10 Jun 2013

UNESCO Iraq Press Release - Conserving the priceless manuscripts of Najaf: Protecting the history of civilization

Najaf 9 June 2013

International and Iraqi experts, historians, and members of the world's intellectual society turn to Iraq as UNESCO and the Ministry of Culture launch a pioneering programme to conserve the priceless books and manuscripts of the city of Najaf, a main centre of Islamic and Arab religious and intellectual production.      

Twenty-seven librarians and manuscript conservators from all main libraries in Najaf, including the library of the Alawiya shrine; but also from the Abbasiya and Husayniya shrines in Karbala, and the National Centre for Manuscripts and National Library in Baghdad, will participate in this world-class training programme delivered by an Italian and a Greek expert-conservators with special expertise in Islamic manuscripts.

To be held from 9 to 20 June 2013 in Al Aminy Library in the Old City of Najaf, this training will provide participants with the basic knowledge and technical skills in preventive conservation of books and manuscript, and improve their capacity to manage and preserve their unique documentary heritage.

"This is the very first time that such a training programme will be conducted in the city of Najaf in recognition of the immense historical and heritage value of its collection of manuscripts and books", stated UNESCO Iraq director Louise Haxthausen. "These manuscripts are the repositories of accumulated scientific, literary and religious knowledge over several centuries. Their value goes beyond Najaf and Iraq: they hold the tales of a golden era in the life of a civilization that inspired the world".

The Holy City of Najaf is one of the main centres of learning in the Islamic world, and one of the most sacred places for the Shiite community worldwide on account of hosting the tomb of Imam Ali. Najaf's 12 major libraries, among which the Alawiya Shrine library, in addition to several family-owned smaller ones which have witnessed the passing on of these manuscripts for generations, host a very large collection of extremely rare books and manuscript including Quranic verses and Arabic poems, some dating back to the 10th century CE.

In December 2012, UNESCO undertook an assessment mission under the framework of the "Safeguarding Najaf’s cultural heritage and promoting its international visibility" project, supported by the Iraqi Ministry of Culture, to study the conservation status of books and manuscripts in the city, visiting all major libraries, meeting management and staff, and evaluating training needs. On the basis of this assessment, it was decided to hold a series of three on-site and hand-on training sessions for library curators focusing on preventive conservation for books and manuscripts. Two additional sessions will follow in September and November 2013.


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