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Inside the Most Beautiful Libraries on Earth

Live a real-life fairytale and get lost among the stacks at one of these breathtaking libraries.


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Trying to encapsulate what libraries mean to humanity in a single photograph seems like an insurmountable task. But, against the odds, that’s exactly what Photographer Massimo Listri has been able to accomplish with his new book, The World’s Most Beautiful Libraries.

Inside the stunning (and enormous) book, bibliophiles—along with photography, travel, culture, and history lovers—can get lost in Listri’s photos depicting dozens of the globe’s most treasured libraries.

From Paris to Prague, Lima to New York, the 65-year-old Listri, who hails from Florence, traversed the world, intimately photographing these quiet spaces and bringing them to life in vivid detail.

In total, the book features 55 libraries in 16 countries, some of which date back to 766. Here is just a small sampling of the places highlighted in the book that are well worth visiting in real life too.

Naples, Italy: The Library of the Girolamini

Founded in 1586, the Library of the Girolamini is one of Italy’s oldest libraries. Over the years, this sensational space has seen its fair share of controversies.

According to the BBC, the library was once home to extremely rare works, including a 1518 edition of Thomas More's Utopia and Galileo's 1610 work Sidereus Nuncius, which contains more than 70 drawings of the moon and the stars. However, over the years those works were plundered by thieves, many of which have never been recovered.

Listri’s photos of the space perfectly capture the age and neglect felt by the library itself, which has never been fully restored to its rightful state. Still, even after the theft, the library remains open to visitors to come to roam through the halls and take in a piece of history.

Mafra, Portugal: The Mafra Palace Library

If elegance and grandeur are what you’re after in a library, look no further than the Mafra Palace library in Portugal. The immense library first opened its doors in 1771 but holds works much older than the building itself. Inside, the library contains first edition print of the Nuremberg Chronicle, published in 1493, the Theatrvm Orbis Terrarvm by Ortelius, published in 1595, and the first encyclopedia, known as Diderot et d'Alembert, published in 1772.

But, sadly, not just anyone can check books out from this place of bibliophile worship. As the library explained on its site, “The Library is open to researchers, historians or scholars, whose object of study justifies the access to this collection.” Don’t worry, you can still take a tour of the library when it’s open. You can look, you just can’t touch.

New York City: The Morgan Library

The Morgan Library is a must-see for all travelers headed to New York City. Now covering an entire city block, the library was first built as a private space between 1902 and 1906 for financier Pierpont Morgan.

In 1924, the library became a public institution. Since then, several additions have been made to the building to become the grand structure it is today. Here, visitors can find rare works, early children’s books, and other materials from the 20th century. And, thanks to the addition of a central garden, city-dwellers and tourists alike can find a bit of nature in the middle of Manhattan’s madness.

St. Gallen, Switzerland: Abbey Library of Saint Gall

A person could easily get lost in the extraordinary details hiding inside the Abbey Library of Saint Gail. The library, which is located in Switzerland and was built sometime around the year 820, is one of the oldest surviving collection of books in Europe.

According to Ancient Origins, the books were moved sometime in the 18th century to the striking building they are housed in today. Designed by Austrian architect Peter Thumb, the abbey and its library were rebuilt in the Baroque style and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Because of the important works housed in the building just portions of the library are open to the public. But, you can still go in, sit down for a bit, crack open a book, and imagine all the people who have opened it before you over the last several hundred years.

Rio De Janeiro: Real Gabinete Portugues De Leitura

Constructed in 1887, the Real Gabinete Portugues De Leitura, or Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading, holds the distinction of being home to the largest collection of Portuguese works outside the country of Portugal. According to My Modern Met, there are more than 350,000 volumes of work found inside.

Indeed, books line the walls from the floor to ceiling inside the Neo-Manueline designed space. Its ornate details, including spiral staircases, massive chandeliers, and dark wooden accents, make it an inviting space to curl up and read a book.

Paris: Sainte-Geneviève Library

If you’re on the hunt for the perfect study spot, or an ideal location to write the next great novel, the Sainte-Geneviève Library in Paris is it. The massive 19,000-square-foot building, constructed in 1851, currently holds more than 2 million items, according to Business Insider, some of which date as far back as the 6th century.

Beyond books, the library is also filled with long wooden tables that are bathed in sunlight each day thanks to the space’s 46 arched windows. And if you think the building looks familiar it’s because it appeared in both Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris and Martin Scorsese’s Academy Award-winning film, Hugo.

Lima: Biblioteca Del Convento de San Francisco de Asis

Inside the Biblioteca Del Convento de San Francisco de Asis visitors can take a historic trip around the world without ever leaving the room.

At the library, built in 1546, visitors can find incunabula—books printed prior to the year 1500—and Franciscan chronicles from the 15th to 18th centuries, along with an atlas created in the middle of the 17th century. Furthermore, the library contains several volumes from the first dictionary published by the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language and the Bible Regia published in Antwerp between 1571-1572. And those are just some of the 25,000 volumes of works visitors can discover every single day.


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