 9th century Quran in Kufic calligraphy and Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence by Ibn Rochd. These historical documents are now kept in a secure, temperature controlled area. The room has four locks kept by four different people who had to be physically present to open the door.
Plumbing issues threatened to soak rare manuscripts in sewage water. So to further improve the accessibility and protect the archives, the library started digitizing the manuscripts. 20% are already on its electronic form.
Chaouni, calling this restoration project as “biggest challenge of my soul” is pushing the government to open a public exhibition room.
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