The Ancient al-Qarawiyyin Library in Fez. The oldest library in the world.

638369168

The Ancient al-Qarawiyyin Library in Fez. The oldest library in the world.

Photo by: Gregor Inkret

Gregor Inkret

You Can Visit The World's Oldest Library in Fez, Morocco

By: Anna Todd

Check out rare books at the world's oldest continually operating library.

August 01, 2019

Imagine heading to the library for some light reading and picking up a 9th-century Quran or a 10th-century account of the Prophet Muhammad's life. Both works, as well as 4,000 other rare books, can be found at the world's oldest continually operating library. Al-Qarawiyyin library in Fez, Morocco opened in 1359 C.E., at the University of Al-Qarawiyyin (also the world's oldest, built in 859 C.E.). The library has since been restored to its former glory, and the precious documents that were once under lock and key are now available to the public.

Women Get Stuff Done

You can thank two boss women for your access to this historic space. First, Fatima El-Fihriya. Like many other wealthy women in the medieval Islamic world, she had received a top-notch education growing up. But in those days, you didn't really go to "school" to get your degree. In fact, you didn't get a degree at all. As an adult, however, many of the male members of her family passed away, leaving Fatima and her sister Mariam with a sizeable inheritance. She used that money to pioneer a brand-new concept: a place that would not just educate you, but grant you a certificate guaranteeing that your education was complete. Fatima El-Fihriya herself was one of the first people to receive that degree — in fact, you can still visit her original diploma on a wooden board at the library.

Fatima El-Fihriya did a lot of the heavy lifting back in the 14th century, but the work has continued ever since then. Enter the woman responsible for the library's current splendor: Aziza Chaouni. In 2017, she and her team of architects took on the major renovation of the 650-year-old building. The engineers had some formidable tasks ahead of them, like rebuilding the library's foundations, installing a new sewage system, and re-tiling the iconic green roof. To prevent humidity from harming the works even further, they installed air conditioning. Other modern improvements were made, such as installing solar panels, digital locks to secure the rare book room, and, according to CNN, "a high-tech laboratory built for restoring precious manuscripts."

As Old As Algebra

Al-Qarawiyyin university is only 30 years younger than the city of Fez itself. Around the same time the library was being built, algebra (itself a Muslim invention) was just making its way into Europe. It's fitting, then, that the library contains not only a treasure trove of priceless religious texts, but also numerous mathematical and scientific works as well. Thanks to Aziza Chaouni, its beautiful fountains and gorgeous white-columned passageways are now open to the public as well. As you browse through several centuries of renowned scholars, you'll be following in the footsteps of some of the most ambitious and brilliant women in history.

This article first appeared on Curiosity.com.

Next Up

Three New Species of Snakes Discovered in Graveyards and Churches in Ecuador

A team of scientists led by Alejandro Arteaga, grantee of The Explorers Club Discovery Expeditions and researcher at Khamai Foundation, discovered three new cryptozoic (living underground) snakes dwelling under graveyards and churches in remote towns in the Andes region of Ecuador.

Meet the Ancient Egyptian Gods Who Empower DC Comic's Black Adam

Get to know the six ancient Egyptian gods behind the latest DC Comics film Black Adam, starring Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, in theaters starting October 21.

Women May Have Been Powerful Rulers of the Ancient World

A discovery in Spain has experts wondering whether women were once powerful rulers in ancient Europe.

What's Inside the Secret Chambers in the Pyramids of Giza

A powerful new cosmic ray scan of the Great Pyramid of Giza could finally reveal what’s inside two voids in the structure that have baffled scientists for years.

Take Off with the Tipple Family on the All-New Series NATURE IS FLY

On the all-new series, NATURE IS FLY, go on adventures to experience nature and science with the Tipple family. They travel the country and meet the people who are the best in their fields of conservation and more.

Water Cremation Offers Eco-Alternative For Funerals

Funeral traditions around the world vary widely depending on cultural and religious practices, but they often use burial or cremation. Neither method is good for the environment, and green alternatives are gaining in popularity. Aquamation, or water cremation, is a low-carbon, less energy-intensive process that could replace both.

The Hunt for Outlaw Jesse James’ Treasure

For decades, a story had circulated amongst locals in the Ozarks that Jesse James and his gang had hidden treasure from a bank robbery they’d carried out in 1874.

A Canadian Teen Once Discovered an Ancient Temple – Using Google Maps

Most teenagers while away hours playing video games, scrolling TikTok, or texting friends. Not William Gadoury, a 14-year-old from Saint-Jean-de-Matha, Quebec. Back in 2016, Gadoury was holed up in his bedroom, plotting ancient Mayan constellations against modern satellite images and coordinates.

A Majestic City Carved into Rock, Thousands of Years Ago

Carved into soft stone cliffs, the ancient sandstone city of Petra was built in the 3rd century BC by the Nabataeans. These people were a nomadic Arab tribe–Bedouins–who roamed the Arabian Desert in search of pasture and water for their herds.

A Spanish Sunken Galleon Has a $17B Bounty Onboard - and Now You Can See It

Way back in 1708, when the War of Spanish Succession was waging across Europe and Latin America to decide who should be the next King of Spain, three Spanish galleons set sail from Panama. They were loaded to the brim with gold, silver, emeralds, and other jewels that had been extracted from the mines of Bolivia – and were vital in financing Spain’s costly war against its enemies.