The Delicate Task Of Restoring One Of The World’s Oldest Libraries


The delicate task of restoring one of the world's oldest libraries

The copper craft makers in Seffarin Square in the historic district of Fez, Morocco, bang out designs on platters and shape copper pots to a rhythm.

Called the medina, neighborhood streets lined with domes and archways take you back through the history of the dynasties and occupiers that ruled Morocco from the 9th century on. At the center of the square is the Qarawiyyin Library, founded more than a millennium ago.

We’ve heard much recently about the destruction of grand historical sites in places like Syria and Iraq, where war and ISIS wreak havoc on the present and the past. But this library has been lovingly restored to protect ancient manuscripts by some of the greatest Islamic thinkers.

It’s part of what the United Nations calls the oldest operating educational institute in the world. The complex started as a mosque in the 9th century and expanded to include a university and library in the 10th century. It’s defined by beautiful courtyards centered around fountains.

Inside the library are ornately carved wooden window frames and archways, colorful ceramic tile designs on the floors and elegant Arabic calligraphy engraved in the walls. The high ceilings in the reading room are adorned with gold chandeliers.

The library holds some 4,000 manuscripts: Qurans that date back to the 9th century, the earliest collection of Islamic hadiths — the words and actions of Islam’s prophet Mohammed — and an original copy of the great Muslim thinker and historian Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah. […]