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the oldest libraries in Italy - Biblioteca Apostolica vaticana
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The oldest libraries in Italy: a journey through precious writings

The oldest libraries in our country safeguard literary treasures that narrate centuries of history and culture. From north to south, these sanctuaries of knowledge allow us to retrace the footsteps of the giants of Italy’s history, offering a unique glimpse into the richness of the Italian heritage. Here are 5 of the oldest and richest libraries with precious collections that you absolutely cannot miss on your journey in Italy.

Vatican Apostolic Library

the oldest libraries in Italy - biblioteca apostolica
Salone Sistino | Credit

It is the flagship of Italian libraries. Entry is restricted to scholars with entrance cards, and visits, whether group or individual, are strictly prohibited.

Its history is incredibly complex and intertwined with various political and religious figures. The figure of the librarian of the Roman Church began to spread as early as the 8th century. Serious losses to the library’s heritage contained in various churches occurred under various pontiffs. It was Pope Nicholas V (208th pope) who had the idea of ​​creating a place to collect various manuscripts and make them available to scholars in the second half of the 14th century.

Initially equipped with only 4 rooms, the Vatican Apostolic Library began to inherit collections from bourgeois, lay, and ecclesiastical individuals, thus expanding in a few decades.

Here is preserved the oldest known version of the Bible (dating back to 325 AD), as well as a bilingual version of the Iliad from the 15th century and Galileo Galilei’s treatise “Sidereus Nuncius” (1610). Among the most renowned collections, honorable mention also goes to the gold coin placed by Charlemagne on the tomb of St. Peter in 781.

Overall, the collection consists of approximately 1.6 million volumes, in addition to hundreds of thousands of other works of inestimable value such as coins, works of art, manuscripts, and parchments.

Angelica Library of Rome

The oldest libraries in Italy - Biblioteca Angelica
Biblioteca Angelica – Roma | Credit

Unlike the Apostolic Library, the Angelica Library is considered one of the finest examples of a public library, along with the Ambrosian Library in Milan and the Bodleian Library in Oxford. A unique atmosphere makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to enjoy the literary climate of the 17th century.

With over 200,000 volumes accessible to the public, the possibility of borrowing such ancient and important volumes for our culture is highly appreciated. Inside the library, services such as photocopying, direct or interlibrary loans, loans for exhibitions, and even the use of library spaces for various events are available. In short, a treasure tailored to humans, not confined behind its doors but available to every requester, a true luxury!

 Capitular Library of Verona

Libreria Capitolare – Verona | Credit

Verona is fortunate to host the world’s oldest library still in operation (5th century). With over 70,000 monographs and 11 parchments, the Capitular Library of Verona is a must-visit for every literary enthusiast. Here there’s the iconic “Ab Urbe Condita” by Tito Livio, which tells the history of Rome from its foundation in 142 books.

Various vicissitudes such as the plague of 1630, looting, and bombing during the Second World War have recently renovated the environment.

National Central Library of Florence

Biblioteca Centrale Nazionale – Firenze | Credit

Together with the National Library of Rome, it serves as the national central library, but that of Florence has a much deeper history.

In Piazza dei Cavalleggeri, very close to the Arno, the library is an absolute must-visit if you find yourself near the historic center of Florence.

To help you understand the expansion of this building, consider that over 10 years ago the shelves covered a length of 135 km, with an estimated annual increase of 1.5 km!

Marciana Library of Venice

Libreria Marciana – Venezia | Credit

After visiting the Basilica of San Marco, just turn your gaze, because the southern area of ​​Piazza San Marco also houses one of the most important libraries in Italy. The Marciana Library is the most precious in Venice, and its history intertwines with none other than Francesco Petrarca. With a heritage boasting more than 1,000,000 volumes, here you will find the most complete collection of the complete history of Venice.

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