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10 of the world's most beautiful libraries open to the public

The Independent logo The Independent 10/10/2017 Julia Buckley

gettyimages-609456450.jpg © Provided by The Independent gettyimages-609456450.jpg There's nothing a bookworm likes more than a reading holiday; and what could be better than a holiday read? Surely only a holiday library. Many of the most beautiful in the world are open to the public for visits, so to celebrate Libraries Week, which runs until 14 October, we've picked our favourites from around the globe.

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. The library, which calls itself a “centre for learning, tolerance, dialogue and understanding”, hosts art exhibitions, workshops, has four museums – and is steadily building a collection of up to five million books. Tours are given every 15 minutes in Arabic, English, French and Spanish.

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 (65m long, to be precise) housing 200,000 of the library’s oldest books, and busts of the great and good (all men, all white, of course) of the western world.


Bodleian Library and Divinity Schools, Oxford

The UK’s foremost library, the "Bod" (as humble-bragging students call it) 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. Guided tours starting from the main, butter-coloured quadrangle, take you everywhere from “Duke Humfrey’s Medieval Library” (exactly what it sounds like) to the circular Radcliffe Camera, immortalised in many an episode of Inspector Morse.

Don’t miss the 15th-century Divinity School – part of the same complex, with a vaulted roof fanning out over the long hallway, it’s so beautiful that the first Harry Potter lot comandeered it as a film set.

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. The collection, which started as his private one, has been added to over the years, and includes manuscripts and palm leaves with inscriptions on. It’s open every day except Friday.

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. Vasari was bowled over by the design of the building – which wraps around a cloister – and the atmospheric reading room contains original benches and desks which have been used for centuries. It houses regular exhibitions.

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The Austrian National Library is a former royal collection, as you'll realise by the opulent surroundings (Zairon via Wikimedia Commons)

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. There are guided tours, or you can visit alone – there’s a small exhibition space within the library.

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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 – with the scalloped balcony and gilded rails adding extra bling to the mezzanine level. Today, the main room is filled with antique globes and clocks as well as books, books and more books. After an uncertain future, it reopened for visits in September.

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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. Closed for renovations before and during the 2016 Olympics, it has now reopened, restored to its original splendour. 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. Best known for his portraits, Sargent painted his Triumph of Religion mural cycle in Sargent Hall between 1890-1919, and it’s said to be one of the most ambitious cycles in the USA.

© Provided by The Independent 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 enclosing the famous U-shaped square. All the better for you, because it means you get the Biblioteca Marciana – one of the oldest surviving libraries in Italy, designed by Sansovino, hung with Titians and Tintorettos, and filled with antique globes and manuscripts from the 15th century onwards, almost to yourself.

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