When the word library comes to mind, several images rise alongside it: commanding structures, brooding masterpieces of art and literature, a place to sit and sip something warm while penning notes on Darwish and Rumi, memories of long nights and reading romantics, pulling at a cuticle between teeth.
Vivid – but surprisingly, not that common.
For many Egyptians, public libraries are odd institutions not many are readily using. Rather, they’re sunken sediment at the pit of most minds and social structures, seen as locations to store knowledge rather than acquire it. Despite their continuous restoration, funding, and housing of one-of-kind, cornerstone documents, Egyptian libraries are more often than not overlooked as assets to the public.
It’s about time to address the issue – with class. Here are some of Egypt’s finest, most influential public libraries that are open and accessible to those with a knack for the unknown. Here, individuals are free to sit and enjoy a vast, and wholly impressive array of curated collections.
Greater Cairo Library
Beautifully baroque and doubly impressive is the Greater Cairo Library: the most extensive repository of information in all of Egypt. Iconic in both contents and appearance, this library is domiciled in what was once a palace, that of Sultan Hussein Kamel who assumed sovereignty of Egypt between 1914 through 1917.
It holds the greatest number of manuscripts, books, maps, and statistical documents relating to the capital’s history, geography and character – publicly available, for those curious enough to wander inside or tap into their online databases.
Welcome to a hand-picked selection of modern classics and foundational information.
Located at 15 Mohamed Mazhar St. in Zamalek, it overlooks the Nile and is an open-source library.
The Egyptian National Library Archives | Dar El-Kotob
This government-run cultural non-profit is concerned with improving library services not only in the local sphere, but across the Middle East and North Africa. The National Library serves as a key institution, working closely with the Egyptian Ministry of Culture to preserve Egyptian modern history – from legacy documents, to archives swollen with ancient manuscripts, and everything in between.
Dar El-Kotob is also overlooks the Nile, situated at 8 Sabttiya, Corniche El-Nile.
Misr Public Library
Misr Public Library is, according to their website, a vision; it is structured as a “a living reality that interacts with the public, and it is the basis for the cultural structure in society.” It is considered one of the most pivotal, pioneering projects on Egypt’s cultural scene, located within the Giza Governorate.
Age means little here; Misr Public Library is on a mission to embolden all ages and groups. With an extensive collection of cultural and educational material, individuals are encouraged to start a journey of self-education and self-improvement in a technologically-savvy environment.
Located close to Cairo University, the library overlooks the Nile within the Giza area and has a monthly age-based subscription fee.
The Central Library of Al-Azhar Al-Sharif
One of Egypt’s most famous historical libraries is getting a facelift; the Central Library of Al-Azhar is moving to a more expansive, modernized location off of Salah Salem Road. Historically, Al-Azhar has been a vanguard in preserving Islamic heritage and innovation, while offering a colossal array of literature. It’s mission is a poetic one, to celebrate “learning by integrating environmentally and socially sustainable initiatives within an introvert[ed] intimate space.”
The library is located by Al-Azhar University, on Mohamed Abdo St., Wasat Al-Qahera. The new library is presently underconstruction.
New Bibliotheca Alexandrina
The Library of Alexandria is one of antiquity’s most famed sites – a legendary location rumored to have possessed the knowledge of the ancient world in full. Possessing everything science and architecture, to the finer lines of religion, this behemoth was destroyed in 48 BCE, as the unfortunate collateral of Pharaohs Ptolemy XIII and Cleopatra’s civil disputes. Today, atop of it, sits the New Library of Alexandria: “a center of excellence in the production and dissemination of knowledge [working to] recapture the spirit of openness and scholarship of the original Bibliotheca Alexandra.”
It overlooks the Mediterranean on the downtown Alexandria Corniche. Guided tours of the library are led in Arabic, French, and English – but for those more interested in a simple reading session, modest admission fees apply.