Photograph by Nasser Nasser, AP
Pharaonic faces stare out from charred pages in Cairo's Egyptian Scientific Complex on Monday. The documents are among thousands of precious historic works damaged or destroyed by a fire that consumed the structure over the weekend.
Now in danger of collapsing, the complex, also known as the Institut d'Égypte, caught fire on Saturday during clashes between protesters and army soldiers near Tahrir Square.
"It's a huge shock. It's a gorgeous building and there are some really important ancient manuscripts and printed materials contained there," said UCLA Egyptologist Willeke Wendrich.
Founded by Napoleon in 1798, the Institut d'Égypte is dedicated to the advancement of scientific research. Its complex housed nearly 200,000 documents and manuscripts, some dating back to the 1500s.
Up in Smoke
Photograph by Khaled Desouki, AFP/Getty Images
An Egyptian man removes burning books from the Institut d'Égypte in central Cairo on Monday after the famous museum and library caught fire.
The latest round of clashes in Cairo erupted on December 16 after protesters had accused army forces of attacking a protester during a nearby sit-in, according to the Associated Press. The protesters have been camped out since late November to prevent Egyptian Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri—whom they regard as part of the ousted Mubarak regime—from entering cabinet offices.
A New Page
Photograph by Muhammed Abed, AFP/Getty Images
An Egyptian book restorer lays out burned and damaged books to dry in the garden of the Institut d'Égypte on Monday after a fire over the weekend nearly gutted the building and destroyed much of its contents.
UCLA's Wendrich called the Institut d'Égypte a "temple of knowledge" and said its destruction is a huge loss for Egyptologists.
"It's an institute and a building and a collection that is critically interwoven with understanding the scholarship about ancient Egypt," she said.
Amr NabilPhotograph by Amr Nabil, AP
Burned ancient books salvaged from the Institut d'Égypte are seen at a book-restoration center in Cairo on Monday.
The scientific institute played an important role in disseminating knowledge about Egyptian hieroglyphic texts after they had been deciphered in the early 19th century, according to UCLA's Wendrich.
Institute in Flames
Photograph by Mohamed Omar, European Pressphoto Agency
A protester stands in front of the burning Institut d'Égypte in Cairo on Saturday, December 17. According to news reports, volunteers ranging from academics to everyday citizens are now helping to sift through the burned texts to find those that can still be salvaged.
Photograph by Amr Nabil, AP
Egyptian book-restoration experts surround a vehicle filled with burned and otherwise damaged books saved from the nearly gutted Institut d'Égypte on Monday.
"I haven't slept for two days, and I cried a lot yesterday. I do not like to see a book burned. ... The whole of Egypt is crying," Zein Abdel-Hady, who heads Egypt's main library, told the Associated Press.
Photograph by Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters
A worker on Monday displays a page from the Le Description de l'Égypte, or Description of Egypt, that was salvaged from the ruins of the Institut d'Égypte.
Description of Egypt was a series of illustrated texts created by hundreds of scholars, artists, and technicians who accompanied Napoleon to Egypt in 1798. It aimed to be a comprehensive catalog of artifacts—both ancient and modern—that the French discovered in Egypt.
"The whole gamut of Egyptian society at that time was studied and comprised in those volumes," UCLA's Wendrich said.
The entire 24-volume series has been digitized and can be viewed online, so the information it contained has not been lost. But UCLA's Wendrich worries that a rare first-edition copy of the monumental series-one of only five copies in Egypt-housed at the complex may have been burned beyond repair.
Wendrich said she can't tell whether the page pictured is from one of the first editions.
Photograph by Muhammed Abed, AFP/Getty Images
Captured Sunday, a bird's-eye view of the Institut d'Égypte in Cairo, which was almost gutted over the weekend during clashes between troops and protesters, reveals the extent of the destruction.
Despite its age, the complex was still used to host important Egyptology conferences.
"It wasn't very comfortable, because there was no air conditioning, and the projection facilities weren't ideal," Wendrich said. "But just to be there—it was really hallowed ground."Pictures: Fire Destroys "Temple of Knowledge" in Egypt