9 More Gorgeous European Libraries

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We’ve seen great libraries from all over the world, including a second look at amazing American libraries. Now it’s time for more beautiful libraries in Europe!

1. The Royal Library, Denmark


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The Royal Library is both the national library of Denmark and the University of Copenhagen’s library. It is also the largest library in all of the Nordic countries. The library was founded back in 1648, but its current building was constructed in 1999. In an attempt to keep the stunning old building (which was completed in 1906) in operation during the massive expansion, the new building was added across the street and features three bridges connecting it to the older wing. The new building is nicknamed the “Black Diamond” because it is made up of two black cubes clad in black granite with a massive glass atrium in the middle that allows visitors to look over the beautiful sea just outside.

In addition to the extra library space, the new building also features a concert hall, exhibition spaces, two museums, a bookstore, a restaurant, a café and a roof terrace.

2. Malmo City Library, Sweden

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When this library first opened in 1905, it was housed in a hotel. About 40 years later it was moved into its own building, a castle-inspired structure designed by architects John Smedberg and Fredrik Sundbärg. Since then, two buildings have been added, including a second collection wing known as the “Calendar of Light” and a central entrance to the two buildings, featuring a café and information desk, known as “The Cylinder.”

These days, the library holds over 550,000 different items, and in 2006 it became the first library in the country to lend out video games.

3. Leipzig University Library, Germany


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Founded in 1542, the Leipzig University Library is one of the oldest university libraries in Germany. The library was originally housed in a monastery building before being moved into a stunning neo-renaissance building on campus in 1891. Unfortunately, two-thirds of the building was destroyed in bombings during WWII. The majority of the books survived the destruction but, even so, 42,000 volumes were lost.

For years, only the undamaged left wing was used; the reconstruction of the rest of the building was only completed in 2002. These days, the library holds over 5 million volumes including 8700 manuscripts and 3600 incunabula dating from the 16th century. They also possess the longest and oldest surviving medical manuscript from ancient Egypt, which is dated from 1600 BC.

4. The University Library of Graz, Austria


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The third largest library in Austria, the University Library of Graz, was founded as a Jesuit college library in 1573; it was turned into a state university library in 1773 when the Jesuit order was abolished. In 1885, the library was moved to a new building on the new university campus. Nowadays, the library has almost 3 million books, 2000 manuscripts and 1200 incunabula.

5. Vilnius University Library, Lithuania


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Founded by Jesuits in 1570, the Vilnius University Library is the oldest library in Lithuania and one of the largest—it contains more than 5.4 million volumes. The library was opened to the public in 1804, then closed altogether after the November Uprising of 1831. It wasn’t opened again until 1856 and while it has largely remained opened since then, the library has been victimized by a number of fires as well as plundering during both World Wars.

Over the years, the rare book department has managed to accumulate over 160,000 items dating from between the 15th and 21st centuries and the manuscript department now holds over 265,000 documents; the oldest dates back to 1209.

6. National Library of Finland, Finland


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This national library is also the library of the University of Helsinki. Aside from maintaining a copy of all printed matter created in Finland, the library also has one of the most comprehensive collections of books published in the Russian Empire.

The oldest part of the National Library dates back to 1844; the "new" rotunda addition is still over 100 years old (it was added in 1903). Most of the library’s 3 million item collection, however, is stored underground in the library’s “bookcave.” The main library is one of the best examples of Empire-styled architecture in Finland and features extensive fire planning design innovations—including vaulted ceilings in all the rooms and halls. The rotunda also features fire precautions including a steel and concrete framework.

7. Biblioteca do Palacio e Convento de Mafra I, Portugal

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In the back of this massive palace is a Rococo library, which many consider to be the highlight of the entire structure. The 35,000 leather-bound books in the library’s collection cover the majority of western knowledge dating from the 14th to 19th centuries. The library was well-designed for the protection of books, leaving space between the shelves and the wall to prevent excess humidity from building up, and a bat roost to prevent accumulation of book-eating insects inside the library.

8. Casanata Library, Italy


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Established in 1701, Cardinal Girolamo Casanata ensured that this monastery library, completed the year after the Cardinal’s death, was always open to the public. Even after the library was taken over by the Italian government in 1872, the library has remained available to all Romans. Included in the library’s collection are 64 Greek codices and 230 Hebrew texts, including 5 Samaritan codices. There are over 2000 books printed before 1500 and 6000 manuscripts.

9. Chethems Library, UK


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This Manchester library is the oldest free public library in all of the UK. It was opened as part of Chetham’s Hospital in 1653, according to the will of Humphrey Chetham, for the education of "the sons of honest, industrious and painful parents.” It has remained in continuous use since that time and holds 100,000 volumes, 60,000 of which were printed before 1851. To save the books from any flooding, the library collection is housed on the second story of the building. To prevent any book theft, all the titles were chained to the bookcases—a common practice of the time.

Even though this is a sequel to the first European libraries article, I’m sure there are still a few beautiful ones out there, so if I missed some you think deserve to be mentioned, feel free to tell everyone about them in the comments.

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November 27, 2012 - 3:00am
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