Library of Alexandria enters digital age

Article Summary
The Library of Alexandria, known throughout history as an important center for learning, has been renovated and is working to digitize many ancient texts.

Throughout its history, the Library of Alexandria has played a major role in the dissemination of ancient and modern cultures. It was the primary source of knowledge in Egypt, and it continued its mission of disseminating knowledge and science after it was renovated — yet again — to keep up with progress and to acquire new means of spreading knowledge.

Recently, scientific progress in digital technology has added a new dimension and represented a remarkable development in the field of library and information science. This great development has led the Library of Alexandria to adopt digital publishing to make information available to all researchers and those interested in science and knowledge. The move included all of the library’s research centers, particularly the Calligraphy Center.

The Calligraphy Center deals with inscriptions, calligraphy and writings of the world throughout the ages, from the predynastic period up to the digital age. Linking numerous disciplines related to languages and calligraphy, it studies each field separately, such as linguistics and the science of evolution of calligraphy, and writings and anthropology.

In terms of education, the center aims to provide activities that fulfill its mission toward society, such as holding permanent and temporary calligraphy and inscriptions exhibitions, holding educational workshops, offering a variety of sessions to teach ancient calligraphy to children and adults and giving lectures during the cultural season targeting the public and professionals.

Academically, the center carries out several activities related to its field of work. It issues publications in the field of inscriptions and writings, completes research projects — whether short, medium or long term — and hosts scientific conferences that are the gathering point of calligraphists from around the world.

Perhaps one of the most important publications of the center is Abgadiyat, a scientific journal that publishes the latest discoveries and theories on writings, inscriptions and calligraphy in the world across the ages. Abgadiyat’s website covers the study, analysis and documentation of these inscriptions and writings from the start of prehistoric times to the modern era.

The center signed a cooperative agreement with Brill Publishing House, one of the most prominent publishing institutions in the world, to print and distribute the Abgadiyat journal around the globe. The publisher was also tasked with updating Abgadiyat’s website so that it would be able to receive research online and thus be on par with other international electronic journals.

There is also a website that documents the history of Bulaq Press, or El-Amiriya Press, established by Mohamed Ali Pasha. It displays the history of this press and its role in the modernization of Egyptian society.

Drawing on its belief in the importance of Arabs getting acquainted with the latest writings and discoveries and theories in calligraphy, the center also sought to provide Arabs with the latest foreign publications related to its field of work. It has supported the translation of several books and added them to the Arab library, a list of which includes but is not limited to:

  • History of Writing.
  • Lost Languages.
  • Ancient Egyptian Language.
  • How to Read Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs. 
  • Reading Maya Glyphs. The center issued this book about the Mayan civilization in Mexico in Arabic on Mexico’s Independence Day in September 2012. On this occasion, the center organized an event in cooperation with the Mexican Embassy. It was attended by the ambassador of Mexico, Egyptian Ambassador Ali Maher and many well-known figures. This book was nominated along with five other books for the Rifa’a al-Tahtawi Award presented by the National Center for Translation.
  • Writing from Ideogram to Multimedia. This book won the grand prize of the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences for best book translated into Arabic in the field of arts, literature and the humanities.

The center has also published several studies on calligraphy and writings, including a study of the rock inscriptions in Mauritania, a study of the writings on the walls of Alhambra palaces and Necropoles Memphiticae: Inscriptions from the Herakleopolitan Period.

The center also took interest in Arab calligraphy, as it was keen on publishing several research projects and studies related to Arab calligraphy and arts, including:

  • The Bulaq Press, which won the 2007 State Incentive Award in Social Sciences.
  • Fatimide Inscriptions and Writings on Architectural Monuments, which won the Best Book Award 2008 [in a competition organized by the Islamic Republic of Iran].
  • Diwan of Arabic Calligraphy in Egypt.
  • Marvels of Arabic Calligraphy in the Al-Busiri Mosque.

One of the main objectives of the center is to study and highlight the relationship between modern technologies and calligraphy. It has created different websites that support this goal, most notably The Digital Library of Inscriptions and Calligraphies, which went online in 2004. During the soft launch, inscriptions reached a total of 1,500, while during the official launch in October 2012 the total number of inscriptions reached 3,000.

The Digital Library of Inscriptions and Calligraphies is a digital record of writings carved on buildings and archaeological remains across the ages. These inscriptions are presented in digital form, with a synopsis of an inscription’s information, photos and a record of the writings it bears. Information is in both Arabic and English, as project organizers were keen to build a flexible, user-friendly website. This enables a large number of researchers to browse the images and references of each inscription separately and to benefit from the wonders of archaeological written inscriptions.

The project presents inscriptions in several languages, including Ancient Egyptian, Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Greek. It displays both basic data and detailed descriptions of these inscriptions.

Among the most famous series published by the center on this website is a collection of the treasures of Tutankhamun, the most famous pharaoh in ancient Egyptian history.

Found in: technology, history, egypt, digital revolution, culture, alexandria

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