On the 17th December 2011, during the demonstrations and clashes between security forces and protestors, an important library in central Cairo was gutted by fires. The Egyptian Scientific Institute held an extremely rare collection
of Egyptian maps and historical manuscripts, as well as some 200,000 books, including the original volumes of the Description de l’Égypte. This work was started in 1798 by French scholars following Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Egypt and deemed ‘irreplaceable’ by experts. The volumes contained the first highly detailed studies of Egyptian archaeology and history, with over 150 experts as well as 2000 artists and technicians systematically examining contemporary and ancient Egyptian civilization, producing 20 volumes of text and plates in extraordinary accuracy
Some of the papers held in the building were rescued by local volunteers, although The Guardian reported that this amounted to a tiny proportion of the total collection that the library had originally held, with much now lost. The BBC’s Cairo correspondent Sara Hashash reported on 14th January on the work being undertaken in a small dingy ground-floor
room at Egypt’s National Archives, led by Mona Mohammed Abdo, the head of book restoration there, to salvage as much as possible. A vast rescue operation is being mounted as restorers work long hours to try to save some of the ancient books and manuscripts. Continuing protests have hampered rescue efforts and the building itself is said to
be in danger of collapsing, the top floor has already caved in.