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Al-Jahith’s Treasury, an Iconic Library in Downtown Amman, Is Reborn

/ 07 May 2021

Al-Jahith’s Treasury, an Iconic Library in Downtown Amman, Is Reborn

With the aim of enriching cultural life in Jordan, the kingdom has reopened Al-Jahith’s Treasury (Khazanat Al-Jahith), an iconic library in the cultural heart of Downtown Amman after a history filled with misfortunes, including a fire in 2018 that destroyed more than 10,000 old books and manuscripts.

The library was created a century ago by Mamdouh Al-Maayta, who established it in Jerusalem in 1922 and moved it to Amman in 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled their homeland. With this move, the first lending library in Jordan was established.

“We are talking about a great history that spans to around 100 years where people used to spend time reading books, meet and discuss what they have read, before technology took over,” Majdi Tall, a journalist who covers cultural news in Jordan, told Al-Fanar Media. “Al-Jahith’s Treasury is truly an icon and a symbol of this great place that used to serve intellectuals, students and researchers with thousands of titles and in many languages.”

The library, which both lends and sells books, was named after the 9th century Arab writer Abu ‘Uthman ‘Ami ibn Bakr al-Kinani al-Fuqaimi al-Basri, popularly known as al-Jahiz, who died, according to legend, when a huge pile of books fell on him.

“In the 1940s, the library was supported by the late King Abdullah I of Jordan,” said Tall, “and in 2018, King Abdullah II supported the rehabilitation of the library after the fire,” which destroyed the library’s main kiosk, one of three.

A Gathering Place for Intellectuals

“It is really a great moment to see the library breathe again, thanks to the support of our king and Al-Zaytoonah University of Jordan, in addition to the Greater Amman Municipality and the support from all the people who enjoy reading books.”

Shahin Al-Maayta   One of the proprietors of Al-Jahith's Treasury

When Mamdouh Al-Maayta died in 1993, three of his seven sons—Hisham, Hamzeh and Muhammad—inherited his business and worked together in building the library’s three kiosks in Downtown Amman, a place where intellectuals and writers used to sit and discuss literature and politics in the 1940s and ´50s.

Unfortunately, Hisham Al-Maayta died in a car accident a few months after the fire. His son Shahin took over the work and saw the dreams of his grandfather and father come true when the kiosk opened to the public again in April.

“It is really a great moment to see the library breathe again, thanks to the support of our king and Al-Zaytoonah University of Jordan, in addition to the Greater Amman Municipality and the support from all the people who enjoy reading books,” Shahin Al-Maayta said. “The library has had a good history and will continue to bring enjoyment to its fans.”

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Ali Al-Ayed, Jordan’s minister of culture, spoke on behalf of King Abdullah II at the special ceremony inaugurating the kiosk’s reopening. “The library is an important witness of the cultural movement in the kingdom through its strategic location in the heart of Amman,” he said.

Remodeled With a Focus on Authenticity

The library went through some remodeling before the reopening, with support from the private Al-Zaytoonah University of Jordan, with designs that focused on authenticity and aspects of local culture. It has an octagonal shape and a white exterior, using the traditional old Amman stone to fit in with its surroundings. It also has indoor and outdoor spaces with all-weather reading counters, and a new digitized system for easy reference to all of its books and documents.

According to Shahin Al-Maayta, the library provides research materials to students who are looking to enrich their knowledge with credible sources.

“Thousands of books and references are here to provide students and researchers with all what they need regarding various subjects, and we are happy that despite the presence of the Internet, many students prefer to come here.”

Shahin Al-Maayta  

“Thousands of books and references are here to provide students and researchers with all what they need regarding various subjects, and we are happy that despite the presence of the Internet, many students prefer to come here,” he said.

Shahin recalls the day when thousands of rare books and documents were destroyed.

“The incident devastated my family and all those dedicated people who used to visit the library, and I thank His Majesty King Abdullah for his support to the library and also the many initiatives to enrich the library and compensate for the lost books and documents,” he said.  “I hope that this small kiosk will keep serving its people and the generations to come,” he added. (See two related articles,  “Getting Books Into the Hands of Arab Readers” and “Why Don’t Arabs Read?”)

A Physical Connection With Books

Rania Rshaidat is one book fan who still loves the physical experience of holding a book. “Yes, technology is important,” she said, “but there is something classic about holding a real book in your hand while relaxing in your bed or at the beach. I still go to Downtown and visit the old libraries, especially Al-Jahith’s Treasury, and I always get lucky in finding new and exotic titles.”

“These, if I may call them educational institutions, carry moments in history that many cherish,” she added, “and the reopening of Al-Jahith’s Treasury is another moment in history that surrounds the cultural side of Jordan.”

“Reading a book teaches you to remember,” she said, “but now as we depend more and more on the Internet, we tend to become too lazy to remember because the information is always there at a click of a button. That is why I prefer to read a book and not go to the Internet to read.”




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Copyright © 2018 Al-Fanar Mediaحقوق © 2018 الفنار للإعلام