Monday, November 03, 2008

Glorious past and future for Alexandria

Egypt Then and Now (Ben Morales-Correa)

Ben has updated his blog with a story being carried by CNN Traveller. Here's a sample.

Modern Alexandria sits on top of two great civilizations. A battle to reclaim its past and to build according to Alexandria’s rich cultural heritage is led by Dr Mohammed Awad, architect, historian and director of the Alexandria & Mediterranean Research Center.

His campaigning has earned him respect and enmity in about equal measure. His most controversial action was to promote the idea of erecting an equestrian statue of the city’s founder, Alexander the Great. Designed in Greece and presented as a gift by various Greek associations in 2000, the monument enraged many Egyptians who – only 2,331 years on from the event – still viewed the Macedonian as an imperialist conqueror.

Another of Awad’s notable campaigns was in the mid-1990s when he took a stand against the bulldozing of the site where the city’s new library was to be built without prior archaeological excavation work. The library was the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, intended to revive the spirit of the lost Alexandrian library of classical times. Completed in 2002, it is a giant 160-meter-diameter glazed disc that emerges out of layers of history and tilts its face to the Mediterranean. Its solid granite drum is inscribed with characters from every known alphabet, some 120 scripts, while the great amphitheater of the reading room sits 2,000 readers. The library is only the second in the world to hold a full copy of the Internet Archive, which is a snapshot of every page hosted on the web between 1996 and 2006, or 1.5 petabytes (that is 1 followed by 15 zeroes) of data stored on 880 computers. This July it was host to Wikimania 2008, the annual conference for people involved in web-based Wikimedia projects. Last October the Bibliotheca celebrated placing its 555,555th book on the shelves (Euclid’s Elements, appropriately enough a product of the original Library of Alexandria).

But Bibliotheca Alexandrina is far more than books. The hope is that the library can act as a catalyst for nothing less than an intellectual and cultural rebirth of the city.

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