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

Can You Name the New Seven Wonders of the World?

Millions of people voted these magnificent places as the "new" seven wonders of the world.

Want to See Area 51? Tikaboo Peak is the Closest You Can Legally Get

Catch a glimpse of the goings-on at the base from this picturesque view.

The Eight Faces Of The Great Pyramid Of Giza

This ancient structure has more sides than you think.

North Sentinel Island Is Home to the Last Uncontacted People on Earth

This area is one of the last uncharted places left on the map.

These Are the 6 Best Cities for Biking in the US

Biking could be one of the best things you can do for yourself.

Son Doong Cave Is So Big It Has Its Own Rainforest

This amazing cave also houses an impressive eco-system.

There's a Secret Room Behind Mount Rushmore Meant for Future Civilizations

This hidden room within the mountain was designed for the future.

Breaking New Ground with Paleontologist from Mongolia

Meet Bolortsetseg (Bolor) Minjin, a Mongolian paleontologist and Explorers Club Fellow who played a pivotal role in stopping the sale of a fossil skeleton of the dinosaur Tyrannosaurus bataar, illegally collected from Mongolia. Bolor has also helped coordinate the return of over 30 other stolen dinosaurs to Mongolia.

How to Build the 7 Different Campfires You'll Need This Summer

Learn how to master the flame with one of these fires.