When planning my trips, I try to seek old libraries to visit. I don't usually read books there, but I appreciate the atmosphere of these places. Many of them hold documents of great historical significance, and their interiors are often ornate and beautiful, reflecting the great reverence for books in past times. The architecture of these libraries is stunning, with intricate details and a variety of art. I've compiled a list of ten historic libraries I've visited across Europe. The libraries on this list are located in palaces, abbeys and universities in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Portugal and France. I hope this will inspire you for your future travels.
1 Wiblingen Abbey Library, Germany
The Wiblingen Abbey Library near Ulm, Germany, is a stunning example of Rococo art. Its marble floors, frescoes, polished statues and rich colours create a beautiful atmosphere. The two levels of windows and slightly raised roof provide extra space for the domed ceiling. The library is decorated with gold, pink and blue hues, and the columns and statues appear to be made of marble. The ceiling paintings by Franz Martin Kuhn, the architecture, the sculpture, the delicate gallery pillars and the extensive stucco work create a sense of harmony. The library contains over 15,000 books.
Address: Wiblingen Monastery Schlossstraße 38 89079 Ulm-Wiblingen
How to get there: Wiblingen Abbey is situated approximately five kilometres from the city of Ulm, which lies between Stuttgart and Munich. To reach the abbey, take bus No. 3 or 8 from the Ulm bus station and disembark at Pranger.
2 Abbey Library of Saint Gall, Switzerland
The Abbey of Saint Gall has a long history dating back to the 8th century when it was established as one of the most important monasteries in Europe by Carolingian ruler Saint Gall. The abbey is home to one of the richest and oldest libraries in the world, and since the early 19th century, it has belonged to the Catholic community within the canton of St. Gallen, who have managed and developed it as an international research institution. The lavishly decorated baroque hall of the abbey library is considered one of the most beautiful in the world. Today, the library is the main historical sight in Eastern Switzerland and an important part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of St. Gallen Abbey District.
Address: Stiftsbibliothek St.Gallen Klosterhof 6d 9000 St.Gallen
3 State Hall of Austrian National Library, Vienna
The Prunksaal, also known as the State Hall in English, is a remarkable building located in the Hofburg Palace complex. It is the central structure of the old imperial library and boasts one of the most impressive interiors in Vienna. This 18th-century structure, measuring approximately 80 metres in length and 20 metres in height, is elaborately decorated with a dome and frescoes. Located in the centre of the library hall is a marble statue of Emperor Charles VI, who commissioned its construction, and sixteen statues of rulers and nobility of the Austro-Spanish Habsburg family. The library is also home to four Venetian globes, each with a diameter of over one metre, which adds to the imperial feel of the room. With over 200,000 historical books, the State Hall is one of the most beautiful libraries in the world and has served as a showcase of imperial heritage since its construction.
Address: Prunksaal, Josefsplatz 1, 1010 Wien
4 The Main Library of the University of Vienna
Vienna University Library's history is closely linked to the University of Vienna. Founded in 1365, it is the oldest university library in the German-speaking world. During the 16th and 17th centuries, the importance of the University of Vienna and its library decreased due to Ottoman wars in Europe and several plague epidemics. Empress Maria Theresia reopened the library in the late 18th century. The main reading room, with its long wooden tables and green bankers lamps, was ceremoniously opened in 1884; it has been one of Vienna's most popular and beautiful libraries ever since.Today, the library continues to serve the needs of students, faculty and researchers at the University of Vienna and the general public.
Address: Universitätsring 1/Stiege 2, 1010 Wien
5 Melk Abbey Library, Austria
Melk Abbey is renowned for its library of 100,000 books, one of the most famous in Europe. Although only a small portion is accessible to visitors, the two library rooms, the new library and the natural history collection create an impressive baroque atmosphere. The library is still used for research purposes, with experts from around the world showing interest in its contents. To ensure the preservation of the interior and books, restoration works have been underway since 2022 and will last until 2032. Photos are not allowed inside the library, but the experience is one that you won’t forget.
Address: Abt-Berthold-Dietmayr-Straße 1, 3390 Melk
6 Joanina Library of the University of Coimbra, Portugal
The Biblioteca Joanina, located in the University of Coimbra's Paco das Escolas, is one of Europe's most renowned Baroque libraries. Completed in 1728, it has a collection of over 300,000 volumes ranging from the 16th to the 18th century. The library also holds an impressive selection of Old Testament texts. It served as the university library until the first half of the 20th century and features decor that reflects the patronage of its founder, King John V of Portugal. The King's coat of arms can be found at the entrance, while the image of the King is also present on the walls at the back of the building. Inhabiting the library for over two and a half centuries are two colonies of bats, which help with pest control. To ensure the safety of books and visitors, the tables are covered with leather towels at the end of each day.
Address: Universidade de Coimbra - Paço das Escolas 3004-531 Coimbra
7 The Mafra Palace Library, Portugal
The Mafra Palace Library, located in Mafra National Palace, Portugal, is a renowned architectural masterpiece that dates back centuries. Noted for its impressive collection of manuscripts, books and works of art, it is one of Portugal's most important cultural landmarks. The library holds an estimated 30,000 volumes and is located on the 4th floor of the east wing of the palace. It is shaped like a cross, 85 metres long and 9.5 metres wide, with lioz stone floors of varying colours and a marble sculpture of a human face representing the sun in its centre. Exotic woods, gold leaf accents, elaborate chandeliers, velvet drapes and intricate carpets contribute to the luxurious decor of the library. By the way, the Mafra Library has its own bats too. Mafra National Palace is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Address: Terreiro D. João V, Mafra
8 Royal Library at Fontainebleau Palace, France
Fontainebleau Palace and its library are located 55 kilometres from the centre of Paris. In the mid-16th century, the Royal Library was relocated to the Chateau of Fontainebleau and gradually expanded over time. Later on, the library was moved to Paris. However, the library at Fontainebleau still contains some of the oldest and most historically significant books, including prints from the 16th to the 19th century. The palace library was moved multiple times around the building before being finally transferred to its current location in the Diana Gallery. Librarian Jacques-Joseph Champollion-Figeac, at the request of Napoleon III, designed the library. Around 20,000 volumes were put in the sixteen bookcases, crafted by architect Alexis Paccard, and two long, low cabinets in the gallery centre. Additionally, four cabinets in the Salon du Roi de Rome at the end of the gallery also contained books. The library was regularly visited by thousands of people until the end of the Second Empire in 1870. Its worth as a historical record and its varied collections make the library at Fontainebleau especially unique.
Address: Place Charles de Gaulle, 77300 Fontainebleau
9 Biblioteca Salaborsa in Bologna, Italy
Founded in 2001, this library is unique among other libraries on this list because it is located in a building with deep roots in the history of Bologna. Municipal Palace, also known as the D'Accursio Palace, consists of several buildings that, over centuries, were added to a palace. Since 1336, it has been the seat of the city government and is one of the most important monumental buildings of the Emilia-Romagna capital. In 2001, the palace underwent a renovation to transform the Sala Borsa into a modern cultural centre that included the Salaborsa Library. The renovation respected the architectural layout of the buildings formed over seven centuries, and the Roman remains are visible through a specially made glass floor. Salaborsa is a multimedia library with a wide range of documents, including books, newspapers, magazines, maps and videos. The library also provides access to the Internet.
Address: Piazza del Nettuno 3 40124 Bologna
10 The Palatine Library of Caserta Palace, Italy
The Palatine Library is a significant part of the Royal Palace of Caserta, alongside the theatre and the chapel. Founded by Maria Carolina, Queen of Naples and Sicily, the library was meant to demonstrate the intellectual and political power of the dynasty. Its five rooms house over 14,000 volumes of literature on a variety of subjects, including history, philosophy, theatre, law and military art, reflecting the literary taste of the kings and queens of Naples. The rooms feature intricate frescoes and stucco decorations on the walls and ceilings, as well as a pair of wooden globes painted by Didier Robert de Vaugondyis. The Palatine Library of the Royal Palace of Caserta is open to the public and a must-see for anyone interested in history or literature.
Address: Palace of Caserta, Via Douhet, 2/a, 81100 Caserta CE
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What did you think? Do you visit historic libraries when you travel? I would love to hear from you, so please add your comment below.
Author: Anita Sane
About the author
Anita is a part-time traveller, passionate photographer and a retired career woman from Latvia, travelling mostly solo for more than 15 years. She is a skilled travel planner who plans and executes her travels by herself. Anita wants to show you how to travel the world and open your mind to new experiences. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Bloglovin.