Beautiful Libraries Around The World
To me, books have always been a place I can escape to (much like the movies), and there has always been something very comforting to be surrounded by so many diverse stories, from people from all walks of life, and all corners of the world. Libraries are a sacred space in this regard, and there are plenty of gems to turn to for solace and inspiration, big and small (much like the Library of Trinity College, in Dublin, photographed above). While this is just a selection, you should always visit one library in any new large City – you are almost guaranteed to find a historic building or two:
BIBLIOTHECA ALEXANDRINA, ALEXANDRIA
The burning of the library at Alexandria has gone down in the annals of history as being one of the most sacrilegious cultural acts of all time. But although the 700,000 texts that were lost can never be recovered, in 2002, Egypt opened a new Bibliotheca Alexandrina, turning it into a global cultural hub with donations from all around the world – Italy helping with the preservation of manuscripts, Greek lending a hand with antiquities and Americans chipping in with computers, according to National Geographic.
OLD LIBRARY, TRINITY COLLEGE, DUBLIN
It’s one of the must-dos in Dublin: go to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. But as well as the 9th-century illuminated manuscript, the surroundings of the Old Library are spectacular, with the 18th-century Long Room housing 200,000 of the library’s oldest books, and busts of the great and good of the western world.
The UK’s foremost library is one of the oldest in Europe, and for the past 400 years has received every single book to have been printed in the UK. Accordingly, it’s a behemoth of a place, with 12 million books spread across different buildings and underground passageways around town.
RAMPUR RAZA LIBRARY, UTTAR PRADESH
Registered as a national monument, the 18th-century Rampur Raza Library in Rampur, Uttar Pradesh, has been a powerhouse of Indo-Islamic studies since its founder, ruler Nawab Faizullah Khan, set it up in 1774.
BIBLIOTECA MEDICEA LAURENZIANA, FLORENCE
You already know a library in Italy’s renaissance capital is going to be good. Part of the church of San Lorenzo – the church of the Medici family – the upstairs library, which opened in 1571, was designed by none other than Michelangelo, and contains the private collection of the Medici dynasty. It’s full of illuminated manuscripts and early printed texts.
AUSTRIAN NATIONAL LIBRARY, VIENNA
Austria’s largest library is also its most spectacular, with its central State Hall – opened in 1723 as a royal library – an extraordinary combination of baroque flair and traditional library design. Grand marble sculptures swagger between the shelves, the bookcases are propped up by ionic columns and frescoed ceilings and marble flooring give it that outré baroque feel.
Klementinum Library, Prague
Another baroque gem, Prague’s Klementinum library opened a year before Vienna’s – as part of a Jesuit complex, rather than a royal retreat. With trompe l’oeil frescoes mimicking sweeping domed ceilings, marble flooring and intricately carved wooden Corinthian columns between the bookshelves, it’s an extraordinarily flamboyant space.
REAL GABINETE PORTUGUÊS DE LEITURA, RIO DE JANEIRO
This library in the centre of downtown Rio only opened in 1837 but it feels a lot older with its lugubrious lighting and meticulously carved wooden interiors. The shelves are stocked with Portuguese and Brazilian classics, and it’s open every weekday.
BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY, MASSACHUSETTS
It may not be as old as its European cohorts, but what the BPL lacks in age, it makes up for in grandeur, with a huge Italianate courtyard, murals by John Singer Sargent – and no fewer than 23 million books.
BIBLIOTECA NAZIONALE MARCIANA, VENICE
Almost all of the 40,000 visitors who set foot in Venice every day make it to Piazza San Marco; few venture upstairs to the Museo Correr, the gallery that runs along the upper floors of the Procuratie Nuove buildings – the Biblioteca Marciana is one of the oldest surviving libraries in Italy, filled with antique globes and manuscripts from the 15th century onward