Destruction of Heritage: Dar el-Kutub

It has begun.  Beyond revolution, now retribution.  The wheels of revenge and retaliation are never-ending. When two trains collide, there are only casualties.

The deep fear in all hearts is that Egypt might follow in Syria’s footsteps. Today, three years since the so-called Egyptian Revolution, the headlines scream,  ‘bombs’. Violence has taken on a new, ugly and veiled face—car bombs. The vile guerrilla warfare affects not only the innocent, taking lives, destroying antiquities and heritage, but also leaving the economy continuously in shatters. What man builds, man destroys.

Along with four lives and a multitude of injured, the façade of Dar el-Kutub the National Library and Archives and the Islamic Museum sustained significant damage. Many priceless displays representing Islamic civilization over the last millennium are lost. Four Mamluke mosques were effected. See: Neighbouring Historical Mosques Damaged

More pictures of damage, here.

The following is an excerpt about Dar el-Kutub from Cairo The Family Guide, which I wrote in 2010:

Libraries have identities, they have character, history and memory. Like the great libraries of the world, Dar el-Kutub holds its place in Egypt’s fascinating history.  In the 1870s, literature and the intellectual community were fascinated with French culture much to the encouragement of Khedive Ismail’s transformation of Cairo for the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. Ismail actively encouraged education programs and created the ministry of education with Egyptian intellectual, Ali Pasha Mubarak, who became the first minister. Dar el-Kutub was Mubarak’s brain-child. His vision was to fashion a national, public library after the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and on March 23, 1870, Ismail decreed the establishment of Khedivian Kutub Khana. Prince Mustafa Fadel, Ismail’s brother, donated his palace for the location of the first library. Following this great act of philanthropy, royals and intellectuals began to donate their rare book and manuscript collections to the library.

Dar el-Kutub outgrew the palace walls and in 1898, Khedive Abbas Helmi II commissioned a new building that was completed in 1904. This is the site of the present-day Islamic Museum at Bab el-Khalq.  But, the library would not remain in grand halls.  After the Egyptian Revolution, in 1952, it was decided that the library move to a more open and spacious venue. A new site on the Corniche el-Nil in Bulaq was opened in 1971. Fortuitously, Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak took action to save Dar el-Kutub at Bab el-Khalq. The building was restored and opened to the public in 2006. The decision was made that contemporary titles and classical literature would remain in the National Library on the Nile, while rare and precious manuscripts are kept at Dar el-Kutub at Bab el-Khalq.

Dar el-Kutub at Bab el-Khalq also serves as a museum. Its purpose is to exhibit rare Qurans, coins, and manuscripts; to conserve manuscripts from the Arab and Islamic world; and to provide research opportunities for scholars. Its contribution to the world is to collect, preserve and interpret Islamic heritage.

For more history and old photographs of Dar el-Kutub and update on damage, click here.

All Photographs and text are under international copyright laws. No re-use without the written permission of Lesley Lababidi 2023.

5 thoughts on “Destruction of Heritage: Dar el-Kutub

  1. Dear Lesley,

    Thanks for explaining to us the history of Dar el-Kutub and the 4 mosques near by that were affected & of the gravity of the damage and destruction of the rare and precious Islamic artifact resulting from these senseless acts of violence in Egypt. Neither the wonderful people of Egypt nor the country deserve this.
    You are a deep well of knowledge and a wonderful resource person of information about Egypt and the Middle East. Our hearts ache and we are full of sorrow! God bless you.

    Mohamed Tanamly

    • Dear Mohamed,
      I can say from the bottom of my heart that I love Egypt. I love the Egyptian people, the history, the culture, the generosity, the landscapes, the diversity. Destruction is easy, one can always destroy, it is building and maintaining that takes great persistence. Thank you for your comments.

      • Dear Leslie and Mohamed,
        I agree completely with both of you. It wept when I saw the photo. I grieve deeply for the destruction of priceless reminders of human greatness throughout the world and of course feel it most painfully when it’s done to places I have personally known and loved. Dar el Kutub in Cairo and the Buddhas in Bamian, Afghanistan were among my two favorites. What will we tell our grandchildren?
        Mary Lyn Rusmore-Villaume

      • Dear Mary Lyn,
        I know, I know…our grandchildren will not have the chance to experience so much of human heritage if we continue destroying. By now, shouldn’t humans know better? Haven’t we advanced enough intellectually? The answer is ‘no’ and this, is sad, sad, sad.

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