Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1246, (14 - 20 May 2015)
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1246, (14 - 20 May 2015)

Ahram Weekly

History’s new home

After nine years of hard work, Egypt’s new National Archive was inaugurated on Sunday, reports Nevine El-Aref

Al-Ahram Weekly

At Al-Fustat, beside the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation and overlooking the Ain Al-Sira Lake, stands the yellowish modern building of Egypt’s National Archive (NA).

After a nearly decade-long wait, the archive is now welcoming visitors. Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb, Sharjah Ruler Sultan bin Mohamed Al-Qasimi and Minister of Culture Abdel-Wahed Al-Nabawi recently inaugurated the new NA.

The idea of a new NA building dates back to 2003 when Al-Qasimi, touring the old building on the Nile Corniche, was overwhelmed by the number of documents that filled the space to overflowing. He expressed his willingness to fund a major renovation in the same area, a project that stalled and was later cancelled due to red tape.

The project was resumed at the present site in 2006, with LE100 million from Al-Qasimi’s private funds.

Then, scheduled to open in June 2011, the building was vandalised and looted in the wake of the 2011 Revolution.

The present, five-floor NA is 5,000 metres wide. Three floors are used for storing documents while the other two contain a document conservation centre, seminar and reading halls and a training centre. It also includes a museum displaying some of the most important documents in the history of the region, from Fatimid times to the present.

At the opening ceremony, Al-Nabawi said the building’s unique design won the International Archive Conference Award in Malaysia in 2008, and noted that some nine million documents flow into the NA every year.

The old building on the Corniche, holding 110 million documents, has little space left for storage. In addition to security measures against fire and theft, Al-Nabawi said that a digital management system has been installed at the new NA.

“Constructing such a building or accomplishing any project for Egypt is only a drop in Egypt’s sea of gifts,” Al-Qasimi said at the inauguration ceremony. He recounted how he arrived in Egypt in 1965 to study, finding “all the world’s” science, heritage and values.

“I lived in Egypt and came to know not only its streets, alleyways and heritage but also the brave Egyptian personality, and after five years in Egypt it was too hard for me to leave.”

Al-Qasimi added that he was deeply saddened to hear that Egypt’s Scientific Institution in downtown Cairo was set on fire in the aftermath of the 2011 Revolution and that he later contributed to restoring the building and preserving such rare books as the Description de L’Egypte.

At the end of the ceremony, Mehleb honoured Al-Qasimi for his initiative and support of cultural projects in Egypt.

Al-Nabawi said that Egypt has the oldest archive in the world. Khedive Ismail took the initiative to build Egypt’s NA, modelled on the national library in Paris, in the late 19th century. It is a treasure trove of manuscripts, rare books and ancient Egyptian papyri.

Opened in 1870, the original NA reflected the role of culture in enhancing the development of society.

Khedive Ismail offered all manner of support and assistance to his minister of education to fulfil his ambitions. One of modern Egypt’s greatest rulers, he supported Egyptian culture, and his Al-Daftar Khana — as the NA was then called — made a large contribution to Arab and Islamic culture as a whole.

Since its opening, it has nurtured and inspired thousands of thinkers and scientists.

In 1886 a new law was issued stipulating the deposit of all publications in the NA’s registers. However, in 1898 the palace of Prince Mustafa Fadel, which had been used as the library premises, became overcrowded due to the constant flow of new books, archives and publications, leading the Ministry of Public Works to choose a plot of land in Bab Al-Khalq for a new premises.

In 1899 Khedive Abbas Helmi II laid the foundation stone of the Kutub and Daftar Khana and devoted its first floor to the Antique Khana, now the Museum of Islamic Art. The library was inaugurated in 1904, and its priceless assets have since attracted the scholars and intellectuals from all over the world.

After the 1952 Revolution, Dar Al-Kutub wal Wathaiq continued to be Egypt’s most important library and archive, but it outgrew its premises in 1971 and a new building was constructed on the Corniche.

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