Al-Qarawiyyin Library is the oldest library in the world. It is located in Fez, Morocco, and was part of the oldest continually operating university in the world, al-Qarawiyyin University. The university opened in 859. (If you’re thinking this can’t be right because Oxford is the oldest university, note that it’s simply the oldest in the English-speaking world. Even the University of Bologna was founded after al-Qarawiyyin.)
Al-Qarawiyyin had a library, but sultan Abu Inan Faris founded the one we consider the oldest continually operating library in 1349. He was able to collect some of the world’s most precious manuscripts.
How the al-Quarawiyyin Library came to be
Al-Qarawiyyin university, its library, and a mosque were founded by a woman (around the same time algebra was invented!).
Her name was Fatima El-Fihriya, and she even attended the university. Born in Tunisia around 800 AD, her family became wealthy as a result of her father’s successful merchant business and migrated to Fez.
Both well-educated, Fatima and her sister Maryam went on to found mosques in Fez. Fatima’s wealth was a result of her father having only two daughters to leave his riches to, and Fatima’s husband and father died shortly after her wedding. However, we know little else about their lives. A fire in 1323 destroyed most of the records that could tell us more about her life.
It appears Fatima El-Fihriya’s goal was to make Morocco an educational hub, which she did. In fact (while it’s disputed), she likely influenced the future of educational institutions around the world.
Al-Qarawiyyin offered many courses on the Qur’an, but eventually expanded to include the study of medicine, grammar, mathematics, music, and astronomy. It drew intellectuals from all over the world.
Once accessible only to academics, the library is now open to the public thanks to a full renovation Canadian-Moroccan architect Aziza Chaouni began in 2012 and finished in 2017.
Source: “The Fascinating History of the World’s Oldest Library; Al-Qarawiyyin Library and University, Fez” – Odyssey Traveler