Since the days of antiquity, libraries have been monumental structures essential to civilizations the world over, protecting the written records of humanity. While a number of libraries dazzle with their historic architecture—there are quite a number of Baroque halls with gorgeous detailing—there are also modern masterpieces impressing with unusual designs. Herewith, we look at 10 of the most beautiful libraries in the world.
1. Trinity College Library | Dublin
The number one must-see on a trip to Dublin isn’t the Guinness Storehouse, it’s Trinity College’s Old Library. Construction on the Long Room, the library’s iconic main hall, began in 1712 and lasted 20 years. The original structure only had books on the lower level, but when the library’s shelves were filled in the 1850s, the ceiling was raised (and barrel vaulted) to accommodate even more books. Today the Long Room holds 200,000 of the library’s oldest books.
2. Admont Abbey Library | Admont, Austria
Architect Joseph Huber designed this magnificent Baroque library—the largest monastery library in the world—which opened in 1776. He followed the ideals of the Enlightenment, once saying “Like our understanding, spaces too should be filled with light.” The result is this airy main chamber lined with bookshelves. Of particular note are the seven ceiling frescoes by Bartolomeo Altomonte and the limestone sculptures by Josef Stammel.
3. Central Library of Vancouver Public Libraries | Vancouver
When members of the public voted on designs for the the new Central Library in Vancouver, they eschewed more traditional structures in favor of Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie’s radical plan, which was conceived in conjunction with DA Architects. Thus, today you’ll find in a Colosseum-esque radial wall filled with public spaces for reading and relaxing in the heart of Vancouver.
4. The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library | New York
The 1911 Beaux-Arts flagship of the New York Public Library, designed by Carrère and Hastings, is one of the top tourist attractions in the city, not to mention one of the best research libraries in the city, too. The standout hall is the Rose Main Reading Room, with 52-foot-high ceilings decorated with ornate murals and architectural detailing like gilt rosettes.
5. Rampur Raza Library | Rampur, India
Founded by Nawab Faizullah Khan, ruler of the state of Rampur in the late 18th century, the Rampur Raza Library is home to a massive collection of Islamic and Asian texts and objects. The grand pink Indo-European structure that houses the collection today was built in 1904 by Nawab Hamid Ali Khan as a mansion, and it was converted into a library in 1954.
6. Abbey Library of St. Gall | St. Gallen, Switzerland
While the records show that a library had been established at the Abbey of St. Gall as early as 820 (making it the oldest library collection in Switzerland), the Rococo main hall was constructed in the mid-18th century according to a design by Austrian architect Peter Thumb. The library is home to the oldest-known architectural plan completed on parchment.
7. Stuttgart City Library | Stuttgart, Germany
Opened in 2011, the Stuttgart City Library is an imposing light-gray cube comprising glass blocks designed by Yi Architects. Inside the structure, you’ll find an airy central chamber, above which sits a multi-story stepped reading room lined with bookshelves. The library is envisioned as the hub of a futuristic city center, which has yet to be built.
8. Library of Parliament | Ottawa, Canada
Taking the form of a Victorian Gothic chapter house complete with 16 flying buttresses, the 1876 Library of Parliament is one of Canada’s prized architectural gems—it’s on the ten-dollar bill. Architects Thomas Fuller and Chilion Jones took inspiration from the British Museum Reading Room for the structure, lining the central hall with intricate wood shelves and paneling.
9. The Library of El Escorial | San Lorenzo El Escorial, Spain
The former home of the Spanish King, El Escorial is a massive complex, with its first stones being laid in 1563. While the entire site is impressive, the library dazzles with a vaulted ceiling is lined with frescoes by Pellegrino Tibaldi. Carved wood shelves and marble floors complete the space.
10. Klementinum Library | Prague
At over five acres, the Klementium complex is sprawling. Founded by the Jesuits in 1556, the site was originally a monastery, and since then it has been a university, an observatory, and finally, the home of the National Library. The Baroque hall opened in 1772 and is decorated with ceiling frescoes by Jan Hiebl.