Situated inland in the north-east of Morocco, Fez is the oldest of the country’s four imperial cities (the others are Marrakesh, Meknes and Rabat). But modern life had taken a toll on the library, with its buildings falling into disrepair. "We knew where it was more or less, but could not enter. (CNN) — The al-Qarawiyyin Library has long been a source of fascination for residents in Fez, Morocco, as few of them have ever passed through its doors. Al-Qarawiyyin Library was a hub of intellectualism for hundreds of years following its founding in 859 C.E. She integrated new and sustainable technologies, like solar panels, an updated gutter system and water collection for garden irrigation. Over the years, the Qarawiyyin grew and quickly cemented its reputation as a centre of learning and culture. After years of neglect, the library is undergoing extensive renovation as part of a renewal program that will restore the Medina, Fes’ walled pedestrian historic district built in the late 8th, early 9th century. all thanks to its founder—Fatima al-Fehri. The Tunisian immigrant moved with her family to Fes in the mid 9th century. The university was established in 859 and offered courses on the Qur’an and religious texts and Al-Fihri is thought to have attended lectures there in her later years. If you’re interested in learning more about Morocco and its history, click here. It is not only a library that is open to the public, but is also as a modern day homage to the ancient Library of Alexandria. When the library at Morocco’s al-Qarawiyyin University was first built in the 9th century, it was one of the world’s great centers for learning. When their father died, Fatima used her inheritance to create the library and mosque. The Qarawiyyin also compiled a large selection of manuscripts that were kept at a library founded by the Marinid Sultan Abu Inan Faris in 1349. Having grown up in Fez, Chaouni was thrilled to be asked by the Moroccan government to transform the complex, which had fallen into disrepair over the years and was suffering from a long list of architectural problems, exacerbated by the heart and humidity of the Moroccan climate, including broken tiles and a poor drainage system. They were intelligent and pious women and rather than squandering away the money, they sought to invest it back into the community somehow. Join us on a 12-month journey to see them all. The ancient al-Qarawiyyin Library in Fez isn’t just the oldest library in Africa. A librarian at al-Qarawiyyin in 1931 When the library at Morocco’s al-Qarawiyyin University was first built in the 9th century, it was one of the world’s great centers for learning. Al-Fihri was married, but both her husband and father passed away shortly after the wedding. Although the library was opened to the public in 839AD, a strict policy had been put in place, which restricted access to scholars only. The Al-Qarawiyyin library has been in continuous operation since the 10th century and is believed to be the oldest library in the world. Our program takes us to contemporary feats such as the Aswan Dam and also to current crucibles of the Egyptian experience such as Tahrir Square. Al-Qarawiyyin library, the oldest working library in the world, has undergone extensive renovations and was recently unveiled to the public in Fez, Morocco. "It's typical of the element of surprise you fine in Fez. It was this big, mysterious place," recalls Aziza Chaouni, a Fez native and the architect who has overseen al-Qarawiyyin's restoration. In 2012, a woman from Morocco's Ministry of Culture contacted Chaouni for an assessment. But modern life had taken a toll on the library, with its buildings falling into disrepair. It was surrounded by the forests of the Middle Atlas mountains as well as arable land where farmers grew fruit, cereals and olives and raised livestock. When it was first founded, Fez developed as two separate settlements on each bank of the Fez River. Building Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque. Al-Qarawiyyin library in Fez, Morocco opened in 1359 C.E., at the University of Al-Qarawiyyin (also the world's oldest, built in 859 C.E.). The collection housed numerous works from the Maghreb, al-Andalus, and the Middle East. While in Fez, he composed Mishneh Torah, a 14-volume text on Jewish law. After excavating, Chaouni discovered what she described as a river running underneath the floors. Engineers re-built foundations, installing a new sewage system; each tile of the building's iconic green roof was restored individually and painstakingly relayed. When her father died, many of Al-Fihri’s male relatives had passed away, which meant both Al-Fihri and her sister inherited a sizeable fortune. I've seen numerous articles online that mention that the library is now open to the general public but after visiting with a guide today I was told that entry is not allowed. Fatima grew up being educated, along with her sister. Al-Qarawiyyin library, built in 859 in Fez during the reign of Sultan Abou Inane Al Marini, contains priceless treasures. ", There's a perfect beach for every week of the year. Morocco guide: 10 things to know before you go, The Atlas Mountains: Morocco's hidden travel gem. After completing his education in Fez, he travelled widely through North Africa but during a voyage through the Mediterranean he was captured by Christian pirates and presented to Pope Leo X as a gift. The courtyard was located to the west of the prayer hall, with the minaret standing in its middle adjoining the external wall. The publication of this would see him established as one of the leading rabbinical thinkers of his time. Some of the university’s most notable former students include: The Sephardic Jewish philosopher Moses ben Mamon, or Maimonides, studied at the Qarawiyyin in the 12th-century. "It's probably the thing I'm most proud of," she says. It opened in 2002 and houses eight million books, four museums and a planetarium, amongst other state of the art facilities. "We were always discovering things as we were ripping out walls," she says. She oversaw the construction, which included classrooms, a prayer hall, a library and a courtyard. It is said that Idris I decided that the capital Volubilis (now an excavated Berber city outside of Meknes) was too small a capital and sought something more lavish. You can thank two boss women for your access to this historic space. It was her vision and investment that saw the founding of the Qarawiyyin Mosque and Madrassa (school) almost 1200 years ago and in part thanks to her that the universities as we know them today exist. "It was exquisite, but it was in a very bad state," she recalls. Chaouni also believes that her own role in restoring the library was made possible by the fact it was a woman at the Ministry of Culture that reached out to her. The Moroccan government agreed and the library now has a wing open to the public, which features an exhibition room and a café. Founded in 859, it’s the oldest working library in the world, holding ancient manuscripts that date as far back as 12 centuries. Thanks to the confluence of two rivers, the city had a seemingly never-ending supply of water and it was close to quarries, from which building supplies could be sourced. Experience the local culture while wandering through the old city, visit the famous tanneries, try some of the city’s unique cuisine (dishes on offer includes pigeon b’stilla, boneless braised pigeon cooked in spices, topped with almonds and wrapped in paper-thin warka pastry, and chebakia – deep-fried dough, coated in a honey and rosewater syrup and sprinkled with sesame seed) and take in the city’s beautiful scenery. Rich traditions and heritage are very much alive here, but there is also a paradoxical youthfulness to the culture that will draw you in. Proof, were it needed, that Egypt’s role as the pivot of civilisation is far from ended. The proximity of mountain ranges meant that the climate in Fez was considered more temperate than other parts of North Africa (though the it does still get very hot in summer!). They are home to all of the world’s works and other forms of media, including films, CDs, videotapes, DVDs, Blu-ray Discs, maps, e-books, audiobooks, and databases. Idris declares that he is that man and says he will reverse the name of the ancient city that once lay there. Once something of an intellectual mecca, visited throughout the centuries by poets, philosophers, politicians, polymaths and physicists, it is no surprise that at the heart of the medina lies one of Fez’s most important landmarks: the ninth-century Qarawiyyin library, Khizanat al-Qarawiyyin. She wanted it to be a place people could visit and take in the history of Fez. When talking about other restoration attempts that had been carried out, Chaouni told CityLab ‘The internal organs needed work. "When you have books and water, it's a horrible recipe," she says. It is said that Idris I decided that the capital Volubilis (now an excavated Berber city outside of Meknes) was too small a capital and sought something more lavish. Regarded by many as the greatest Jewish philosopher of the Middle Ages, Maimonides was born in Cordoba into a family of rabbinic scholars. Worth a visit FEZ - Nestled in a labyrinth of streets in the heart of Morocco's ancient city of Fez, stands the world's oldest working library. In the 14th-century, the pioneering historian and historiographer Ibn Khaldun is thought to have studied at the Qarawiyyin University. Ethiopia: Site of the Ark of the Covenant? Marozzi describes him as ‘the most distinguished Qarawiyyin alumnus bar none’ (p. 153). This incredible city has a rich and vibrant history, from the oldest tanneries in the world, to the world’s oldest library in Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque. This minaret is in the rear of the Mosque opposite the mihrab and qibla wall in a similar fashion to those found in Qayrawan and the Great Mosque of Cordoba. Built by a Woman, Restored by a Woman; Qarawiyyin, Symbol of Female Endeavor The article is a tribute to the Fez-born architect, Aziza Chaouni, who fought to reopen the Qarawiyyin library to the public, the oldest library in the… Though the structural changes were, she admits, a major undertaking, they pale in comparison to the work she's done to bring the 9th century complex into the 21st century. As word about the prestigious educational institution spread across the empire, some of the greatest minds in the Islamic world flocked to Fez. Al Fihri was born in Qayrawan, Tunisia to a wealthy merchant family. Al-Fihri also pioneered the idea of creating a place where you would not just be educated but would also be granted a certificate to show your education had been complete. The result was the multi-million pound restoration of Khizanat al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, the oldest library in the world, which is due to reopen later this year. The library was built in 1359 AD and houses some of the country’s precious artifacts, including important manuscripts considered to be among the earliest copies to be produced in Islamic history. A long challenge lay ahead of Chaouni with the last proper restoration project wrapping up decades earlier in the 1940s. In his book Islamic Empires, Justin Marozzi recounts the mythological story of how Idris II came to found the city. The al-Qarawiyyin library was built in 859, around the same time that the concept of zero was invented. The complex is made up of a library, mosque and university, making the university the first degree-granting institution in the world. "As a woman in Toronto, I still have to work twice as hard in a technical field to make myself heard. I can't seem to find a clear answer online so hoping someone here may be able to clarify. "I had no idea what lay behind its gigantic iron doors.". In Muqaddimah, Khaldun theorised why civilisations rise and fall without looking solely at divine factors. "Hopefully, by digitizing, we can make some of these manuscripts available online, and spread the knowledge way beyond Fez and Morocco," she says. Until now, the privilege of using the library has been limited to scholars who need to seek formal permission, and authorities haven't decided yet whether to change that. Chaouni is the latest is a line of women that have shaped the library's history. Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment. Join our newsletter mailing list to gain exclusive access to special offers and promotions. The House of Wisdom was built throughout the the 8th century CE during the Abbasid Dynasty. Having developed a profound respect for education thanks to her family, Al-Fihri decided to put her money, as well as her time and dedication, into building an educational institution.
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