24 February 2024 10:14 PM

Library of Egypt's Scientific Institute

Sunday، 23 February 2020 - 02:24 PM

Egypt's Scientific Institute, also known as the Institut d'Égypte, was established on August 20, 1798, by virtue of a resolution by Napoleon Bonaparte. It was located at the house of one of the Mamluks in Cairo, and then moved to Alexandria in 1859 to be entitled: Egypt's Scientific Institute. In 1880, it moved again to Cairo. It was established with the aim of promoting scientific advancement in Egypt, disseminating science and knowledge throughout the country and researching and documenting its historical events and industrial facilities. It comprised four divisions; i.e. mathematics, physics, political economy, literature and fine arts. In 1918, changes were made to the divisions to contain literature, fine arts, archaeology, philosophical and political sciences, mathematics, physics, medicine, agriculture and natural history. The Institute comprises a library that includes 200,000 books and annual magazines.


There were two reason for its establishment: the apparent reason was to support the advancement of science in Egypt, study the historical events, industrial facilities, and natural factors, as well as offering consultations to the inquiries of the leaders of the French campaign.  However, the real reason was to carry out a detailed study on Egypt and on how to exploit its resources for the benefit of the French occupier. This study resulted in Description of Egypt.

Description of the complex:

With the departure of the French campaign in 1801, the activity of the Institute stopped. Part of the headquarters of the old institute; i.e. the house of Ibrahim Katkhda, nicknamed Sannari, remained.

The new headquarters of the complex:

Since the departure of the French, the building was neglected. Then, Dr. Wallen, the consul of Britain in Egypt, succeeded in establishing the Egyptian Scientific Association to play its role. Besides, Dr. Henry Elliott, an Englishman, and Brise Daven, the French scientist, established  The Egyptian Literature Association in 1842 to perform the same role. On May 6, 1856, Muhammad Said Pasha, governor of Egypt, announced the re-establishment of the Institute again in Alexandria. The above-mentioned associations were incorporated in the new Institute. It included many members of the old complex.

Activities of the Institute:

In 1880, the Institute moved to Cairo and its activities began to be organized. The division of the Institute changed to be as follows: department of literature and fine arts, archaeology, Philosophical and political sciences, natural sciences and mathematics, medicine and agriculture and natural history. There are 150 members in these divisions.

Institute Fire:

On December 17th, 2011, the building caught on fire during protests near Tahrir Square. Fires also broke out the next morning after the ceiling of the building caved in.

Books and manuscripts salvaged by volunteers

Dr. Mahmoud Anwar, an archaeology professor at Cairo University who supervises manuscripts and reference books at the Institute, said the Institute's return "was like a dream, especially since parts of the building collapsed and the blaze consumed many important acquisitions".

While the building was being restored, books and manuscripts -- salvaged from the fire by young volunteers -- were also sorted and restored, he said.

Despite these successes, as much as 70% of the Institute's collection was lost, including the "Description of Egypt" encyclopaedia, which was replaced with digital copies and a copy gifted by Emirati emir Sheikh Sultan al-Qasimi, he said.

"It is unfortunate that so many manuscripts have been lost, especially those that date back to 1628 and which are irreplaceable," Anwar said.

He spoke about the Institute's current assets, which include "old books belonging to the Institute and [some] from collections donated by many scientific and literary figures, as well as civil society activists".

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