A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, November 14, 2016

Digitizing the Qarawiyyin Library

The political news both here and in the Middle East is depressing, so I will post something hopeful: the Library of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, described in the article as the oldest library in the world, is having its great collection digitized.

The story contains an Al Jazeera video which I have not been able to embed successfully, so you should watch it at the link. I'm not sure it's the world's oldest library, but among its many treasures is a manuscript of Ibn Khaldun's Muqaddima said to be written in his own hand, What historian could resist that?

For those of you who have never had the pleasure of wandering the Medina of the old city of Fez, or Fas al-Bali, you must try to get there, as it is one of the best preserved Arab cities, with many of its industries, particularly its famous tanneries producing Moroccan leather. (Those with sensitive noses might not want to tour the tanneries, though.) For centuries, Fez was Morocco's capital.

The city was founded in 789 AD by Idris I on the west bank of the Jawhar River; in 808 his son and successor Idris II founded a rival town on the east bank; they eventually merged. In the ninth centuries two groups of Arab immigrants arrived in Fez. One set, from Muslim Spain (al-Andalus), settled on the west bank, while the other group, from Kairouan (Qayrawan) in Tunisia, settled on the east bank. The two banks came to be known by the names of the two great Friday mosques, that of the Andalusians (al-Andalusiyyin) and that of those from Kairouan (al-Qarawiyyin). The mosque of Al-Qarawiyyin became a university mosque, still functioning. For the rest of the story, see the link above.

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