La Libération newspaper has confirmed that the 213-year-old Institut d’Égypte, which was founded by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798, has been ravaged by fire. The Institute is near Tahrir Square, which has been the site of protests, confrontations and police violence, and it is considered the oldest scientific institute in Egypt with more than 200,000 books, including the original volumes of the “Description de l’Égypte” (Description of Egypt), begun in 1798 by French scientists in Egypt.
BBC reports that the fire at the Instite was set two days ago during the early phase of violence between Egyptian military forces and protesters and the fire is still smoldering. It doesn’t appear clear at this time what ignited the fire.
According to La Libération:
Les murs extérieurs, noircis autour des fenêtres, sont encore debout, mais la toiture et les planchers se sont effondrés. L’intérieur n’est plus qu’un amoncellement de gravats calcinés d’où émergent des fragments d’étagères ou des morceaux de reliures.
[Translation: The exterior walls, blackened around the windows, are still standing but the roof and floors collapsed. The interior is nothing but a pile of charred rubble from which emerge fragments of shelves or pieces of bindings.]
Le Monde reports:
Des manifestants ont pénétré, dimanche 18 décembre, dans le bâtiment encore fumant de l’Institut d’Egypte, incendié la veille, pour en extraire des manuscrits anciens, dont une partie était brûlée. Le ministre de la culture Chaker Abdel Hamid a qualifié ce sinistre de “catastrophe pour la science”, et annoncé la “formation d’un comité de spécialistes de la restauration des livres et des manuscrits quand les conditions de sécurité le permettront”.
[Translation: On Sunday, December 18, demonstrators entered the Institut d’Egypte building which was still smoldering from the fire the day before, to extract ancient manuscripts, some of which were burned. The Minister of Culture Shaker Abdel Hamiddescribed the disaster “catastrophe for science,” and announced the”formation of a committee of specialists in the restoration of books and manuscripts when security conditions permit.”]
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.