When it comes to architecture, the interior of a library might not be the first thing that comes to mind. However, with the release of Florence-based photographer Massimo Listri's new book, (to be released by TASCHEN on August 30), that's all going to change. Scroll through for a peek at some of the world’s oldest libraries, boasting everything from exquisite spiral staircases to elaborate ceiling paintings.
Kremsmünster Abbey is one of the oldest—and largest monasteries in Austria. Its library, which houses some 170,000 books, was redesigned in the Baroque style by Carlo Antonio Carlone in 1670. The space includes sectional rooms devoted to specific subjects, thematic ceiling paintings and an observatory tower.
This unique library dates back to 1586 and is considered the oldest in Naples. It houses a rich collection of manuscripts, incunabula, rare editions and old musical scores. Along with the church it's affiliated with, the building is part of a complex that's directly opposite the cathedral in the center of the city.
The Vatican Library dates back to Sixtus V (1521–1590), who called for the construction of a new building for its collection of 20,000 volumes. Bramante’s Cortile del Belvedere—a location at the center of the Vatican complex that was reserved by Renaissance popes for tournaments and festivities—was selected as the site.
Constructed on the site of a Moorish citadel, the Biblioteca Joanina pays homage to John V of the ruling house of Braganza. The library's roots date back to 1537, the period when John III (1502–1557) decided his royal palace at Coimbra–completed during the Umayyad caliphate and home to the kings of Portugal since the 12th century–should serve as the new seat of the University of Lisbon. The king designated spaces for lectures and classes and a cloakroom (near today's Grand Hall) to be used as the university library.
Recognized as one of the most significant Rococo libraries in the world, Mafra Palace mirrors a monumental hall by royal court architect Manuel Caetano de Sousa (1742–1802). The building, which is currently used as a museum, was built in 1771. The structure's numerous windows allow for an abundance of natural light, while its coffered barrel vaults and a central cupola add to its visual appeal. High balustrades surround the space and the walls are lined with bookcases.
Trinity College Library, also known as the Old Library, is the largest library in the country. It houses national emblems such as the Trinity College harp, which is on display in the central hall known as the Long Room. The compact space, built after the foundation of the College, is due to the construction of a new facility designed by chief engineer and surveyor-general Thomas Burgh (1670–1730) at the start of the 18th century. The Long Room's original flat ceiling was raised in 1858 and upgraded to a barrel-vaulted oak design that's still visible today, creating room for an upper gallery.
The former monastic library pays homage to the patron saint of Paris, Geneviève, who was laid to rest in 512 near the sixth-century monastery founded by the Merovingians. In the early 18th century, the library was opened to the public, making it possible for tourists to enjoy its 60,000 printed works and 2,000 manuscripts.
This library was originally founded in 612 and initially served as a Benedictine monastery. Today, the building, known as a "sanctuary of the soul," houses 170,000 volumes of reference material. Peter Thumb built the present-day structure between 1758 and 1767. While the interior features contemporary elements, it still reflects the tradition of the Vorarlberg architects in the Baroque era. From its stucco details to bookcases that occupy two stories, the building is certainly striking.
This Admont library mirrors Vienna's Imperial Court Library. Its lengthy interior and ceiling, comprised of seven round-shaped vaults, is separated by a central hall that's made up of three spaces. Below the central hall's ceiling mural of Divine Wisdom by Bartolomeo Altomonte (1694–1783) are various editions of the Bible as well as writings of the Church Fathers.
At the end of the 18th century, Bibliotheca Strahoviensis was deemed the most significant monastic library in Bohemia. Its Theological Hall contains Baroque influences and houses 18,000 volumes, while the Philosophical Hall was constructed in 1783 by Ignác Jan Palliardi (1737–1824) and has neoclassical elements that are evident in its grand book cabinets, galleries and walnut wall fittings.
This two-story library is located on a street named after the Portuguese national poet Luís de Camões. The bookshelves' carved features, galleries, and cast-iron roof are reflective of Manuelline, the Portugese style of architectural ornamentation.
Since it was founded in 1885, this research library has housed treasured materials ranging from auction catalogues to rare periodicals and is known as one of the largest art libraries in the world. High windows and the interior's space-saving iron details, which became prominent in the second half of the 19th century, allowed for the design that features high bookshelves.
Housing an estimated 15,000 volumes bound in white pigskin, this Baroque library was founded in 764. The library hall, which still features the inscription “as a palace of the Muses, a bulwark of religion and a monument to itself," was constructed in 1718.
Viewed as one of the most significant examples of Rococo in southwest Germany, this library was constructed between 1737 and 1744. Highlights of the interior include the imitation marble colonnade in vibrant red and blue, along with an illusionistic ceiling painting.