When people create travel itineraries, museums, plazas and monuments are almost always at the top the list of places to visit. While those are all lovely, we shouldn’t forget another kind of enchanting venue: libraries. The riches of the library not only include knowledge and precious manuscripts but also splendid frescoed rooms and the ideas of the most important painters and architects. That’s why we decided to organize a tour to show you the most beautiful libraries in the world.
Libraries pass down information to future generations with millions of resources that span an infinite range of topics. Dozens of magnificent libraries around the world safeguard the records of history, defying time and providing readers and visitors with an extraordinary experience.
A Virtual Tour Of The Most Beautiful Libraries In The World
This polygonal building is the perfect union of quality and quantity. Located near the river of Aarhus, Denmark’s second-largest city, Dokk1 received the world prize for the best public library in 2016. With an area of 30,008 meters squared, it’s also the largest library in Scandinavia. The library is characterized by a transparent glass structure surrounded by a wide exterior path divided into four play areas that are collectively called Kloden (“The Globe”), as well as recreational areas.
Stockholms stadsbibliotek, Sweden
Designed by Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund (1885 – 1940) who was renowned for designing the Skogskyrkogården (“The Woodland Cemetery”), the Stockholm Public Library is a UNESCO World Heritage site characterized by its impressive main hall called the “Rotunda” because of its shape. The hall holds approximately 40,000 books in all the Nordic languages, national minority languages, and in the “classic” scholastic languages: English, German and French. Completely white, the ceiling is reminiscent of a cloudy sky and reflects the light that enters through the hall’s windows.
Vennesla bibliotek og kulturhus, Norway
Vennesia, Norway, is home to one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. Inaugurated in 2011, this library is an important site for concerts, theatrical performances and film screenings, which is why it’s called a kulturhus (“culture house”). Mimicking the ribcage of a whale skeleton, the building is buttressed by 27 laminated wood arches that hold the roof up. Maybe the architect was a fan of Moby-Dick. Who knows!
Stacja Kultura, Poland
Stacja Kultura means “culture station,” which is apt because this library is inside a train station that’s still in operation to this day. Thanks to a recent restoration, a station that was once in ruins underwent an architectural metamorphosis, and now the Stacja Kultura is the main headquarters of the Rumia town public library.
The building might seem unremarkable from the outside. But the innovative project and its division into a train station, public library and cultural center have certainly make this building worth a visit.
Российская национальная библиотека, Russia
According to the list of top libraries, the most beautiful libraries in the world have infinite shelves that reach the ceilings and ladders that can be used to slide across the rows of books. (Remember the library in Beauty and the Beast? Like that.) The National Library of Russia in St. Petersburg is something out of a fairy tale.
Founded by Empress Catherine the Great in 1795, the library holds about 36 million books, including the Voltaire Library with its unique collection of the Enlightenment author’s work.
Beyazıt Devlet Kütüphanesi, Turkey
Founded in 1884 during Abdülhamid II’s reign, the Beyazit State Library was the first library in Turkey to be established by the state. Located in Istanbul, it comprises two historic buildings that overlook the Beyazit Square near the Bayezid Mosque and Sahaflar Çarşısı (Istanbul’s secondhand book bazaar).
With over one million documents, this library’s collection also boasts 5,000 audiobooks. The marvelous reading hall’s timeless and reclusive character lends itself to an atmosphere of silence and concentration.
Kloster Wiblingen, Germany
Completed in the 11th century in Ulm, Swabia, the library of the Kloster Wiblingen (“Wiblingen Abbey”) is a Baroque masterpiece. Located in the north wing of the Benedictine abbey, the splendid library stands 72 meter tall (over 236 feet) and is richly decorated with frescoes and exquisite colored marble columns. It’s an excellent example of Rococo style. Today, the monastery is home to the Ulm University medical school.
TU Delft, The Netherlands
The TU Delft library is the largest technical and scientific library in the Netherlands. In keeping with the scientific theme, the building is energy-efficient. The grass-covered roof has an insulating effect and reduces large temperature changes, creating a natural cooling during the summer thanks to the slow rainwater condensation. The library center has an enormous cone that allows viewers to see a gigantic bookcase that reaches from the ground floor to the ceiling. It’s best to visit on a sunny day so you can lie on the grass that covers the roof!
The Bibliothèque nationale de France is one of the largest public and research libraries in the world. Throughout its history, the library has carried out the task of collecting and conserving collections of domestic and global books for everyone’s benefit.
L’enfer (“Hell”) is a special department within the library. This department is dedicated to collection of erotic or pornographic books and manuscripts that, because of their rarity and value, can only be viewed with the library’s authorization.
Biblioteca nazionale Marciana, Italy
Also known as the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana di Venezia, the Sansoviniana library is one of the largest and most important libraries in Italy. Built between 1537 and 1588, the palace that holds the library is the work of architect Sansovino. The palace is beautifully adorned with the artistic contributions of Tiziano, Veronese and Tintoretto.
Now, it preserves one of the most important collections of Greek, Latin and Asian manuscripts in the entire world. Some of its most precious pieces include fifth and sixth century manuscripts of The Iliad. The library specializes in Venetian history and classic philology. Its collection of antique maps is also very significant.
Biblioteca Escuelas Pías, Spain
Founded in 1729, the Escuelas Pías de San Fernando in Madrid was intended to educate poor children and quickly gained great fame thanks to the quality and innovations of their educational techniques. For example, the Escuela established the first deaf-mute school in the country.
Later, the school became a church, and now it houses one of the most beautiful libraries in Spain and in the world. With dim lights and brick walls, this library has a vast collection of anthropological, political and sociological works.
John Rylands Library, England
University of Manchester’s John Rylands Library is one of the most stunning examples of Neo-Gothic architecture in the world. Although it can easily be mistaken for a church or a cathedral from the outside, it contains hundreds of thousands of books. Another claim to fame is an impressive collection of early printed works such as the Gutenberg Bible and a William Caxton edition of The Canterbury Tales (the first version published by the printing press).
O Real Gabinete Português da Leitura, Brazil
The Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading (O Real Gabinete Português da Leitura) is a hidden gem located in downtown Rio de Janeiro. Built in a Neo-Manueline style with an exterior made of calcareous stones and decorated with statues of Portuguese explorers Pedro Alvares Cabral, Infante D. Henrique and Vasco da Gama, as well as Portuguese poet Luis de Camões.
The exterior is impressive, but the Gabinete’s interior is nothing short of magnificent. In July 2014, Time Magazine named it the fourth-most beautiful library in the world.
Perpustakaan Nasional RI, Indonesia
Home to the most complete collection of books in the entire city, the National Library of Indonesia is certainly the heart of knowledge in Jakarta. The building itself comprises 27 floors. Each floor is dedicated to a different section. If you’re not sure which book to pick out, head to the 21st or 22nd floor and you can find books that range from essays to literature.
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, United States
The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library is the main source of literary archives, ancient manuscripts and rare books at Yale University, and it’s visited by students and researchers from around the world.
Designed by architect Gordan Bunshaft for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill with the objective of filtering daylight in order to protect the books, the building was completed in 1963. The library is home to the Bollingen Prize for Poetry which is awarded biannually, and the Windham-Campbell prizes which are awarded annually for fiction, literary essays, poetry, and theater.
This article originally appeared on the Italian edition of Babbel Magazine.