Last Wednesday in Sarajevo, a new library opened its doors: the Gazi Husrev-bey Library, which holds tens of thousands of books and manuscripts which were rescued by volunteers from the chaos of the siege of the city in 1992-95.
IBNA: Accordin to Booktrade, the library actually dates back to 1527, when it was founded with money left in his will by Gazi Husrev-bey, the Ottoman governor and generally considered the greatest builder of Sarajevo, who directed that the money be used to purchase books for the Kuršumli madrassa.
Over the centuries, it grew to house an extraordinary collection, including masterpieces of calligraphy, books printed at the first Islamic printing press in Istanbul, the oldest Bosnian newspapers, and Sarajevo’s judicial records of the city. Its collection also reflects the historic diversity of the area, containing texts in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Bosnian.
In the ‘90s, as the city was under siege and the Sarajevo National Library and Oriental Institute went up in flames, the curator of the library Mustafa Jahic decided to take precautionary action. With a group of volunteers, he smuggled the collection to a series of secure locations. It was an intrepid and incredibly dangerous rescue operation—a recent Ahram article about the re-opening of the library describes “book lovers braving sniper fire to smuggle them in banana crates from one safe house to another.” They also microfilmed large amounts of material, using “equipment brought in through a tunnel beneath the city airport.”
Jahic and his team managed to preserve the collection, and now, some twenty years after, it has been brought together again in a new building near the site of the original library. The new Gazi Husrev-bey Library was substantially supported by the Qatari government, who donated $9 million for its construction. It also contains a laboratory for the preservation of books and manuscripts, and a website with digitized versions of the holdings is planned for the future.