Bibliothèques d’Orient (Libraries of the Middle East)

Created in 2016, Bibliothèques d’Orient (Libraries of the Middle East) is a trilingual (French, English and Arabic) collaborative digital library devoted to the topic of historical exchanges between Europe and the Middle East. Based on the functionalities developed for Gallica –the digital library of the National Library of France (BnF) and its partners– it currently displays almost 10,000 documents drawn initially from the BnF’s collections and those of eight heritage and research libraries located in countries of the Eastern Mediterranean. Other French and international libraries have since joined in. Bibliothèques d’Orient is also an international solidarity programme implementing concrete actions to preserve the Middle East’s documentary heritage.

What is Bibliothèques d’Orient?

A Digital Library

In the spirit of the Patrimoines Partagés (Shared Heritage) collection, Bibliothèques d’Orient is a digital library focusing on the relations and exchanges between France, in its European environment, and the Middle East from the late 18th to the mid-20th century, with some openings into preceding centuries. The geographical area covered extends from Egypt to Turkey and is being expanded to include Iraq and northern Arabia.

Users can browse seven themes – Crossroads, Communities, Religions, Knowledge, Politics, Imagination and Personalities – that make up a unique body of knowledge and a source of inspiration for scholars, teachers, students and anyone willing to broaden their understanding of this region of the world and its history. Some hundred editorial essays written by top-level specialists – academics, researchers and curators – shed light on the various themes and contextualise the documents.

Bibliothèques d’Orient is an invitation to discovery through a wealth of remarkable and rare documents covering a wide range of topics – scientific exchanges between East and West, studies on the Suez Canal, European translations and adaptations of The Thousand and One Nights, accounts by Arab and Ottoman travellers in Europe, the Middle East’s political history and invaluable religious heritage, and many more.

A Heritage Preservation Project

Bibliothèques d’Orient not only enables the general public to acquaint themselves with an outstanding heritage, it also makes a concrete contribution to its preservation. It expresses an unwavering commitment on the part of the BnF to act for the protection of endangered documentary heritage.”

Laurence Engel, President of the BnF


In addition to its main thematic focus, Bibliothèques d’Orient pays special attention to the preservation of documentary heritage in libraries or other institutions in the Middle East faced with conflict situations or lack of resources. Irrespective of their subject matters or age, Bibliothèques d’Orient enables the preservation of at-risk heritage documents through restoration, digitisation and online availability.

Hence, in 2017, two Syriac liturgical collections from the 11th and 17th centuries, kept at the Charfet Monastery (Lebanon), and two gospel books from the 14th and 16th centuries, belonging to the Melkite Salvatorian Convent in Jounieh (Lebanon), were restored, digitised and uploaded on Bibliothèques d’Orient, ensuring their long-term preservation. In 2018, images of a remarkable parchment manuscript in Syriac were also uploaded. Dating from the early 11th century, it is one of the only two works to have escaped theft or destruction out of a collection of 120 manuscripts previously kept at the Syrian Catholic Church of Mar Thomas in Mosul (Iraq).

At the Origin of the Project

Thanks to the contribution of several partner libraries in France and internationally, the digital library is constantly being enriched with new documents and editorial essays.

Longstanding partners of the project are:

The following new partners are already contributing to the digital library or have expressed their willingness to participate:

Bibliothèques d’Orient brings together documents whose heritage and scientific value makes them unique, but which are little known or accessible as they are conserved in a wide range of institutions across the globe. Their selection and the production of editorial content draw on the expertise of a Scientific Council chaired by Laurence Engel, President of the BnF, and whose members include heads of partner libraries along with eight prominent scholars:

  • Michel Abitbol (Emeritus Professor of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
  • Rémi Brague (Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the Universities of Paris-Sorbonne and Munich)
  • Sophie Basch (Professor of French Literature at Paris-Sorbonne University)
  • Jacqueline Chabbi (Arabist and Historian, Honorary French University Professor)
  • Frédéric Hitzel (Doctor of History, Research Director at the EHESS and CNRS, Centre for Turkish, Ottoman, Balkan and Central Asian Studies (CETOBaC)
  • Henry Laurens (Professor at the Collège de France, holder of the Chair in Contemporary History of the Arab World)
  • Mercedes Volait (Near East Art Historian, Research Director at the CNRS, founder and member of the InVisu Laboratory)

Patrons and Implementing Partners

In 2019, the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (ALIPH) granted its support to the BnF project of preservation and enhancement of Iraq’s written heritage. Implemented over a period of four years, the project provides support to a number of institutions (libraries, monasteries, etc.) in the form of expertise, training and equipment. As a result, institutional partners will be able to set about cataloguing their collections, restoring fragile documents and digitising their most emblematic collections, some of which will be uploaded on Bibliothèques d’Orient.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has been lending its support to Bibliothèques d’Orient since 2020. The four-year programme enables the BnF to continue its collaboration with its longstanding partners, and preserve the collections of other libraries in the Middle East through digitisation, restoration, research grants, development of the Diamond-AlKindi cataloguing application – a tool for scientific research on medieval Arabic and Islamic texts – and integration of the IIIF standard into the Bibliothèques d’Orient website in order to facilitate online search.


The Bibliothèques d’Orient project has been implemented thanks to the support of:

Between 2016 and 2020:

Since 2020:


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