“libraries always remind me that there are good things in this world.”
In light of the new normal, we are having a bit of #wanderlust nostalgia, further fueled by the Obamas’ “Live from the Library” session, so we thought why not do so digitally, with a bit of history entwined. Here is our list of beautiful old libraries to visit, peruse priceless manuscripts and to simply inhale that old book scent that’s hard to beat!
Abbey Library of Saint Gall, Switzerland
Situated in St. Gallen, Switzerland and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this library has a wide collection of manuscripts, some of which date back to the 8th century. The interiors have carved wood, paint and stucco by Austrian architect Peter Thumb and the Rucco hall is an example of Baroque design. It currently hosts over 160,000 volumes!
George Peabody Library, Baltimore, USA
This library finished building in 1878 by architect Edmund G. Lind – the atrium rises 61 feet into the air, with a latticed skylight, and columns with gold scalloping into the air with tiered, cast iron balconies and embellishments. The library houses over 300,000 volumes, many from the 19th century.
The Royal Portuguese Reading Room, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
With Neo-Manueline interiors, this library has a beautiful multi-coloured skylight and gorgeous balustrades. The building finished in 1887, with a masterpiece being the focal point: Altar da Paitria – made from marble, ivory, silver, to commemorate the Portuguese Discoveries of 1400s and 1500s. this library holds the most valuable collections of Portuguese literature outside of Portugal, with over 350,000 volumes and a large collection of rare books from the past centuries,
Library of El Escorial Monastery, Madrid, Spain
Situated on the land of the historical residence of the King of Spain, 28 miles away from Madrid. The library consists of three buildings. The Royal Library was commissioned to the renowned architects Juan de Toledo and Juan de Herrera. The subjects of importance were considered “profane” such as History, Geography, Botanics as well as abstract forms such as Poetry, Grammar and Mathematics. The size of the library is 54 metres in length, 9 metres wide and 10 m tall with intricately carved wood shelves and marble floorings and hosts more than 40,000 volumes.
Handelingenkamer Library, The Hague, Netherlands
Beautiful Renaissance designed building by architect C. H. Peters was creatively influenced by the aesthetics of China – which is evident in the colour uses of red, green and gold along with dragonheads dotting the walls and shapes by ironwork. The prominent spiral staircase to access the three levels of books is a centrepiece, as well s the leaded glass dome roof for natural light.
Admont Abbey Library, Austria
The largest of its kind the world, this breath-taking Library’s hall was designed and constructed in 1776 under the guidance of Baroque architect Joseph Hueber who integrated gold and white hues, crowned with seven cuploas and a ceiling with Bartolomeo Altomonte’s fresco paintings to represent the different phases of human knowledge. It also houses Joseph Stammel’s “Four Last Things” sculptures that depict death, heaven, hell and the Last Judgement.
Mafra National Palace Library, Portugal
Did you know, King John V promised to build this library, only if his wife bore him children! When she did, in 1730 this amazing Baroque and Neoclassical building was completed; designed by Manuel Caetano de Sousa. The Library hosts more than 35,000 leather-bound volumes (some are over 500 years old!). Another interesting fact: the tomes are preserved by bats, which are let out at night to feed on insects that might put the library’s prized possessions in jeopardy!
Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland
Most famously known for holding the Book of Kells – the embelised Gospel volume that dates back to 9th centure – the Long Room of the Library hosts 200,000 of the most aged books, Completed in 1733 byThomas Burgh, this 213-feet long room has dark carved wooden aspects and a barrel-like ceiling. It also consists of marble busts of writers, philosphers and college backers.
Baroque Library of Metten Abbey, Germany
One of the most beautiful libraries in the world for its expanse, baroque interiors and the thousands of specimens it hosts – the library began as a small collection of books in 1260. The Baroque-style was build between 1722 and 1726 with a collection of commissioned artists to decorate the space with frescoes, sculptures and decorous bookshelves. The ceiling vault is held by pillars with allegorical statues by Franz Josef Ignaz Holzinger.
Strahov Monastery and Library, Prague
The library’s hall has stuccowork – which is the eye catching piece - was completed in 1679. The Theological Hall is the home for thousands of editions of the holy book. Communists seized the abbey in 1950 to become the Memorial to National Literature, but was later renewed and restored after the Velvet Revolution.
Klementinum Library, Prague
Described as "the Baroque pearl of Prague," this Library has richly adorned interiors, with touches of gold and stunning spiral pillars. Built in 1722, it now serves as the National Library of the Czech Republic and is graced with a ceiling adornment by Jan Hiebl that celebrates ancient learning and wisdom. Some of the tomes contained within date all the way back to the Jesuit era. This library was included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme in 2005
Bodleian Library, Oxford, UK
The building is an exceptional piece of 18th-century architecture that was named for its benefactor, medic John Radcliffe, and was opened over 250 years ago in 1749. Influential British architect James Gibbs was responsible for its design, which follows the English Palladian style. The structure itself is the oldest example of a circular library in the country
The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, USA
Founded to house the private library of JP Morgan in 1906 for manuscripts and printed books, some of them in rare bindings, as well as his collection of prints and drawings, was designed by Charles McKim. It became public in 1924 and then designated as a New York City and National Historic Landmark in 1966.
Rampur Raza Library in Rampur, India
Situated in the former mansion of Nawab Hamid Ali Khan, this library hosts a collection of Indo-Islamic works from from manuscripts, Islamic calligraphy, and the original manuscript of the first translation of the Quran. It also hosts 17,000 manuscripts in various languages ranging from Arabic to Turkish and 60,000 printed books.