BY Tareq Neman
Al-Zaherya library was the biggest Islamic library in the Islamic East during the period of the Ottomans Sultans, a unique example of architecture in the Islamic and Arab world and one of the most important educational sites in Old Damascus. The al-Zaherya library, to the north side of the grand Omayyad mosque, is currently undergoing the final stages of restoration undertaken by the Directorate of Antiquities and Museums and the Arabic Language Academy in cooperation with the government of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The building has been renovated to accommodate new technology and an electronic archive system for old and new books. “The main purpose of the restoration was to give the library its character back as a library,” said Dr. Marwan Mahasneh, director of the Arabic Language Academy. “The restoration is committed to the rules of the engineering and architectural heritage that the library was built on. We didn’t make any changes or rebuilding on the original structure of the library. The aid that we got from the government of Kazakhstan was sent to help in the restoration of al-Zaher Babers’ tomb.” “The reopening of the library will be official and according to the President Bashar Al Assad’s decision,” Mahasneh explained. “The reopening will probably be through the first half of this year and will be attended by representatives from the Directorate of Antiquities and Museums and representatives from the Government of Kazakhstan. “The al-Zaherya library is part of the Arabic Language Academy since its inception. This library has archaeological value and significant heritage. It was the focus of attention for many years as it contains treasures of old and modern books especially a huge number of the old and ancient scripts that been moved to al-Assad Central Library, while the al-Zaherya library retained the microfilm that allows review of manuscripts” According to Mahasneh the restoration work includes the ceilings, antique engravings, mosaics, ornaments, and shell mosaics in the tomb room, which required a precise restoration. “Another important restoration was for a broken stone arch; we rebuilt the lost part of the arch, as we discussed the replacement of the main gate of the library, but after discussions we decided to renew it because the gate is 150 years old and it would be big lose to replace it.” Rare books room After restoration project will also include work on the tomb of King Zaher Babers. When renovation is finished, the library will contain south and east chambers that dedicated to research, a reading hall and four store rooms for books with capacity up to 100,000 titles. Other facilities include the administration room, an index room and a room for computer servers. “For the important and rare books we created a special chamber with iron doors and supplied it with devices to preserve the books and maintain the right conditions to keep the books safe and we imported customized safes for books instead of storing books on shelves,” Mahasneh explained. He pointed out that the upstairs storage rooms are connected to the downstairs storage rooms with elevators to provide easy and quick traffic between sections of the libraries. First book restoration since 1940 This restoration is the first restoration that the library has had since 1940,” said Director of al-Zaherya Library Nahida Taqi al-Din. “The restoration, re-archiving, and rebinding of the books started on April 2009, when all the books were moved from this library to al-Adlyeah school and gathered into two halls (Mohamad Kurd Ali Hall, and Khalyl Mardam Byek Hall). Then specialist started to classify them according to edition 21 of the Dewey classification system and when we discovered that this version is limited and we tried edition 23 with added sections suitable for Arab civilization categories. E-books “A specialized team started to bind, index, and classify the books according to size (M, L, XL) and according to the date of the book,” Taqi al-Din added. “Books that were wrote in 1940 and before are classified as rare books. We depended on electronic indexing and we are planning to use E-book features as the next step. All work took place within the library because its rare and precious books should not be exposed. We have already finished more than the half of the books and moved them to halls in al-Zaherya Library.” Most of the books are on the Arabic language and heritage. The collection contains tens of thousands of Arabic tomes, a periodicals collection dating back to 1878 and manuscripts of great archaeological value. Al-Zaherya library contains ‘Lessan Alarab’ by Eben Manzour printed in the year 1300, ‘Al-Kanoun fe al-Teeb’ by Ibn Sina and ‘Al-Koulyeat’ by Aby Albakaa al-Koufy printed in the year 1300.” Mosaics “The specialized team from the Antiquities and Museums Directorate Antiquities and Museums fixed the shell frame, stone frame, and marbles over the walls of the tomb of Baber and renovated the Islamic arabesque,” explained Mouhamad Alkayed the Director of the Archaeological Mission of Antiquities and Museums. Al-Kayed pointed out that the mosaics in the dome of the tomb of the al-Zahyreah Library are considered the most important in the world after those in Omayyad Mosque. “It shows views of Damascus. The first section shows Damascus and its east and west Ghoutas, and the second section shows imaginary pictures of Paradise with its luxurious palaces and forests as described in the Holy Quran.” Red alert system “We have two levels for visitors, depending on how they want to use the books,” a librarian explained. “The first level is for students. They will have access to a modern hall equipped with new devices. The second level is for researchers. They can use the northern and southern rooms which contain the basic references that the researchers may need and benefit from.” “The new storerooms are equipped with alarm systems in addition to a unit for processing and drying books. We provide new electronic indexes that will help save time “ Al-Zaherya Library was built in 676 A.D. by King Said, son of King al-Zaherya Babers to be home for Najem Alden al-Ayouby , Saladin’s father, and contains the tomb of King al-Zaher Babers.