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Awe-Inspiring Italian Libraries

by on September 5, 2017

Need to get away and go on a mini vacation, even for just five minutes? Reading this story from The New York Times about manuscripts in Italian libraries will transport you to a place of art and beauty. I have been fortunate to travel to Italy, and have seen many of the sights like the David and the Sistine Chapel. However, I wasn’t able to see my other great love, medieval manuscripts. As David Laskin said, “Why go to the library in Italy when all around you there is fantastic art, exalted architecture, deep history and intense passionate people? Because…the country’s historic libraries contain all of those without the crowds.”[1] I have watched travel shows about various European countries, and was amazed that their ancient manuscripts sit on the shelves for all to see. For bibliophiles like me, it’s a dream come true.

Laskin said these old libraries originated from the private collections of the nobility or clergy, and were only accessible to “elite circles of local aristocrats and scholars.”[2] Some of these amazing libraries are still restricted to researchers only, but some are open to the public for tours. In Rome, Laskin visited the Casanatense, located near the Piazza Navona. In Venice, he explored the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, as well as the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence, which was designed by the great Michelangelo.

Originally part of the Dominican Order, the Casanatense boasts books on church doctrine and natural history.[3] Currently, it is hosting an intriguing exhibition containing Lutheran texts from the Reformation Period.

The Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, which opened in 1570 and is located at the famous Piazza San Marco, contains a vast number of manuscripts and artwork from Titian and others.[4] If you’d like to search the English version of their catalog, you can do so here.

And finally, the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana holds some 11,000 manuscripts in its collection.[5] One remarkable text housed here is the Codice Fiorentino from 1577, which was owned by the Medici.[6] It is renowned as an “important [source] for the history of pre-Colombian Mexico and the early years of the Spanish conquest.”[7] Hearing about all these wonderful manuscripts makes me regret that I missed them during my first visit to Italy. I can only hope the three coins I threw in the Trevi Fountain will draw me back one day!



[1] David Laskin, “The Hidden Treasures in Italian Libraries,” June 13, 2017, The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/13/travel/italian-libraries-hidden-treasures-books-architecture-art.html

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] The Florentine Code of the Medici Laurentian Library, Medici Laurentian Library, https://www.bmlonline.it/en/il-codice-fiorentino-della-biblioteca-medicea-laurenziana/

[7] Ibid.


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