At least eight volumes of the historic Description de l'Égypte have been found intact in the rubble of the Egyptian Scientific Institute after it was set on fire on 17 December, according to the Institute’s secretary-general, Mohammed El-Sharnouby.
At a press conference at Sennari House yesterday, El-Sharnouby said that it is highly possible the Description de l'Égypte’s other 16 volumes will be found intact as well.
“The entire collection of volumes was on the same rack, so the discovery of eight volumes intact means fire didn’t get to them,” he explained.
Of the twenty truckloads of manuscripts removed from the fire, only a quarter were intact, said the secretary-general.
“Most of them were completely burned, half-burned, or soaked with water so we’re not going to able to restore them. The damage is unimaginable,” he added.
However, El-Sharnouby said that he can’t estimate how many books will be saved because many more are still under rubble as high as 20 metres after the Institute’s ceiling collapsed from the fire.
El-Sharnouby said he is contacting many regional and international associations to begin restoring the Institute’s titles as soon as possible, although he could not estimate how long it would take to complete, explaining that it’s a very technical and complex process.
“Over 100 restorers from Egypt and abroad are working around the clock at the Egypt National Library and Archives, but we can’t estimate time. Some say it’s going to take 10 years,” he said.
The secretary-general also pointed out that there were two editions of Description de l'Égypte, one called the Imperial Edition, and the Institute’s edition consisting of 24 smaller volumes.
The Institute’s Edition will be available to readers on Bibliotheca Alexandrina’s website soon, promised historian and media director Khaled Azab. He also said the Bibliotheca would reprint the Voltaire Collection that was burned in the fire, as well as produce a documentary about the Institute’s history.
In addition, the Sennari House, which is run by the Bibliotheca, will be open to the Institute’s scientists until the building’s restoration is completed. Located 600 meters from the Institute in the Sayyeda Zeinab neighborhood, it was the original meeting place of the scientist French scientists and scholars who wrote the Description de l'Égypte.
El-Sharnouby, also a geography professor at Fayoum University, stressed that aside from the Description de l'Égypte, the Institute did not possess any monuments or papyrus, except for full archives of periodicals from the 18th and 19th century French expedition.
Minister of Culture Shaker Abdelhamid sparked controversy on Sunday when he stated that the Institute doesn’t follow the Ministry of Culture but rather the Ministry of Social Affairs as it’s a “civil society association,” and his ministry’s efforts to save the books were merely out of “patriotism.”