Nothing is as romantic as old books with their own stories of the past etched all over their covers. If you are a bibliophile, you can’t deny the rush of nostalgia that hits you with the first whiff of old books, even though you have not been around to experience the bygone time they boast of. What is better than beautiful, old books? Beautiful, old buildings that are home to these books! The oldest libraries in the world are a mystery waiting to be cracked. So many tales reside in their walls, we couldn’t resist listing down the oldest libraries in the world for you!
Al Qarawiyyin Library
Founded in 859 by a woman, Fatima al-Fihri, Al Qarawiyyin Library, in Fez, Morocco, is a part of the oldest operating university in the world! It is also home to a few of the most treasured Islamic manuscripts. The originally existing manuscript room door had four locks, and each of the four keys to those locks was given to four different, important people. So, if the room needed to be accessed, all four people had to be physically present. Presently, this one of the oldest libraries is hidden from the public eye, but the Moroccan Ministry of Culture recently made an effort to repair its continuously deteriorating condition.
A relic from the 16th century, The Librije is located in the St. Walburga’s Church in the Gelderland province of Netherlands. The Church is a relic in itself, dating back to the 11th The library within has had its interiors and exteriors unchanged, and most of the book collection remains chained to the reading desks!
Hereford Cathedral Library
The Hereford Cathedral Library, in England, is the only chained library to have all of the chains and locks still intact! The book collection ranging mainly in the theological and reference texts section, and dates back to 1100! Since the books are so old, they are the finest examples of ancient, immaculate handwriting. The impressive library is also home to a preserved antiphonary from the 13th century!
Francis Trigge Chained Library
The Francis Trigge Chained Library is nestled in the town of Grantham in Lincolnshire, England. The library, founded in 1598, was named after an Elizabethan Puritan clergyman who was the rector, or chancellor, of a nearby village. Trigge was a staunch supporter of the people and founded the library to help increase information and knowledge about divinity, liberal sciences, and clergy studies.
Royal Grammar School
Another chained library for England! The Royal Grammar School was founded in 1575, and has current bookcases that date back to 1897! In fact, it is so impressively ancient, the oldest book there dates back to 1480 with its printing roots in Venice!
The remarkable Chained Library at Wells Cathedral is home to books published before 180. Collected by the canons in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, these books span the entire range of intellectual interests! There are books here for theology, science, medicine, history, exploration and languages, and by Nicholas Jenson, Vesalius, Abraham Ortelius, Erasmus, and more. This library is the embodiment of the phrase ‘tip of the iceberg’!
The Laurentian Library, beautifully nestled in a cloister of the Medicean Basilica di San Lorenzo di Firenze, Florence, Italy, was opened in 1571. It holds more than 11,000 manuscripts and almost 5,000 books! It is also home to the cultural inheritance of the Medici family.
The Malatestiana Library in Cesena, Italy is not only the first European civic library but is also known to be Europe’s first public library. It opened in 1452, housed in a former Franciscan monastery, and is home to 400,000 books! The reading room is an architectural dream and looks like a church. It is one of its kind and has structures that have survived beautifully for over 550 years. The walnut door itself dates back to 1454 and was carved by Cristoforo da San Giovanni, a famous Italian painter of the early Baroque period.
Before the Reformation, the room that is now the Wimborne Minster Chained Library was a safe haven for the Minster Treasury. The library, in South West England, was founded in 1686 and is the second largest chained library. The library came to be because of people who were uncertain of the fate of their religious books. The first donation was from Reverend William Stone who had witnessed his fair share of burnings of religious books by the authorities. He wanted to make sure his collection was kept safe, and hence, he donated them to Wimborne. Another local donor, Roger Gillingham, provided the library with another 90 books in 1695. He insisted that even though the books should be chained up to ensure no misplacements, the library should be opened free of cost for the ‘better class’ people of the town. This story makes us live it!
The Biblioteca Marciana is located at the end of St. Mark’s Square, Venice, and overlooks the Piazzetta San Marco. It was named after the patron saint of Venice and dates back to the 16th The library’s monumental rooms contain remarkable reading areas, replete with sculptures and frescos.
Some of these oldest libraries are reviving their clauses to keep the public out. Plan a visit soon, and revel in the idyllic image that settles behind your eyelids when you think of the times they were built in!