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Morocco: Oldest library in the world undergoes restoration

A ninth-century library in Morocco, widely believed to be the oldest in the world, is undergoing restoration to preserve its ancient treasures for future generations.

The al-Qarawiyyin library, founded by a woman in the former Moroccan capital Fes, is home to some of the rarest and most unique manuscripts in the world.

Today, the curator, Abdelfattah Bougchouf is the only person who has access to the room where the rarest texts are kept under watch from security cameras.

“What gives it (the library) its importance and value is that it contains a human heritage that interests the entire world. It is a rare heritage you will not find in other libraries. It is because of these points that we have the restoration work and the care for this library,“he said.

The library is home to some masterpieces of Islamic literature.

Among the most precious books in its archives is a 9th centre Koran written in ornate Kufic script on camel skin and Ibn Khaldun’s Mukkadimah from the 14th century.

“When you read a book, you travel in history. When you see a manuscript that is nearly ten or more centuries old, you travel in time. As I said, the library gives you a spiritual bond for these and other reasons. Since I arrived at Al Qarawiyyin Library, it never crossed my mind that I would leave it,” said deputy curator Abou Bakr Jaouane.

“The first reason that encouraged me to come to Al al-Qarawiyyin University is its reputation and the wealth of its scientific literature in every field. Researchers can find what they are looking for at this ancient and venerable universit” said a Saudi PHD student, Fahd Bin Abdelkrim.

The restored library boasts an elaborate laboratory for treating, preserving and digitising the old texts.

The documents are being digitised to allow more researchers and students to view the texts.

“I’m here as you mentioned for reasons of scientific cooperation with some universities in Fes. The idea is to try to improve the preservation of this wonderful world heritage, cultural heritage and to approach the problem from an information science perspective” said Vito Pirelli from the Institute of Computational Linguistics in Italy.

The library’s restoration is part of a large project to give a face lift to the old quarters of Fes known as the Medina.

The old city, granted UNESCO World Heritage status, has a large pedestrian network and is not accessible by cars.

The restoration work is expected to be completed in early 2017 when it will be opened to the general public.