This Library was founded by a woman and now for the first time in history, it will open its doors to the general public

Twelve centuries ago, Fatima al-Fihri , a Qarawiyyin (present day Tunisia) inherited her wealthy merchant father’s fortune and decided to put it to good use. As an educated woman who was also a devout Muslim, she founded the al-Qarawiyyin University in Fez, Morocco, as a mosque in 859 CE. By the 10thcentury it had grown into a university with a renowned library. Currently, it is the oldest, continually operated education center in the world. Although the University did change its campus to another location in Fez, the mosque and the library remained on the original site that is lined with courtyards, arched walkways, ornate calligraphy and tile decorated walls.


Reading room in al-qarawiyyin university

Reading room in al-Qarawiyyin university

The library houses a collection of 4,000 rare books and ancient Arabic manuscripts written by renowned scholars of the region. According to the AP, the manuscripts include a 9th century version of the Quran and a manuscript on Islamic jurisprudence written by philosopher Averroes. According to UNESCO, the library often welcomed high profile students. Among them the mystic poet and philosopher, Ibn Al-Arabi, in the twelfth century, and historian and economist, Ibn Khaldun, in the fourteenth century. In the Middle Ages the library played an important role in the transmission of knowledge between Muslims and Europeans.

Fihri’s Diploma (a wooden board ) hangs in the library

It is historically significant, yet many didn’t know it existed until Canadian-Moroccan architect Aziza Chaouni was given the mammoth task of restoring the fast depreciating structure.  It lost some of its relevance in current times because of not being open to the general public, only scholars and researchers could get in after seeking official permission to browse its collections.

Al qarawiyyin university library and mosque were founded by fatima el fihriya in 859 around the time early forms of algebra were being-invented

Al qarawiyyin university library and mosque were founded by Fatima el Fihriya in 859

In 2012, it was closed for renovations. For three long years, Chaouni and her team have worked hard to preserve the vision of Fihri, who founded the place. Finally in May this year, the library opened its doors again with the news that a wing will be open to the general public later this year, along with a cafeteria.

Can't get enough? Take a visual tour here

Leave a Reply