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Ancient halls of Alexandria found

A Polish archaeologist says his team has unearthed 13 lecture halls believed to be the first traces ever found of ancient Egypt's University of Alexandria.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Polish archaeologists have unearthed 13 lecture halls believed to be the first traces ever found of ancient Egypt’s University of Alexandria, the head of the project said Wednesday.

“This is the oldest university ever found in the world,” Grzegory Majderek, head of the Polish mission, told The Associated Press.

The lecture halls, with a capacity of 5,000 students, are part of the 5th-century university, which functioned until the 7th century, according to a statement from Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities.

“This is the first material evidence of the existence of academic life in Alexandria,” Majderek said. Knowledge of earlier intellectual pursuits in the Mediterranean coastal city came through historical and literary documents and materials.

Ancient Alexandria was home to a library, which was founded about 295 B.C. and burned to the ground in the 4th century. Ruins were never found, but Alexandria was an intellectual center where scholars are thought to have produced the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, and edited Homer’s works.

The auditoriums were found near the portico of the Roman Theater in the eastern part of the ancient city.

All the lecture halls are of identical dimensions. Each contains rows of stepped benches in a form of semicircle and an elevated seat apparently for the lecturer, the Antiquities Department statement said.

Alexandria has tried to recapture some of its intellectual glory, building a $230 million library on the city’s renovated seaside promenade with help from around the world.

The new library, which opened in 2002, contains about 240,000 books, a planetarium, conference hall, five research institutes, six galleries and three museums.