The Beauty of Books: Journey Through The World’s Most Ornate Libraries

Some of the world’s most stunning old structures were built to house books with a reverence equal to that of cathedrals, every grand hall, domed ceiling and hand-carved scroll a testament to the importance of the tomes. All over the world, ornate libraries act as veritable temples of knowledge, their very proportions inspiring feelings of awe from the moment you step through the door.

Photographer Massimo Listri spent 30 years traveling to many of these institutions, from Brazil’s gilded Real Gabinete Portuguese de Leitura to the pale marble of Portugal’s Biblioteca do Convento de Mafra. The result is a book that’s certainly worthy of inclusion in all of those collections.

Published by Taschen, ‘The World’s Most Beautiful Libraries’ is an oversized, full-color documentation of libraries ranging from medieval masterpieces to extravagant 19th century structures, classical to rococo, modestly to majestically sized. Few people have seen quite as many of these places in person as Listri, who has captured them in all the detail they deserve.

Featured libraries include the Morgan Library in New York, the papal collections of the Vatican Apostolic Library, Trinity College Library and the Michelangelo-designed Laurentian Library in Florence, once the private library of the powerful Medici family. At 560 pages, the book may offer one of the most comprehensive ways to tour these structures short of reproducing Listri’s travels (and gaining access to libraries that are closed to the public) yourself. In addition to the photographer’s images, the book includes descriptions of each library’s history.

Of course, modern libraries can be monumentally beautiful as well – check out 14 examples like the Jose Vasconcelos Library in Mexico City, Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library and the Tama Art University Library in Tokyo.