Architecture

10 Most Beautiful Libraries in the World

Magda Michalska, Nicole Ganbold 11 December 2023 min Read

Here’s a message for the art-and-book lovers among us: We, DailyArt Magazine, love libraries! Especially those with rich history, spectacular architecture, and a unique atmosphere for learning and contemplating literature. So we compiled a list featuring 10 beautiful libraries around the world. Be sure to check them out!

1. Glasgow School of Art

beautiful libraries: Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Glasgow School of Art, Glasgow, Scotland. Glasgow School of Art’s website.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Glasgow School of Art, Glasgow, Scotland. Glasgow School of Art’s website.

We are off to a bitter start. What we are about to see is the library building of the Glasgow School of Art designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, architect and pioneer of the art nouveau style. Also known as the Mackintosh Building, the work drew influences from the Symbolism and Secession movements in continental Europe but utilized regional expressions that speak to a Scottish locality. However, we might not be able to appreciate this masterpiece right now, as it was damaged in a fire outbreak in May 2014 before another fire accident in June 2018, when a major restoration was nearing completion. The library is still being rebuilt and is planned to reopen in 2030.

2. Library of Alexandria

beautiful libraries: O. Von Corven, The Great Library of Alexandria, 19th century. Photo by Igor Merit Santos via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

O. Von Corven, The Great Library of Alexandria, 19th century. Photo by Igor Merit Santos via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Fire seems to be a constant curse to libraries. The same fate struck Egypt, where there was the Library of Alexandria, one of the largest of the ancient world—with around 40,000 to 400,000 papyrus scrolls! Allegedly believed to have survived several fires, we still don’t know when or in what ways the Library came to ruin. Yet the fall of such a historic building has been universally deemed a loss for the preservation of public knowledge.

3. Library of Trinity College Dublin

beautiful libraries: The Long Room, Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland. Photo by Diliff via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

The Long Room, Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland. Photo by Diliff via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

It is hard to tell whether the Long Room of this stunning Dublin library is the prototype of the Jedi Archives in Star Wars or vice versa. Yet one thing both have in common despite being galaxies away from each other is the abundance of national treasures. For Trinity College Library, that is the Book of Kells, a beautifully illuminated Gospel produced at a Columban monastery around 800 CE. The library came to be in 1592 along with the university and remains the largest in Ireland.

4. Bodleian Library

Speaking of movies, we should also mention the Bodleian Library, as its reading room was one of the filming locations for the Hogwarts Library of the Harry Potter franchise. Besides Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), some of its confirmed visitors are J. R. R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Oscar Wilde. With the prestige of Oxford, more prospective scholars and leaders in their fields would claim it as their study space in the coming decades and centuries, not to mention the five kings, 72 Nobel Prize winners, and 28 prime ministers that graduated from there.

beautiful libraries: Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK. Goodreads.

Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK. Goodreads.

5. Royal Library of San Lorenzo de El Escorial

beautiful libraries: El Escorial Library, Madrid, Spain. Atlas Obscura.

El Escorial Library, Madrid, Spain. Atlas Obscura.

As a part of El Escorial, which also housed a monastery, basilica, and royal palace among others, the Royal Library (Real Biblioteca) was built as ordered by King Philip II between 1563 and 1584. This monumental complex used to be the largest Renaissance building in the world and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It contains over 40,000 books in Latin, Spanish, Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, and many other languages. The frescoes on the vaulted ceilings represent the seven liberal arts: rhetoric, dialectic, music, grammar, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy.

6. Morgan Gallery & Museum

beautiful libraries: Morgan Library, New York City, NY, USA. Morgan Library’s website.

Morgan Library, New York City, NY, USA. Morgan Library’s website.

The Morgan Library was first designed by Charles Follen McKim as a private library for financier Pierpont Morgan. Its Renaissance-style interior is adorned with frescoes, stained glass, tapestries, and a prominent Istrian marble-carved mantlepiece. Also within the Pierpont Morgan’s collection are various Old Master’s drawings, medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, photography, art objects, and numerous archives.

7. Rijksmuseum Research Library (Cuypers Library)

beautiful libraries: Pierre Cuypers, Library of the Rijksmuseum, 1886, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Photo by Michael D Beckwith via Wikimedia Commons (CC0).

Pierre Cuypers, Library of the Rijksmuseum, 1886, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Photo by Michael D Beckwith via Wikimedia Commons (CC0).

Cuypers Library got its name from Dutch architect Pierre Cuypers, whose work on Rijksmuseum and the Amsterdam Central Station were known to be the city’s landmarks. The library featured here is no exception in terms of monumentality, as it is the largest and oldest in the Netherlands. Moreover, as the research library of the Rijksmuseum, it welcomes researchers from art history and enthusiasts alike.

8. Sainte-Geneviève Library

beautiful libraries: Henri Labrouste, Reading room of the Sainte-Geneviève Library, Paris, France. Photo by Michael Huette/Flickr.

Henri Labrouste, Reading room of the Sainte-Geneviève Library, Paris, France. Photo by Michael Huette/Flickr.

Built upon the collections initially from the Abbey of St Genevieve founded by Clovis I, the King of Franks since the 6th century, the Sainte Geneviève is definitely historic. But the most exciting part of the building is the 19th-century reading room, with a dome supported by an exposed iron frame made of arches and piers. This modernist addition was built between 1838 and 1851 by architect Henri Labrouste, one of the most prominent French architects of the time. Currently, the library holds 2 million documents and is a part of the University of Paris (Sorbonne).

9. Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading

beautiful libraries: Rafael da Silva e Castro, Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading, 1880-1887, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photograph by Massimo Listri/Taschen. Guardian.

Rafael da Silva e Castro, Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading, 1880-1887, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photograph by Massimo Listri/Taschen. Guardian.

Located in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading (Real Gabinete Português de Leitura) houses the vastest collection of Portuguese literature outside Portugal. Constructed between 1880 and 1887 after the design of architect Rafael da Silva e Castro, the building embodies Neo-Manueline design elements, an architectural style inspired by 16th-century Portuguese Late Gothic architecture and maritime discoveries. The building style was adopted across former Portuguese colonies centuries later, including Brazil. It was quite a coincidence that a group of Portuguese political refugees and immigrants founded the library as a way to promote their culture among the local migrant community.

10. Austrian National Library

beautiful libraries: The state hall of the Austrian National Library, 18th century, Hofburg, Vienna, Austria. © Paul Bauer / WienTourismus.

The state hall of the Austrian National Library, 18th century, Hofburg, Vienna, Austria. © Paul Bauer / WienTourismus.

And we will end in Hofburg, the former imperial palace in the historic district of Vienna. There, we find the pearl of the city: the Austrian National Library (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek). A generous collection of some 12 million objects makes it the largest library in Austria; its provenance in the medieval empire by the Habsburgs corroborates its heritage value. Located at the center of the original imperial court library is the iconic state hall (Prunksaal), which, after extensive construction started by famous architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach in 1721 and finished by his son, Joseph Emanuel Fischer von Erlach, ended up with a panoply of art forms, from frescoes to sculptures, then to imperial ornaments communicating the power and virtues of its past governors. The hall testifies to the depth and breadth of architectural elements that eventually earned the Austrian National Library the name “Gesamtkunstwerk (‘total work of art’).”

We hope these examples show how the place of knowledge could be as breathtaking as the world(s) of fiction.

But how do you like our selection? Let us know about your personal favorite!

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