The famous Alexandrian Library stood beside the Mouseion in the center of the city. Dedicated to "the writings of all nations", it welcomed scholars and attracted the cream of ancient philosophers, historians, artists, poets, doctors, geographers and mathematicians and supported research and debates. By the mid-first century BC it held more than 500.000 manuscipts. A second, smaller part was built near the Serapeum, the Temple of Serapis. The original library burned during the Alexandrian Wars when Julius Ceasar set fire to the fleet in the harbor. Though rebuilt by Mark Anthony, it was finally destroyed by the Emperor Aurelian in AD 270. The branch library near the Serapeum was later destroyed by the Christians.
Intended both as a commemoration and an emulation of the original, the new Bibliotheca Alexandria was inaugurated in 2002 near the site of the old library. The main reading room covers 70,000 m² on eleven cascading levels. The complex also houses a conference center, four museums, four art galleries, a planetarium and a manuscript restoration laboratory. The main reading room stands beneath a 32-meter-high glass-panelled roof, tilted out toward the sea like a sundial. The walls are of gray Aswan granite, carved with characters from 120 different human scripts.