Rescuing the Books of al-Jazzar
The al-Jazzar Mosque of Akka still houses parts of a significant collection now spread around the globe. But the local holdings are at risk. Funded by the ALIPH Foundation, the CSMC is carrying out a project to create the conditions for the long-term preservation of the collection.
The al-Jazzar library is located in a mosque in the northern Israeli port city of Akka, which played an important economic and administrative role in the Ottoman Empire due to its strategically favourable location. Established by the Ottoman governor Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar (d. 1804), it was one of the largest libraries in Greater Syria and one of the most significant mosque libraries in Palestine. After al-Jazzar’s death, the collection of some 1,800 manuscripts dispersed in all directions; parts of the collection are now in libraries around the world, including Princeton, Berlin, London, and Tokyo. At CSMC, an affiliated research project is dedicated to the history and importance of the collection.
Today, only a small part of the library is still in the al-Jazzar Mosque itself. This remaining part of the library is in a critical condition. There are no adequate storage conditions for the early prints and handwritten archival materials on site; moreover, there is a lack of professionals who can ensure proper treatment of the documents. At present, these documents are in such a fragile state that doing research on them is not an option.
Since September 2023, the CSMC is carrying out a project in the library, which is funded by the ALIPH Foundation. The aim is, first and foremost, to stabilise the collection through effective immediate measures, such as dry cleaning and deacidification and setting up a suitable storage room. These activities fall under the remit of two trainees who will be working in Akka on behalf of the CSMC.
The programme includes instructions in basic conservation measures. These courses are led by Maria Luisa Russo, who works for the CSMC as a field manager and has extensive experience in the field of cultural heritage conservation. In addition to the two trainees, other members of the al-Jazzar mosque also take part in the workshop. In the future, their work will help to create the conditions to ensure that the documents in the library of al-Jazzar will be preserved, and accessible to research.