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Founded and Restored: Both by Women

The land of spices, exotic vacations and travelers like Ibn Batuta holds great history in it. Every place has a story, stories that engulf and enchant us, Morocco is famous for his cuisine especially couscous. It is also the land of the oldest library in the world. not only that it was founded by a woman. Qarawiyyin library was founded 12 centuries ago by Fatima El-Fihri. In 2012 the library was restored by a Canadian-Moroccan architect, Aziza Chaouni. The library houses more manuscripts than books. Not only the library El Fihri helped found the al-Qarawiyyin university which she attended. 

El Fihri’s father was a wealthy trader, who moved from Tunisia to Morocco and settled in Fez. After his death, Firih inherited his wealth. She always wanted to use that prosperity to create a center of knowledge. Hence, ended up building a library, a university and a mosque, all three together. The al-Qarawiyyin University was opened in 859 when early forms of algebra were being invented. It took four years to restore the library. In 2016 in order to showcase the renovated al-Qarawiyyin university, it was opened to the general public. Previously, it was only accessible to academics and theologians. 


The library still has the original diploma of El-Firih, which is a wooden board. Now the library has a collection of restored fountains and carefully reformed texts, among them many are original religious works. It has around 4,000 manuscripts and many area 12th century old. The Qurans are from 9th century written in Kufic calligraphy. This Quran is the oldest known accounts of the life of Prophet Muhammad. The library holds a collection of ancient Arabic manuscripts written by famous scholars of the region.


Interestingly the library was founded by a woman and was restored by a woman only. Aziza a Canadian-Moroccan architect had a special connection with the city and the library. Aziza grew up in Fez watching the library aloof of the mysteries that hid behind its ginormous door. Aziza’s great-grandfather was a student at the al-Qarawiyyin University. She loved reading books as a child and she always wanted to visit the library. It was a challenge for Aziza to restore the library as well as modernizing it. She explains that the renovated building will have better climate control and high-tech stations for preserving the manuscripts. In an interview Chaouni shares,

“When I was young, I was immensely impressed by this young woman (Fatima al-Fihri) who devoted her entire fortune that she inherited and also her entire life to creating a center of knowledge for her city. So, when I was asked to rehabilitate this building, I was extremely excited. Me, myself being a woman, asked to rehabilitate a building by a woman.”

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