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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

Located 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.

In 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.

For 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 e-book technology.

Arabic, 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.

He 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.

Inside 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.

Abi-Heila's 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.

A 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 1515.

According 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.

When 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?

Address: Nagib Trad Str., Saint Nicolas, Achrafieh Telephone +961 3 812318
Opening hours: Open by appointment only, Monday to Saturday, 10am - 7pm

Text Credit to: Lebanon Traveler Magazine Issue 6 March - June 2013

- Bibliopolis: >> View Movie << (2013-06-15)
- Bibliopolis: >> View Movie << (2013-06-15)



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