The car bomb which gutted Cairo’s central police headquarters early on Friday morning has also caused severe structural damage to Egypt’s National Library and Archives (NLA), located across the street from the security directorate targeted in the blast.
Minister of Culture Saber Arab told Ahram Online that all the NLA’s lighting and ventilation systems were completely destroyed, while the decorative facade, representative of Islamic architectural styles, had collapsed. He added that all showcases and furniture inside the building had also been badly damaged.
NLA head Abdul Nasser Hassan told Ahram Online that seven unique manuscripts and three rare scientific papyri had also been damaged. Hassan estimated that the losses will cost the government at least LE50 million in repairs.
Built in 1870 by Khedive Ismail and modelled on the national library in Paris, the NLA has since been Egypt’s treasure house for manuscripts, rare books and ancient Egyptian papyri. Ismail, one of modern Egypt’s great rulers, was known for pushing Egyptian culture and heritage into the international spotlight. As part of Ismail’s vision, the NLA has served as a national university and has nurtured and inspired thousands of thinkers and scientists.
Following the 1952 Revolution, the original building became so overwhelmed with books that a new site overlooking the Nile was built in 1971. However, the building was left unused for more than 25 years and fell into disrepair.
A restoration project launched in the 1990s saw the opening of the NLA’s current building in Bab Al-Khalq, not far from the heart of old Islamic Cairo.
The building was heralded as a remarkable example of integration, fusing historic Islamic architecture with more modern styles, and consisting of one main floor, two mezzanines and a three-storey manuscripts museum.