CULTURE

Bibliotheca Alexandrina: Bridge between ancient and modern civilizations

he inauguration of the Library of Alexandria on October 16-17 is the happening of the month. Diverse cultural events will return to Alexandria some of its old prestige. Many Greeks born in Egypt are setting out tomorrow by sea for Alexandria, on a tour of nostalgia and memory mixed with joy for the new brilliance the city will acquire from the creation of the library – a high-tech project based on knowledge, communication and information, which has met with worldwide acclaim. For Egypt, such an event demands the presence of friends who are heads of state. From Greece, President Costis Stephanopoulos, Foreign Minister George Papandreou and Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos will lead a large delegation including Athens Mayor Dimitris Avramopoulos. UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Marianna Vardinoyianni will be a permanent Greek presence on the library’s board of directors. The library was recreated under the aegis of UNESCO and its director, Ismail Serageldin. The idea of rebuilding the legendary library of Alexandria goes back to the 1970s. The plan was for the library to become once again a center, at the crossroads of the East and West, for scientific research and the cultivation of arts and letters, as well as for collecting achievements of the human mind. In the mid-1980s, the Egyptian government decided to implement the plan of reviving the library. In 1987 UNESCO took the work under its aegis, and in 1988 the foundation stone was laid. A 40,000- square-meter area in the eastern part of the port, which archaeologists believe is close to the original site, was allocated to the project. The first international committee for the revival of the library, which met in 1990 in Aswan, included then-French President Francois Mitterrand, Suzanne Mubarak, wife of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Prince Abdel Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, and the then-Greek Culture Minister Melina Mercouri. Friends of the Alexandria Library societies were founded around the world to take initiatives to implement the project and enrich the library. In 2001 a law was passed making the library an autonomous organization and a board of management was elected, headed by Suzanne Mubarak. Among those attending the inauguration will be French President Jacques Chirac, Queen Sofia of Spain, Queen Sylvia of Sweden and, probably, Charles, the Prince of Wales. Composer Dimitris Papadimitriou, Alexandrian by origin, named his work dedicated to the new library «The City Behind the Sea.» It has already been performed with great success at the Herod Atticus Theater. The first part contains 13 previously unpublished poems by Cavafy put to music. The poems were so daring that the poet himself had prohibited their publication. The composer believes that such prohibitions do not apply to works of art, and that «his music links the poetry of Cavafy to the beat of the Alexandrian heart.» The concert will mark the end of the inauguration, which Helbi will be attending. The proceeds of the concert will go to the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Strict security precautions will be in force, and only the official guests will attend the opening ceremony. Journalists will watch the event on a video wall. And the spirit of Cavavy will be there, not «to farewell Alexandria leaving» this time, but to welcome the new library with the same name.