Rabat - The library of the al-Qarawiyyin University in Fez will reopen for public use this May, after the completion of major renovations led by Canadian-Moroccan architect Aziza Chaouni.
Rabat – The library of the al-Qarawiyyin University in Fez will reopen for public use this May, after the completion of major renovations led by Canadian-Moroccan architect Aziza Chaouni.
After receiving a grant for the project from Kuwait’s Arab Bank, the Moroccan Ministry of Culture asked Chaouni to rehabilitate the library – the oldest in the world – to safeguard its contents and make it suitable for public use, according to TED, an educational non-profit organization.
The al-Qarawiyyin complex, which includes a mosque, library, and university, was founded in 859 AD by Fatima El-Fihriya, the daughter of a rich business who immigranted to Fez from modern-day Tunisia. Well educated and devout, she vowed to invest her entire inheritance on a mosque and knowledge center for her new home.
Due to unmitigated wear and tear and previously uncoordinated restoration efforts, the library had fallen into disrepair in the past centuries. Though academics have always had access to the historical documents housed in the library, the building’s deteriorating condition meant it had long been unfit for public use.
“When I first visited, I was shocked at the state of the place,” Chaouni told TED. “In rooms containing precious manuscripts dating back to the 7th century, the temperature and moisture were uncontrolled, and there were cracks in the ceiling.”
Chaouni said her team took special care to revive and imitate the building’s original features, such as the fountains and the intricate “zaleej” tilework. The rebuilt library will also use sustainable technologies – such as solar panels and rainwater collection systems – to prepare it for the future.
When the library reopens later this year, guests will be able to experience a complex that includes “a reading room, book stacks, a conference room, a manuscript restoration laboratory, and a rare books collection — along with new administrative offices and a café,” TED reported.