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11 Wonderful Libraries in Africa

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We’ve brought you beautiful European, South American, North American and Asian libraries, so now it’s time for some of the most amazing libraries in Africa.

1. Library of Alexandria

The most famous library in Africa is the Library of Alexandria — the modern tribute to the famed library of antiquity.

Located on the shore in Alexandria near where the ancient library stood, the Library offers enough room for over eight million books. The cost of construction of the marvel has left the library with limited funds to purchase books, though. As of right now, the collection is at about one million, half of which were donated from the National Library of France. The library holds the largest collection of French-language books in Africa and the sixth largest in the world. The rest are mostly in Arabic and English.

The complex also houses a conference center, four museums, nineteen art galleries, a planetarium, manuscript restoration laboratory, multimedia library, library for maps, special library for the visually impaired and the world's only copy and external backup of the Internet Archive.

Images Courtesy of Noel Hildago's Flickr stream and Wikipedia user CarstenW.

2. Saint Catherine's Monastery Library, Egypt

Saint Catherine’s Monastery was established in 381 and is widely considered the oldest monastery in the world. The library was built sometime in the sixth century, which makes it the oldest continuously running library on Earth. As you would guess, the library has an incredible collection, boasting over 3,500 codices in a variety of languages — second only to the Vatican's.

One of the monastery’s most important holdings is the Achtiname, which contains a promise from Muhammad himself offering his protection to the monastery. The library also once housed the oldest almost completely preserved Bible, but it has since been transported to Russia and then sold to the British Library.

Images courtesy of Gillian C. Boal of the University of California Berkley Library and Beautiful Libraries.

3. Misr University for Science and Technology Library, Egypt

This building's pyramid-shaped skylights bring a touch of ancient Egypt to technology and science students studying here, but the shapes also allow ample natural light without increasing the temperature too much.

The library works to do the same with their collection as they have with their architecture, combining texts on ancient Egypt with science, cultural and recreational readings. The library also houses a museum displaying replicas of the country’s most famous monuments.

Images courtesy of ArchNet.

4. October 6 University Library, Egypt

Wonder why the school is named October 6 University? Because it’s in 6th of October City, of course. The library was built specifically for the college, but it is open to the public and is actually located  about 550 yards off-campus.

5. National Library of South Africa

The country’s oldest library dates back to 1818. Throughout the years, the library received many donations of rare books and manuscripts, and in 1873 the library became a legal deposit library for the Cape Colony, receiving copies of all books published therein. In 1916, the library expanded its legal deposit requirement to cover the whole country. As a result, the library has one of the most amazing and extensive collections in the entire continent. In 1999, the library united with the State Library of Pretoria to form the two branches of the National Library of South Africa.

Image courtesy of Warren Tyrer's Flickr stream.

6. Port Elizabeth Main Library, South Africa

In 1845 the Port Elizabeth News Society started a public subscription library. At first, the group met in a small room, but they earned so much money that they were soon able to buy the entire building. Then the government rented it to use as a court house for almost half a century before the building was torn down and replaced with the current structure, which open in 1902. In 1983 the building was declared a historic monument.

Image courtesy of Mike Barwood's Flickr stream.

7. CL Marais Library, South Africa

The CL Marais Library was built in 1901, before the official establishment of the current Stellenbosch University in 1918. The library had to expand quickly to keep up with the college, and by 1926 it already had to be renovated to add additional space. In 1938, a new library was erected and, by 1983, even that library grew too small and yet another building had to be constructed to contain the school’s ever-growing collection.

Image courtesy of Clive Reid's Flickr stream.

8. Hogsback Library, South Africa

This library is located in a small mountain village and is said to be the smallest library in the world. If you happen to be in the area, don’t plan on visiting the library unless you’re incredibly punctual — it's only open to the public from 3 to 4pm on Wednesday and 9:30 to 10:30am on Saturday.

Image courtesy of Valerie Hinojosa's Flickr stream.

9. Kenyatta University Library, Kenya

This strikingly modern building was completed and opened late last year. It is six stories high and each level serves its own specific function: all acquisition and binding is done in the basement, the first floor offers a student lounge and check-out desk, the second floor houses the social science books, the third is home to the humanities section, the fourth holds the science and technology titles, the fifth is where you can find the special collections and the top level serves as a reading area for students and faculty.

Image courtesy of ODDMAC.

10. Balme Library, Ghana

The main library of the University of Ghana houses six departments and a special section for the disabled. The library’s current holdings number over 100,000 books, including a collection of rare books and prints. It is regarded as the best library in West Africa.

Image courtesy of Swegg's Flickr stream.

11. Keren Public Library, State of Eritrea

Keren, and Eritrea in general, has made quite an effort to provide their war-torn lands with more educational services, particularly modernized libraries. This lovely building is just one of the many libraries that have benefited thanks to donors from all over the world who work with groups like Book Aid International to donate money, computers and books to those who need them most.

Know of any other great African libraries that should be included on this list? Tell us about them in the comments!

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Pol Viladoms
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One of Gaudí's Most Famous Homes Opens to the Public for the First Time
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Pol Viladoms

Visiting buildings designed by iconic Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí is on the to-do list of nearly every tourist passing through Barcelona, Spain, but there's always been one important design that visitors could only view from the outside. Constructed between 1883 and 1885, Casa Vicens was the first major work in Gaudí's influential career, but it has been under private ownership for its entire existence. Now, for the first time, visitors have the chance to see inside the colorful building. The house opened as a museum on November 16, as The Art Newspaper reports.

Gaudí helped spark the Catalan modernism movement with his opulent spaces and structures like Park Güell, Casa Batlló, and La Sagrada Familia. You can see plenty of his architecture around Barcelona, but the eccentric Casa Vicens is regarded as his first masterpiece, famous for its white-and-green tiles and cast-iron gate. Deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005, Casa Vicens is a treasured part of the city's landscape, yet it has never been open to the public.

Then, in 2014 the private Spanish bank MoraBanc bought the property with the intention of opening it up to visitors. The public is finally welcome to take a look inside following a $5.3 million renovation. To restore the 15 rooms to their 19th-century glory, designers referred to historical archives and testimonies from the descendants of former residents, making sure the house looked as much like Gaudí's original work as possible. As you can see in the photos below, the restored interiors are just as vibrant as the walls outside, with geometric designs and nature motifs incorporated throughout.

In addition to the stunning architecture, museum guests will find furniture designed by Gaudí, audio-visual materials tracing the history of the house and its architect, oil paintings by the 19th-century Catalan artist Francesc Torrescassana i Sallarés, and a rotating exhibition. Casa Vicens is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. General admission costs about $19 (€16).

An empty room in the interior of Casa Vicens

Interior of house with a fountain and arched ceilings

One of the house's blue-and-white tiled bathrooms

[h/t The Art Newspaper]

All images courtesy of Pol Viladoms.

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10 Charming Quirks of Old Houses
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iStock

From the totally charming to the truly bizarre, older houses feature tons of tiny details that you'd never find in a brand-new construction. If you're house hunting for an oldie-but-goodie, here are 10 quirky things you might find.

1. MOTHER-IN-LAW BED

Unlike a Murphy bed, which cranks out of the wall, a mother-in-law bed cranks out of the ceiling.

2. DUMBWAITERS


iStock

Any little kid who read Harriet the Spy when they were young wanted a dumbwaiter in their house. Despite what Harriet used it for (spying, of course), dumbwaiters were not meant to carry people; they were most often used as kitchen help, to carry dishes and things when the kitchen and dining room were on different levels of the house. They're still utilized in some restaurants today, and a more modern version can be found in libraries and large office buildings to ferry large amounts of books and files from floor to floor.

3. BUILT-IN BEEHIVES

Don't call an exterminator: built-in beehives are supposed to be there. These were actually installed on purpose for the convenience of the beekeeping homeowner. Pipes go through the walls and behind the walls were beehives. The bees could move about freely through the pipes and make honey. When someone in the kitchen downstairs wanted honey, they simply trekked up the stairs, removed the back of the hive, and grabbed what they needed.

4. COAL CHUTES


Though few people use coal as a heating source these days, many older homes still feature coal chutes: typically, there's a big iron door visible on the outside of the house where shipments of coal would be shoveled in.

5. PHONE NICHE

Not so long ago, landlines were essential to communication—and they weren't the tiny, non-intrusive devices we know today. They were big, heavy, cumbersome things that took up a fair amount of space. To try to keep phones off of countertops and out of the way, home builders started making niches in walls. It seems as though a lot of people are repurposing the niches these days as a place to store mail or perch a plant or two. Boing Boing found one (it was built for Jean Harlow) and thought perhaps it was a place to store champagne or milk bottles; it was later concluded that the spot used to be a phone niche and was divided into a place to vertically store mail once the phone was no longer needed there.

6. SERVANT STAIRCASES


By Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In old mansions that required a large household staff to keep them running, servants were expected to stay out of sight. After all, you wouldn't want your well-heeled guests running into the maid on the staircase, would you? How gauche. The solution was a separate staircase in the back just for servant use. If you've ever run across a kitchen or pantry that could be accessed by two staircases and wondered what on earth the purpose was, now you know.

7. BUTLER'S PANTRY


By Hubbard, Cortlandt V. - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

How nice would it be to have a giant pantry separate from your kitchen? Old houses often have these tiny kitchens, which make a great place for storing your food. But that wasn't always their purpose; some just contained extra counter space and sinks so that servants could do their thing out of sight. In Europe, the silver was often kept in the butler's pantry and the butler would actually sleep in there to guard the silver.

8. COLD CLOSETS

Don't let the name mislead you: a cold closet is not the same thing as an icebox. An icebox was a free-standing piece of furniture that held a big block of ice near the top to keep the contents frozen. (Icemen delivered new blocks of ice every day, just like the milkman.) A cold closet, on the other hand, was built into the house and couldn't actually keep things frozen, just cool. So while you could keep your veggies and cheese and meats cool, stocking ice cream in the cold closet would be a bad idea.

9. MILK DOORS


By Downtowngal - Self-photographed, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

It's been a while since any of us had milk delivered to our back doors, but back when that was the norm, a milk door was standard with a lot of houses. The milkman would open a tiny door on the side of the house, usually right next to the main door, and basically leave the milk in between the walls. Then the homeowners could open the door on their side and remove the bottles. Voila! Fresh milk to go with your breakfast.

10. ROOT CELLARS

Just like in The Wizard of Oz, you have to go outside to access a root cellar—and it was the first place you'd go if you saw a twister off in the distance. As the name suggests, it was used to store veggies for long periods of time, particularly over the winter.

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