[FOUNTAIN] Great Hall of Knowledge Rebuilt

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[FOUNTAIN] Great Hall of Knowledge Rebuilt

What was the first university in human history, where celebrated ancient scholars, including the geometer Euclid, the physicist Archimedes, the mathematician Heron, the geographer Eratosthenes and astronomer Ptolemy, as well as the librarian Kallimachos, studied and taught?

The answer is the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the great library of Alexandria, built in Egypt's northern port city of Alexandria in around the 3d century B.C.

The library of Alexandria, established by Ptolemy I of Egypt, was where hundreds of top scholars in various fields were paid to study, lecture and engage in intellectual debate. The library held more than 700,000 volumes, and was the pride of Egypt, the world's most civilized country.

Around the 2d century B.C., Ptolemy VII burned down the library when a rebel army tried to occupy it. As the news that many precious documents had been reduced to ashes spread abroad, many countries began fiercely competing to expand their own libraries to win the epithet of "world best."

The Ptolemaic dynasty tried to check this expansion abroad by stopping exports of papyri - a writing paper - to prevent foreigners from printing more books. But this had an unexpected outcome. People became aware that books made of sheepskin and goatskin were more durable and convenient to use, triggering the mass production of parchment. Papyri, once Egypt's most significant export, lost its market.

As time went on, the library of Alexandria suffered further damage, this time, as a result of war, including an attack by Julius Caesar of Rome in 47 B.C. The library collection, largely reduced in scale, was moved to Baghdad by Arab armies in 640.

The great library of Alexandria, the cradle of ancient Western philosophy, is now being revived at the same site under the same name, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. The project, led by the Egyptian government and supported by UNESCO and some advanced nations, has reached its final stage. An 11-story building, part of the project on which $200 million has been spent, was competed last year. The library will be officially opened around October this year, initially containing a collection of 500,000 volumes, which will grow to 8 million volumes, according to plans. It will include 300 reading rooms able to accommodate 2,500 readers. Just as the ancient library once included, a science museum and calligraphy museum also will be on the premises, along with an information science education center.

This is hopeful news for humankind, because in another place in the world, civilization is being destroyed; ancient Buddhist statues in Afghanistan have been wrecked by the ruling Islamic government, the Taleban.

by Cho Hyun-wook

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