According to tradition, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate was established by the Evangelist Mark, who acted as its first bishop in 42—62. Except for a short period during the Arab conquest of Egypt (7th century AD), the see has been occupied without break. At the end of the 10th century, it was transferred to Cairo, which became the administrative centre of Egypt. The Patriarchate returned to Alexandria in 1928, and the residence and Library moved into their present premises in Tositza school in the district of Mancheiya in 1971.
The Library contains 538 mostly Greek manuscripts, the oldest of which dates from AD 952. There are also ca. 2000 rare editions printed between 1500 and 1800 and more than 40 000 exemplars of modern research literature. The Archives of the Patriarchate have also been kept in the Library since the 15th century, along with other unpublished material representing its history.
Liturgical and theological material needed in the daily life of the Church dominates the contents of the manuscripts. Apart from these, there are works of different literary genres and a number of ancient authors. These include, for example, tragedies by Euripides, comedies by Aristophanes, rhetoric by Demosthenes, and philosophy by Plato and Aristotle. Codex number 87 is especially interesting, since it contains Aristotle’s works commented by Theodoros Metochites, a well-known Byzantine humanist who lived 1270—1332.
Byzantine literature includes history (Ioannes Zonaras), rhetoric (Michael Psellos), and philosophy (Georgios Pachymeres and Georgios Gemistos Plethon). Another interesting example of the relations between the Church and other learned centres in the Eastern Mediterranean is the correspondence of Patriarch Meletios Pegas with Italian humanists at the turn of the 17th century.
The early prints are mainly Greek literature from the 15th to the end of the 18th century printed in Venice. The Library also houses a large collection of early theological & historical writings, acquired by Metrophanes Kritopoulos (Patriarch 1636—1639) during his studies in England.