St. Gallen: Abbey library
The St. Gallen Abbey Library is the oldest in Switzerland. Based on the blueprints of the eponymous convent, we know it dates back to the beginning of the 9th century. The abbey and library were identified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. The Abbey of St. Gallen was a perfect example of Carolingian construction until its secularisation in 1805. Its library is one of the richest in the world, housing precious manuscripts, ancient prints and incunabula exposed in the country's most beautiful Baroque hall. All just one hour away from Zurich.
Once you cross the threshold – sporting mandatory protective slippers – you will find yourself immersed in a parallel universe. Many works, considered fundamental in the construction of Europe's intellectual history and the abbey's cultural performance, stretch over the stunning marquetry. They all have been zealously preserved and watched over by the breath-taking frescoes on the central nave. Intense emotion prevails and calls for respect.
Dublin: Trinity College Library
Straight out of a fairy-tale engraving, the Trinity College library in Dublin is one of the most prestigious in the world, sparking the admiration of all visiting travellers. The library inspired JK Rowling's famous wizardry school, and can be credited to having fuelled the imagination of several generations of Irish artists: whispered comments from former students such as Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde or Jonathan Swift still echo between the walls. Founded in 1592, the library holds five million books guarded by white marble busts, symbols of human knowledge. While it is mandatory to obtain permission from the university to check the books, you may walk quietly down the halls between the tall shelves – a few meters high! – amidst scents of parchment paper and waxed wood. You will even have the opportunity to contemplate Brian Boru's famous harp, exhibited in the Long Room. This harp symbolises Ireland and is depicted on Irish coins!
Prague: Strahov monastery library
Built on the heights of the Czech capital, the Strahov monastery provides an unforgettable view of the apple orchards of Prague, framed by the Cathedral of St. Guy, St. Nicholas church, Old Town bell towers, and, on the Vltava River, the Charles Bridge Baroque statues. Once you walk through the charmingly bucolic main entrance, you will reach one of the most exquisite libraries in Europe with broad wooden shelves displaying hundreds of books from the convent. From the doorstep, enjoy the frescoes of the vaults, the gilded carpentry work, and the terrestrial globes that decorate the interior of the building. Right by the elegant theology and philosophy halls, stands a stunning cabinet of curiosities displaying great naturalist treasures and an adjoining museum with numerous medieval paintings.
Strahovské nádvoří 1/132
118 00 Praha 1
Stuttgart: public library
Less than two hours away from Frankfurt, the Stuttgart City Library designed by Korean architect Eun Young Yi, offers long, immaculate shelves filled with works of all kinds. Completed in October 2011, the monolithic building is characterised by a large cubic interior made up of frosted glass bricks embedded in a concrete frame. A new world opens up to the silence of readers – spiritual silence, sheltered from the daily frenzy of a bubbling city, cradle of the German automobile industry. The purity of its five floors, where galleries are arranged along a spiral curve, is illuminated by a central oculus inspired by the “Cenotaph for Newton” by Etienne-Louis Boullee. In the evening, the building shines a gleaming blue light on Stuttgart and falls asleep until the next morning.
Admont: Admont Abbey library
A few hours' drive from Imperial Vienna, the city of Admont has, since it was built in 1776, treated itself to a library worthy of the greatest Emperors of Austria. Established nearly a millennium ago by the Archbishop of Salzburg, the eponymous Benedictine abbey enjoys a quiet location by the Enns River. World famous for the treasures it shelters, it is the object of regular visits from explorers seeking a retreat out of time.
The monks devote themselves to the everyday practice of the lectio divina, based on the strict rules of St. Benedict, and the library is, without a doubt, the most beautiful space in the edifice. Seven cupolas decorated with frescoes by Baroque painter Bartolomeo Altomonte watch over 200,000 books in a library sublimated by the curves and asymmetries of its Rococo style. In addition to this exceptional library, you will want to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art, in the abbey, which also offers many temporary exhibitions.
Vatican: apostolic library
The apostolic library, land-locked in Vatican city in the heart of Rome, was built in the 4th century. It was only under the authority of Nicholas V that the library started to include Latin, Greek and Hebrew engravings and manuscripts accessible to contemporary scholars. A few centuries later, the building is full of treasures borrowed from Christina Queen of Sweden or the Dukes of Urbino, now preserved by a hundred or so employees. Paradox of the Pope's library, Benedict XVI did not have time study these secret archives, unlike thousands of collectors and avid readers who, since 2004, benefit from their digitisation thanks to the generosity of the Polonsky Foundation. Now a reference point for researchers, the library blesses their projects beneath its vast vaults painted per the themes of the book, councils and Sixtus V.