Poised amid the crumbling buildings that line the beachfront of Egypt’s second-largest city, the hypermodern reincarnation of the ancient library of Alexandria looks as if it dropped from outer space. The disc-shaped design, by Norwegian firm Snøhetta (which also created the bold National Opera House in Oslo), resembles a high-tech, concrete-and-glass rendition of the sun rising over the Mediterranean. The library opened in 2002 on roughly the same site where its ancient predecessor disappeared 1,600 years ago. The re-creation, funded mostly by unesco, the Egyptian government, and other Arab nations, came amid questions about its prospects in a country that limits press freedoms and censors books. Others have wondered whether a brick-and-mortar library is still relevant in the Internet era. But this is far more than a book repository: the complex also contains four museums, a planetarium, a children’s science center, a library for the blind, and seven research institutes. The drumlike exterior wall of the building, clad in gray granite, is inscribed with characters from some 120 languages. Inside, the soaring main reading room is divided into multiple levels that cascade downward beneath a glass canopy, held aloft by slender concrete pillars inspired by papyrus stems.
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