Bibliothèques d’Orient (Libraries of the Middle East)

A Collaborative Digital Library

Launched in 2017, Bibliothèques d’Orient (Libraries of the Middle East) brings together specialised collections on the history, societies and cultures of the Middle East – from Egypt to Iraq and Turkey—, as well as on the interactions between France and this area until the mid-20th century. Besides sharing historical and cultural features, the Middle East is home to a diversity of social, cultural, linguistic, religious and political expressions. The project is set to extend its geographical coverage to the Arabian Peninsula with forays into North Africa as well as Turkic and Persianate societies. 

Exchanges between this vast region and France have been grouped thematically. Other topics in the process of being highlighted are the golden ages of Arab, Turkish and Persian civilisations, their intellectual, cultural, social and political productions, as well as cultural transfers and reactions to colonial modernity. 

Over 10,000 documents (manuscripts, press collections, printed volumes and images, photographs, maps and plans, postcards, objects, etc.) have been digitally assembled from the holdings of the BnF, French research institutes based in countries of the region, and other establishments (archive centers, libraries, heritage institutions) in France and the Middle East.


Cairo, view of the mosque of Sultan Hassan. Drawing by Nicolas-Jacques Conté (1755-1805) BnF, Department of Prints and Photography


New partners and contributors regularly join the project to add documents and write short essays contextualizing and shedding light on them. To date, the website features about a hundred such texts written by academics, scholars and curators.

Powered by Gallica, the digital library of BnF and its partners, Bibliothèques d’Orient features a navigation bar to explore seven main themes: Crossroads, Communities, Religions, Knowledge, Politics, Imaginary and Personalities.

The trilingual interface (French, English, and Arabic) is due to evolve to accommodate Turkish and other languages of the region. 

Safeguarding the Middle Eastern Documentary Heritage

Bibliothèques d’Orient pays particular attention to safeguarding the documentary heritage conserved in libraries and other heritage institutions in the Middle East faced with crisis situations or lack of resources. The project contributes to preserving collections through their digitisation, restoration and long-term physical and digital conservation, as well as making them accessible online to researchers and other audiences and supporting their enhancement. 

Names and readings from the Old and New Testaments, according to the tradition of al-Qarqafi’ (1014) Syriac manuscript belonging to the Mar Thomas Church of the Syrian Catholics of Mosul, on deposit in the Vatican Apostolic Library

In 2017, two Syriac prayer books from the 11th and 17th centuries, conserved at the Charfet monastery (Lebanon), and two evangeliaries from the 14th and 16th centuries, belonging to the Salvatorian Melkite convent of Jounieh (Lebanon), were restored, digitised and made accessible on Bibliothèques d’Orient, thus ensuring their long-term preservation. In 2018, an exceptional parchment manuscript in Syriac was also incorporated in the digital collection. Dating from the early 11th century, it is one of only two items to have escaped theft or destruction out of a set of 120 manuscripts kept at the Mar Thomas church of the Syrian Catholics in Mosul (Iraq).

In 2022, Bibliothèques d’Orient enabled the online publication on Gallica of a corpus of 532 notebooks by Damascene storytellers of the Baybars’ narrative (Sīrat al-Malik al-Zāhir Baybars), a popular epic handed down since the 16th century. The documents, photographed by French scholars and now inaccessible, scattered or destroyed, constitute the traces of an oral storytelling tradition interrupted by the conflict in Syria.

The Baybars’ narrative according to the Damascene recension. Book 12 / Abu Ahmad manuscript, photographed by Francis Guinle - Institut français du Proche-Orient (IFPO) - ANR Littératures populaires du Levant (LiPoL) - Gallica / BnF

Project Partners

Alongside the BnF, eight other libraries are among the project’s founding partners:

New partners and contributors having joined the project are: 

Bibliothèques d’Orient is made possible thanks to the support of:
  • Since 2020

The Mellon Foundation, through its Public Knowledge Program, to pursue the work initiated with founding partners, and to conserve, restore and digitise items held by other institutions in Egypt, Jerusalem and Turkey. These activities are complemented with research grants affording a better understanding of the collections, and support to the Dominican Institute for Oriental Studies for the development of the Diamond-ILS software, a scientific cataloguing tool for texts in oriental languages.

The International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (ALIPH) for a dedicated project aimed at safeguarding and enhancing Iraq’s written heritage by supporting several institutions (libraries, documentation centers, monasteries) with expertise, training and equipment for the management and cataloguing of their collections, the restoration of fragile items and the digitisation of their most valuable holdings.

  • In 2016-2020


Learn more

Discover Gallica blog posts (in French) about Bibliothèques d’Orient:


Géraldine Chatelard

Project Manager, Bibliothèques d'Orient, International Engagement Department

Téléphone : +33(0) 1 53 79 48 01