Top 5 Oldest Libraries In Europe Bibliophiles Cannot Miss

BesTripTips - Top 5 Oldest Libraries in Europe

If you are here, you are probably a book enthusiast. You can’t wait to lose yourself in one of those immense libraries you have always seen in movies or fairy tales.

Magical places rich in history and suspended in time, collectors of thousands of ancient manuscripts: a real treasure! Well, welcome on board. This is the right place for you if you are thrilled to discover the top 5 oldest libraries in Europe.

Prepare yourself for a journey full of surprises and enchantment: you won’t believe your eyes in front of so much beauty!

But it is not only that…You will also witness the existence of ancient sanctuaries of the written word. Each Library comprehends years and years of European civilization’s narrative, testifying its most beautiful periods and also its darkest ones. BesTripTips will take you to marvelous European countries, where you can discover libraries such as the famous Trinity College in Dublin or the charming Library of El Escorial in Spain.

Have you ever heard of them before? Embark with us on this thrilling journey: we will unveil the secrets of these old libraries and discover their intellectual inheritance.

Be ready to travel back in time!

Have A Look: Here’s The List Of The Top 5 Oldest Libraries In Europe

We don’t often think about it, but libraries played a crucial role in the past. Nowadays, they are typical places for us, even unnecessary because of the internet.

But in ancient times, they were important places for gathering information and, above all, places to highlight human knowledge. When information was scarce, libraries were crucial pillars that democratized access and offered a safe space to share progress in all disciplines.

Indeed, in Europe, there are many old libraries, most of which are part of universities or critical religious centers. We chose not only the ones you may have already heard of but also some libraries that will surprise you with their history and incredibly stunning interiors.

Let’s begin our journey with our first stop: Spain!

The Library of El Escorial – San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain

The Library of El Escorial - San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain - BesTripTips best trip tips - Top 5 Oldest Libraries In Europe Bibliophiles Cannot Miss

Situated in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, a few kilometers from Madrid, The Library of El Escorial dates back to the 16th century, the famous period of the Renaissance

King Phillip II of Spain wanted to build it to hold books and manuscripts, as well as other ornaments such as globes, astrolabes, and maps.

And it is exciting to know that while mixing science with humanities during the Renaissance was considered normal, it would have been deemed heretical in the past! 

King Philip II wanted to establish this Library especially because he considered himself a humanist with high intellectual formation and a great love for books and manuscripts. Does he remind you of yourself?

The library structure consists of a central hall and various rooms, but the main hall is surely the most spectacular part.

It is 54 meters long and 10 meters high, with a barrel vault that crowns the entire room. If you are already surprised, wait to know how many books it contains!

The Library boasts a giant collection of over 40.000 books and manuscripts covering topics from philosophy to politics and poetry, written in many languages such as Italia, Latin, Greek, Arabic, Chinese or Hebrew. Want to visit the Library? No worries, the price is not so high: you will spend around 14€ for an Adult ticket. 

Now, let’s continue our journey traveling towards Italy: we could have brought you to Rome, but it would have been obvious, no?

So we will take you to Florence instead. Keep reading!

Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library – Florence, Italy

Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library - Florence, Italy - BesTripTips best trip tips - Top 5 Oldest Libraries In Europe Bibliophiles Cannot Miss

At BesTripTips, we know Florence is always a dream destination for tourists. So we decided to choose this spectacular Library to add to your next trip to Italy.

The Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library is situated on the Brunelleschi cloister’s first floor, and here, you can find the most significant collection of ancient books in Italy.

Today, the Library preserves approximately 11.000 manuscripts and 2.500 papyri, together with a vast collection of printed editions that date back to the seventeenth and the twentieth centuries. 

As you may not know, this Library is a timeless testament to the Medici family, which has always been very active in cultivating and transmitting culture over generations.

In fact, the Library was born thanks to the humanistic pursuit of Cosimo the Elder and his bond with Niccolò Niccoli, a fellow lover of books and classical manuscripts.

But what is really astonishing is the Library’s architecture, where you can clearly distinguish the Florentine style envisioned by Michelangelo.

The famous Michelangelo stairway leads to the reading room. Here, you can recognize the first anticipation of the Baroque style.

The original inventions by Michelangelo are straight lines and monumental steps shaped like an imaginary stone casting.

Then, once inside the reading room, you will find a vast space decorated with carved wooden furnishings and shelves lined with thousands of manuscripts. But do you know what is the most positive aspect of all this? To see all this beauty you will only have to spend 4 euros!

It is a stop you cannot miss if you visit Florence. Now, let’s continue with our tour going towards Northern Europe. In the next paragraph, you will learn more about the famous Bodleian Library in Oxford.

Keep reading!

The Bodleian Library – Oxford, UK

The Bodleian Library - Oxford, UK - BesTripTips best trip tips - Top 5 Oldest Libraries In Europe Bibliophiles Cannot Miss

The Bodleian Library is one of the most famous ancient libraries in Europe and the world.

In fact, you may know it because it appears to host the sets of various films or was reconstructed to host them. Did you know? The Gothic Divinity School, one of the rooms included in the Bodleian Library structure, was the Hogwarts Infirmary in Harry Potter!

The name of the Library derives from its founder, Sir Thomas Bodley, an English diplomat and scholar. 

The Library has over 13 million printed items. It is the second-largest Library in Britain after the British Library, and Oxford scholars fondly refer to it as “Bodley” or “the Bod. “

Today, the Library principally operates as a reference library, and documents cannot be removed from the reading rooms.

In fact, in the past, all the manuals were chained to the shelf to prevent readers from taking them away. So, manuscript consultation was allowed on site only. 

With time, the Bodleian Library also acquired the title of “copyright library” because there you can find at least a copy of any publication in England. This means that it functions like an actual legal deposit. Want to know an interesting fact about the Bodleian Library?

Here is a papyrus of over 2500 years, the oldest article in the Library.

It is a marriage contract from Egypt, which underlines the value of what the library hosts and hands down from generation to generation.

And because of the high value of its manuscripts, you can only visit the Bodleian Library with a guided tour, but the prices are not so expensive. 

At BesTripTips, we suggest booking a tour at least one month in advance because of the high demand.

You can choose from tours of 30, 60, or 90 minutes, which will cost you 10£, 15£, or 20£ per person, respectively. Now, we will only move very close to Oxford. The next step is Dublin!

Want to know more about the absolutely fascinating Trinity College Library? Then, please move to the next paragraph and read about it.

Trinity College Library – Dublin, Ireland

Trinity College Library - Dublin, Ireland - BesTripTips best trip tips - Top 5 Oldest Libraries In Europe Bibliophiles Cannot Miss

Like the Bodleian Library, the Trinity College Library serves Trinity College as a legal deposit, so in this case, we are also talking about a “copyright library.”
In this case, we can also stay with the film theme: maybe you are a fan of Star Wars.
The Jedi archives of the Jedi Temple in the movie Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones resemble the Long Room of the Trinity College Library.
This resemblance actually resulted in controversy since the building was not permitted to be used as inspiration for the film. Fortunately, it ended up with no legal action!

Now, let’s go back to the Library’s most interesting features.

Here, you can see the Brian Boru harp (Ireland’s national symbol) and the famous Book of Kells. Have you heard about it?

It is an illuminated manuscript made by Irish monks in the context of island art. It is particularly famous for its technical excellence, enough to be considered as one of the most important works of art of the time!

What about its structure? Its construction began with the founding of Trinity College in 1592, and the most famous part is obviously the 65-meter-long main chamber, called “the Long Room. “

Just here, you can find 200,000 of the Library’s oldest books!

And really, the Long Room alone is worth the visit: you will find yourself immersed in wooden shelves and marble busts, allowing you to jump back in time. Curious about visiting the Trinity College Library? Tickets cost 19€, a little bit over the average price. Still, it is clearly a stop you cannot miss if you consider yourself a bibliophile! 

Now, you have almost arrived at the end of this article. Want to discover the last of the top 5 oldest libraries in Europe we chose for you? Keep reading; BesTripTips will take you to Switzerland!

The Library of St. Gallen –  Switzerland

The Library of St. Gallen -  Switzerland - BesTripTips best trip tips - Top 5 Oldest Libraries In Europe Bibliophiles Cannot Miss

Also, in this case, you will have to pay around 19€ to visit the Library, but consider that the St. Gallen Library is a natural repository of historical gems!

It was founded in the 8th century, making it one of Europe’s oldest libraries! 

It is part of the Abbey of St. Gall, in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Its look changed in the 18th century, when it was rebuilt in the Rococo Baroque style.

Here, you will find manuscripts and books dating back to the 9th century, together with parchment paper written by monks and scholars, with their characteristic leather bindings and precious metal covers.

The Library of St. Gallen houses almost 160.000 original works, of which 2.100 manuscripts were copied between the 8th and 15th centuries, 1.650 codices, old books, and printed documents.

Because of its cultural heritage and the site in which it is included, it was inscribed among UNESCO’s first world heritage sites in 1983.

In fact, it is considered “the perfect example of the great Carolingian monastery of the Holy Roman Empire.”

So, you have no excuses. To be considered a true book lover, you must also visit the Library of St. Gallen!

Will You Miss The Top 5 Oldest Libraries in Europe? We Dare You To Do So!

Now, we understand that dedicating an entire trip just to visiting these libraries may not be feasible for everyone. But why not consider the opportunity of seeing at least one of these marvelous libraries if you are in one of the countries you read above?

From the inspiring halls of the El Escorial Library to the breathtaking treasures housed in the Bodleian Library, each location we suggested will offer you a unique and unforgettable experience.
Whether you have a passion for history, books or you simply appreciate the allure of these places, then you will just find yourself in the heaven of books enthusiasts!

Well, now our journey among the oldest and most prestigious libraries in Europe ends here.
But at BesTripTips we are always on the lookout for other fascinating destinations to explore and share with you.

Enjoy your travels and see you soon!

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