In my recent trip to Budapest and Vienna, I was constantly on a look out for reading habits and bookish stuff that I could share with all my bookish friends (you!). I wasn’t disappointed and one sight I have witnessed changed my definition of what a library is.
The Austrian National Library (Nationalbibliothek) is first and foremost the country’s largest working library, home to millions of books. It is located in the Hofburg Palace in Vienna; since 2005 some of the collections find themselves in the baroque Palais Mollard-Clary. Hofburg Palace is a palace located in Vienna, Austria, which has housed some of the most powerful people in Austrian history, including the Habsburg dynasty, rulers of the Austro-Hungaria empire. It currently serves as the official residence of the President of Austria. It was the Habsburg’s principal winter residence, as the Schönbrunn Palace was their preferred summer residence.
Founded by the Habsburgs, the library was originally located in the current Prunksaal building and called the Hofbibliothek, changing to its current name after 1920. The Baroque Prunksaal “The splendor hall” of the imperial library on Josefsplatz, with its 200,000 venerable volumes, is primarily an architectural tourist attracton.
When I walked through the door, I instantly gasped. The first thing that struck me when I enter the library is the sheer size of it, 80m in length and 30m in height; and the massive pillars and pilasters, topped by gilded capitals, wood-panelled bookcases, carved balconies accessed by spiral stair cases and from floor to ceiling book shelves. The library is so beautiful.
In 1722, Emperor Karl VI authorised the construction of a building for the Imperial Library in the Hofburg, after the plans of Leopold I. The library was begun by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, as the current Prunksaal, and accommodated the exhibits of the Imperial Library in the 19th century.
The architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach’s built the city’s central church, the Karlkirche. If Karlkirche is his sacred masterpiece, then the Prunksaal is his most stunning secular work. The library began in 1723, the year of his death, and like so many of his projects, had to be finished off by his son, Josef Emanuel. It is by far the largest Baroque library in Europe, stretching the full length of the first floor of the central wing on Josefplatz.
The most valuable addition, at that time, was the book collection of Prinz Eugen von Savoyen (Prince Eugene of Savoy), whose 15,000 volumes cover valuable books from the French and Italian area. The hall of the Imperial Library has become the Prunksaal of the Austrian National Library.
In the middle of it there is a traverse oval dome, with beautiful frescoes that appears to be three dimensional painted by Daniel Gran. In the very middle of the hall, stands the statue of the Emperor Karl VI.
The fresco in the central dome represents a kind Apotheose Karl VI, whose picture is held by Hercules and Apollo. Around the picture of the emperor all kinds of allegorical figures are met in a complicated theme, which are to symbolize the virtues of the Habsburgs and the wealth of their countries.
To really appreciate the scale of the library, I will share two public photos from German websites taken from the first floor (which is barred from visitors), to see how vast collection of books and fine architecture can create a feeling of reverence and awe to knowledge and glory.
It was one of the highlights of my trip and the most beautiful library and bookshelves I have ever seen. Talk about library lust! A library can be a fine architectural work of art. ;)