At the end of last year we concluded a long-running competition celebrating some of the world’s most beautiful bookstores (Beautiful Bookstores: And the Winner Is…). During our research for that blog series we also uncovered many gorgeous libraries that, although they didn’t technically meet the requirements for the bookstore challenge, were so wonderful in their own right that we would be remiss to not mention them. Of course, listing all the visually striking and unique libraries out there could take another two years, so we’ve narrowed the list down to our top five.
1) Bibliothèque de Paris
The distinction of “world’s oldest, continuously running public library” belongs to the Bibliothèque de Paris, a part of the National Library of France. Its collection dates back to 1368 when it was created at the Louvre and, though it has moved several times since then, the library has never closed to the public.
2) Bibliotheca Alexandria
For sheer history alone, the Bibliotheca Alexandria should be included on this list. With the weighty legacy of the ancient Library of Alexandria on its shoulders (see 10 Irreplaceable Pieces of Art & History That We’ve Lost Forever for more), the modern-day version pays homage to its famous origins while being a world-renowned collection of English, Arabic and French texts in its own right.
3) Stadtbibliothek am Mailänder Platz
Looking like something out an M.C. Escher drawing, the central public library in Stuttgart, Germany was designed by the South Korean architect Eun Young Yi. We often joke about wanting to “get lost in a library,” but in the case of this massive, cube-like structure that’s actually not such an unrealistic possibility!
4) Vancouver Central Library
You may think that we are biased by including our hometown library on the list. But this stately, Colosseum-esque building regularly makes the cut for “top ten” library lists from a variety of publications. In fact, a 2013 study at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, Germany (“Public Libraries in the Knowledge Society: Core Services of Libraries in Informational World Cities“) had our library tied with Montreal’s for the top in the world!
Photo Credit: Evan Leeson, © 2008, https://www.flickr.com/photos/ecstaticist/2690791720.
5) Mafra National Palace Library
The Rococo-style library at the Mafra National Palace in Portugal is distinguished largely by its length: At 88m, it is the longest monastic library in the world! As designed by Manuel Caetano de Sousa, the wooden bookshelves of this grand library are home to 36,000 leather-bound volumes including a vast array of incunabula. Another collection it can boast? Colonies of bats live within the bookcases, feeding on the insects that would otherwise destroy the books.
What is your favourite library?
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