Although you must have an appointment to visit this
library, owned by Antoine Abi Heila a dealer, restorer
and polymath the chance to explore his fabulous
collection of 16th 20th century books is definitely
well worth the effort
on the ground floor of a quiet building in Tabaris,
Bibliopolis is artfully decorated with curiosities
such as shoes from different periods of Abi Heila's
life. Bibliopolis' main attraction however, not surprisingly
given the name, is books. Opened some 10 years ago,
it is not commercially viable, but it is a pleasure
and even more so, a passion.
the 1970s, at the age of 18, he discovered that a
contemporary edition of Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
was 10 French francs, and a new edition was the same
price. So, Abi Heila preferred to buy the 19th century
edition in a nice leather binding.
him, the cover, the illustrations and the binding
of the book were just as important as the text itself.
He wanted to hold the book, to feel it and see it
on his shelves, a far cry from the current state of
French, Syriac, Hebrew, Latin and Geez (an ancient
Ethiopian language) are only a sampling of the languages
found inside, what can only be described as Aladdin's
cave of literary treasures. Although some items, such
as an Ottoman ''perpetual calendar'' and a papal decree
from 1690 are kept under glass, Abi-Heila readily
handles the other books carefully.
opens his books on an ornate wooden stand and points
out that when opening and holding a book, you should
never open it wide because it could break the spine.
As a book preservation advisor, married to a book
restorer, he should know.
Bibliopolis is the workshop where the Abi-Heilas carry
out book and manuscript preservation and restoration.
Unlike art restoration, book restoration doesn't have
to be invisible. It can be evident but discreet. It
is also important that a restoration be reversible
so that a future restorer, in years to come, can remove
for instance the acid-free tape used to repair the
book without any damage to it.
wife Rita is the expert book-restorer of the two.
She studied restoration for four years in France.
The two now work together on major restorations, which
he emphasizes are mainly for serious collectors or
museum pieces, as they can be quite expensive.
highlight of Abi-Heila's collection was what he says
is the first printed book to mention Beirut and Tripoli,
Written by Luduvico di Varthema (1470-1517), a traveler
and friend of Christopher Columbus. The book, Itinerario
de Luduvico de Varthema Bolognese, was printed in
to Abi-Heila, there are only two other known existing
copies, one at The British Museum and the other at
The Bavarian State Library. Written in German, Varthema's
book is best known as the first description of the
pilgrimage to Mecca by a non-Muslim.
asked about the shoes, he explained that the leather
sandals were from when he was in Paris during what
he called his revolutionary Trotskyite period, the
gentlemanly brogues represented his bourgeoisie period,
the high-class slippers his academic phase, etc Which
shoes will represent his Bibliopolis years we wondered?
Nagib Trad Str., Saint Nicolas, Achrafieh Telephone
+961 3 812318
Opening hours: Open by appointment only, Monday to
Saturday, 10am - 7pm
Credit to: Lebanon Traveler Magazine Issue 6 March
- June 2013