The earliest libraries date as far back as 2600 BC, these institutions are a tribute to the progress and knowledge of the human race and pay homage to our great history and our achievements as a civilization. From centuries-old architectural jewels to the pathbreaking libraries of modern-day, these are some of the most exquisite libraries that exist throughout the world.
1. Abbey Library of Saint Gall - St. Gallen, Switzerland
Dating back to 719 AD, this abbey and the enclosed library is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An imposing Carolingian monastery, it is home to a wide-ranging collection of rare manuscripts, some of which date back to the middle ages. This is one of the most magnificent and oldest reading halls that has survived the ravages of time and retains its glory even today. Its striking woodwork, gorgeously painted ceilings, and the majestic hall are a supreme example of Baroque design.
2. Melk Abbey Library - Melk, Austria
Located in the town of Melk in Lower Austria, the striking yellow Melk Abbey sits on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Danube. Its breathtaking library, featuring an ornate, sumptuously colored ceiling fresco by Austrian painter Paul Troger, is home to an extensive medieval manuscript collection on philosophy, jurisprudence, theology, and medicine. Planned by the famous Austrian Baroque architect Jakon Prandtauer in the first half of the 18th century, this ancient abbey and library extends over 320 meters and is an outstanding showpiece of high Baroque style.
3. Wiblinglen Abbey Library - Ulm, Germany
Formerly a Benedictine abbey, the Wiblinglen library sits on the confluence of the Danube and Iller and is one of the most spellbinding libraries in the world. The ceiling fresco by Franz Martin Kuen is stunning and the library is renowned for its lavish Rococo style. Set in the monastery's north wing, the library is almost 72 meters long and is richly decorated with gilded sculptures, statues, frescoes, and exquisitely detailed marble columns.
4. John Rylands Library - Manchester, England
With a catalog of over 1.4 million items, the spacious halls of the John Rylands Library in Manchester resemble something out of a J. K. Rowling book. The library was founded by Enriqueta Augustina Rylands in memory of her late husband John Rylands. Commissioned in 1889, the library took more than 10 years to build and opened for the public in the year 1900. Adorned with a high ceiling, oriel windows, reading alcoves, and a series of portraits and sculptures celebrating the artistic and intellectual history of mankind, this library is an arresting example of Neo-Gothic architecture.
5. Mafra National Palace Library - Mafra, Portugal
Built during the reign of King John V (1707-1750) as a consequence of a vow the King took in 1711 to build a convent if his wife bore him offspring. When King John's first daughter was born, the construction of the palace began in 1717 and was completed by 1730. The Rococo library situated on the second floor of the palace rivals the grandeur of the Melk Abbey Library of Austria, built by the architect Manuel Caetano de Sousa, the library is the highlight of the palace. It has a floor covered with tiles of rose, grey and white marble and ornately designed wooden bookshelves and railings. Holding nearly 36,000 leather-bound volumes, the library is famous for housing bats that protect the volumes from insect damage.
6. Strahov Monastery Library - Prague, Czech Republic
Dating back to the 12th Century, the Strahov Monastery is home to a beautiful library that features ornate stuccowork, biblical frescoes and a spectacular art gallery that is a must-see for tourists visiting Prague. It houses over 200,000 volumes, including over 3,000 manuscripts and 1,500 first prints stored in its special depository and is home to thousands of editions of the holy Bible.
7. Royal Portuguese Reading Room - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Also known as Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading, this library in Rio was elected as the fourth most beautiful library in the world by Time Magazine. The most picturesque library of South America, the cabinet has a regal air and is home to the largest repository of Portuguese literature outside of Portugal. The library is richly decorated and features multicolored skylights, extravagantly carved bookcases, elaborate balustrades, and sumptuous marble sculptors.
1. Royal Library - Copenhagen, Denmark
Colloquially referred to as the Black Diamond, this library in the Danish capital certainly grabs the attention. Overlooking the strait of Oresund, the shiny black cube-like structure is one of the most important buildings of the Copenhagen skyline. Inside, it contains over 200,000 volumes with all of the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard's original manuscripts. The building has seven floors, escalators, spacious walkways and reading rooms, a photography museum, a cafe, a performance hall, and a terrace that can host concerts and plays for an audience of up to 600 people.
2. Central Library Oodi - Helsinki, Finland
Inaugurated in 2018, this eccentrically designed library is widely regarded as one of the most exciting new public venues built in Finland in recent years. The building combines a traditional library and a community center and features 100,000 books in 17 languages along with a large collection of newspapers, films, and video-games. Inside, the building is organized into three distinct floors by function, the ground serves as an active space with a large public lobby and a cafe-restaurant, the top floor functions as a peaceful, light-filled space for some relaxed reading and the middle floor is used for more specific functions such as conferences and seminars.
3. Public Library Stuttgart - Stuttgart, Germany
Opened in 2011, the public library of Stuttgart is a splendid example of avant-garde minimalist architecture. It certainly has no gilded statues and no ornate frescoes adorn its ceilings, but what it lacks in embellishments it makes up for with bright-white staircases, spotless glass surfaces and amply lit reading spaces. The main feature is a five-story reading room shaped like an upside-down pyramid which sets the library apart from any other in the world. Designed by Korean architect Euo Young Yi, the library is housed in a cube-like building and contains over 500,000 volumes. Inside, it has a huge hallway in the center with staircases reaching 14 meters upwards to an overhead window that floods the entire space with light.
4. Sandro Penna Municipal Library - Perugia, Italy
At a glance, the Sandro Penna Municipal Library in Perugia looks like an alien spacecraft from a distant galaxy. Designed by Milan based architect Italo Rota, the building's exterior is an all-glass pink that lights up at night, dazzling and amazing onlookers. Completed in 2004, the library is named after the Perugia born poet Sandro Penna and is a truly eye-catching feature of the city's landscape.
5. Seattle Central Library - Seattle, Washington, USA
Opened in 2004 and voted #108 on the American Institute of Architects' list of 150 favorite structures in the US in 2007, the Seattle Central Library commands attention with its gleaming geometric design and sharp angles. The unorthodox facade of the building resembles a series of floating boxes outlined in steel and encased entirely in glass. In 2004, when the library opened, Time ranked it as one of the year's top architectural designs.
6. National Library of Sejong City - Sejong City, South Korea
A library that offers a mix of digital and analog services, the National Library of Sejong City stands out as a landmark with a swooping facade that is modeled to look like a book page being turned over. Inside and on the grounds of the library you'll find an abundance of conference and seminar rooms, a large dining area, gorgeous sculptures, lots of green spaces, a book-themed park, and a rooftop terrace with breathtaking views of the surroundings and the nearby lake.
7. The Tianjin Binhai Library - Tianjin, China
Completed in 2017, the five-story library in the coastal city of Tianjin is an outstanding example of path-breaking architecture. Colloquially known as The Eye, the innovative library is home to over 200,000 texts and spans over 33,700 square meters. It also features spacious lounge areas, meeting rooms, computer rooms, and rooftop patios. The interior is bedecked with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and a large sphere in the center that functions as an auditorium with a capacity of 110 people. On opening day, the futuristic library attracted a deluge of visitors and around 10,000 people queued outside to observe this architectural wonder with their own eyes.