The ancient al-Qarawiyyin Library in Fez, Morocco, was founded in 859 with an endowment by Fatima El-Fihriya, a wealthy Muslim woman from what is today Tunisia. Twelve centuries later, following an extensive restoration program led by architect and Fez-native, Aziz Chaouni, the library has opened its doors with a newly constructed wing for the general public.
The library, which is recognized by UNESCO as the oldest operational educational institution in the world, has undergone many reconstructions throughout the centuries, but as Chaouni told TED, the site “suffered from major structural problems.” ”You never know what’s behind a wall,” she said, “You could scrap it and find a painting, take out the painting and find a door.”
The various buildings in the complex lacked modern insulation, as well as other “deficiencies like a blocked drainage system, broken tiles, cracked wood beams, exposed electric wires, and so on,” Chaouni says. When she first visited the rooms that stored the library’s ancient manuscripts, “the temperature and moisture were uncontrolled, and there were cracks in the ceiling.”
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