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Austrian Nationalbibliotek: Prunksaal

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.

Frescoes which looked so real that they seems to pop up from the wall!!

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. 😉


About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


22 thoughts on “Austrian Nationalbibliotek: Prunksaal

  1. thanks for sharing your visit to this awesome Library

    Posted by Mel u | November 10, 2010, 1:33 am
  2. Holy cow, I can see why you gasped – I gasped just looking at your post! Sounds like a wonderful trip; thanks for sharing!!!

    Posted by rhapsodyinbooks | November 10, 2010, 12:32 pm
  3. I am amazed you managed to tear yourself away from such a beautiful place…so nice to see books being given the reverence they deserve.

    Posted by Bernadette in Australia | November 10, 2010, 11:08 pm
    • Yes Bernadette, the only thought that made me leave the place was to go visit other amazing places in Vienna. Nicely put, “Books given the reverence they deserve”. Thanks for dropping by. 😉

      Posted by JoV | November 11, 2010, 8:50 am
  4. So Harry-Potter-ish. 🙂

    Posted by Marvin | November 11, 2010, 12:52 am
  5. Wonderful post and beautiful pictures, Jo! The Austrian National Library is really awesome! Thanks for sharing the picture and your travel experiences with us.

    Posted by Vishy | November 11, 2010, 4:05 am
  6. My goodness, that is the ultimate library. I got goosebumps when I saw that tall ladder up against the shelves. The library reminds me of the scene in Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ when Belle sees the castle library for the first time. The National Bibliothek is a must visit if I ever go to Prague. Thanks for sharing!

    Posted by mywordlyobsessions | November 12, 2010, 9:59 am
  7. oops, I meant Vienna! I can’t help it, Prague has buildings like this too!

    Posted by mywordlyobsessions | November 12, 2010, 10:01 am
  8. What magical pictures! The library reminds me of Melbourne State Library. Will take some pictures the next time I go there 😉

    Posted by mee | November 17, 2010, 9:53 pm
  9. Imagine working in that library!

    Posted by Mae | December 28, 2010, 6:59 pm


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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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