Venice is not only a city of beautiful palazzos, but also of impressive libraries. Libraries are often overlooked when you seek interesting places to visit in a city, but they are usually based in nice locations that combine culture and history. In Venice, there are several libraries where you can browse through thousands of books in an almost magical setting. Assuming you like books, it immediately makes you feel privileged.
I became intrigued by the Venetian libraries when I read ‘By its cover’ of Donna Leon. In this book, commissario Brunetti gets confronted with the theft of pages from rare books at a historical library in Venice.
DID YOU KNOW? Donna Leon lives in Venice, but she doesn’t want her books to be translated in Italian. This novel for instance can be found under the titles ‘Tussen de regels’ (Dutch), ‘Tod zwischen den Zeilen’ (German), ‘Muerte entre lineas’ (Spanish) and ‘Brunetti entre les lignes’ (French). However, there is no Italian version of it. If you like her stories, you might want to follow this walk on your next trip to Venice: ‘Follow Brunetti on a suspenseful trip around Venice’.
Even though this crime story is set in a fictive library, it made me wonder about the historical libraries in Venice. As a result, I visited several of them and I became even more intrigued. The result is this post in which I will give you some background on the history of each of these 7 authentic libraries. Each library has its own specialty (from classical texts over art and history to contemporary books), so you can choose one which fits your reading preferences.
Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana
The Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana dates from 1537 and is amongst the oldest libraries in Italy. It holds one of the largest classical texts collections in the world. Besides about a million printed books, the Biblioteca Marciana contains about 13,000 manuscripts, 2,883 incunabula and 24,055 works printed between 1500 and 1600.
DID YOU KNOW? Venice was the largest printing town of incanubula (books or pamphlets printed, not handwritten, before 1501 in Europe), before Paris and Rome. 12.5% of the recorded editions were printed here.
The library is housed in the iconic building with the arcades and the shops underneath on the San Marco square, in front of the Palazzo Duccale. It was designed and built by Jacopo Sansovino together with the adjacent administrative seat for the Procuracy (the most important political authority) of the city of Venice. The library is situated at the top floor. The building was laid out after an ancient basilica, with doric columns on the ground floor, and iconic ones on the higher level. The double-ramp staircase from the entrance to the library could be considered a model for the Scala d’Oro in the Palazzo Duccale, which was also designed by Sansovino. The ceiling is decorated with paintings from 7 different artists, amongst which Andrea Schiavone and Paolo Veronese.
You can visit the Sale Monumentale as part of a temporary exhibition, or via the Museo Correr. The actual library (where you can still consult books) occupies the Palazzo della Libreria, the Zecca (the former Mint), which overlooks the Bacino di San Marco, and part of the Procuratia Nuova building.
DID YOU KNOW? Marciana is an adjective that is derived from Marco, the patron saint of the city.
The collection of books started almost 2 centuries prior to the construction of the building. The city received the collection of the poet/ambassador Francesco Petrarca at the end of the 14th century and the manuscript collection assembled by Cardinal Bessarion in 1468. These collections were first stored in the Palazzo Duccale and in the San Marco church (which is now the basilica). As from 1603, a new law required a copy of every book printed in Venice to be deposited in the Marciana library. This has significantly enriched the collection. In the late 18th century, the collections that had been accumulated in several monasteries, such as SS. Giovanni e Paolo in Venice and S. Giovanni di Verdara in Padua, were also transferred to the Marciana library.
The library is open for visitors above 16 (for books published after 1850) and above 18 (for the older manuscripts). You will need a library card to enter, so make sure to request one prior to your visit. Alternatively, you can follow a guided tour.
Address: Piazzetta San Marco 7
Opening hours: Monday – Friday: 8.00 – 19.00, Saturday: 8.00 – 13.30
Fondazione Giorgio Cini
The Fondazione Giorgio Cini library includes sections on the history of Venice, literature, theatre, orientalistic, music and opera. The most significant section, however, is undoubtedly that dedicated to the history of art. It has over 150,000 books and collections of periodicals (around 800 titles, of which over 200 are current titles).
The Fondazione Giorgio Cini is located on the San Giorgio Maggiore island. The former Benedictine monastery was completely abondoned and looted when Count Vittorio Cini obtained the concession of the island in 1951. In honour of his son Giorgio, he restored it to its original beauty. Today, the Fondazione Giorgio Cini continues his legacy and it is one of the most prestigious international cultural institutions. The magnificent building houses two libraries. The ancient Longhena library still has the original bookcases by Franz Pauc from 1671. This is a very impressive room and upon my visit, I immediately wanted to browse the old books.
INSIDER TIP: The old library can be visited as part of a guided tour in the weekend. You can find more information on this in my post on the San Giorgio Maggiore island.
The former dormitory of the Benedictine monastery was designed by Giovanni Buora in 1494. It faces on one side the water and the Bacino di San Marco, while the other side faces the monastery gardens and orchards. This long corridor was converted into a new library ‘Nuova Manica Lunga’ by architect Michele De Lucchi in 2009, in line with the latest library technologies. The design is magnificent with natural light coming in from the ceiling. The former cells of the monks have been transformed in small meeting rooms, offices, and repositories for special collections, such as the important collection of early printed books. If you are studying art or literature, this place must really feel like heaven.
DID YOU KNOW? The Manica Lunga, before its renovation, was one of the main locations of the movie ‘In memoria di me’ from director Saverio Constanzo.
The Nuova Manica Lunga is open for visitors above 18. It is mainly frequented by the Italian and foreign scholars, many of whom live in the Vittore Branca International Centre for the Study of Italian Culture, a residential centre for humanities studies on the San Giorgio Maggiore island.
Address: Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore
Opening hours: Monday – Friday: 9.00 – 18.00
The library of the Museo Correr is also located on the San Marco square. It covers more than seven centuries of codices, minatures, incunabula, manuscripts, letters and printed volumes. It continues to be updated, with regular acquisitions of publications in the various sectors it covers. This makes it an important research facility in the field of Venetian art and history.
The Museo Correr and Library were founded in 1830 after the death of the Venetian nobleman and art collector Teodoro Correr. In his will, he left thousands of pieces of art and paintings to the city of Venice. The generosity of this original benefactor and several other Venetian families resulted in a collection of great artistic and historic value. It was first housed in Casa Correr along the Canal Grande and later in the Fondaco dei Turchi. Between 1923 and 1926, the Correr Museum moved to its current location on the San Marco square. It is now part of the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia.
Originally, the San Geminiano church, which was built in 1557 by Jacopo Sansovino, stood at the current location of the Museo Correr. It was destroyed in 1807 by Eugène de Beauharnais, the stepson of Napoleon, who wanted to have his own palace on the San Marco square.
INSIDER TIP: You can still find a memory plaque for Jacopo Sansovino, who was buried in the church, in the floor of the gallery under the sotoportego at the entrance of the Museum.
Access is usually reserved to scholars, researchers and university students in the field of Venetian art and history.
Address: Piazza San Marco 52
Opening hours: Monday, Wednesday, Friday: 8.30 – 13.30, Tuesday, Thursday: 8.30 – 17.00
The library of the Fondazione Querini Stampalia is the civic library of the historic centre of Venice. You have access to about 32,000 books and more than 350 magazines and journals, as well as 20 local, national and international newspapers. If you are looking for a quiet place to read your mail or surf the internet with your own device, there is also free wifi.
The library is housed in the former residence of the Querini family, which were amongst the first founders of the city of Venice. When Count Giovanni, the last descendant of the Querini Stampalias, died in 1869, he left all his possessions to the city of Venice and to the world, in order to create a Foundation that promotes ‘studies and useful disciplines’. He insisted that it would be open to visitors, especially when the other cultural institutions are closed. The historic residence of this noble family has been further redeveloped thanks to the famous architects Carlo Scarpa, Valeriano Pastor and Mario Botta.
DID YOU KNOW? The palazzo was the only one on the Campo di Santa Maria Formosa which didn’t have a double bridge entrance. During his renovation, Carlo Scarpa added a wooden bridge to align it from a historical perspective to the other palazzos. You can find a beautiful picture of this bridge in the book ‘Dream of Venice Architecture’, together with some explanation about the Fondazione.
You can also read more on the Fondazione Querini Stampalia in my post on the hidden gems of Castello.
The entry is free for visitors above 16. You will need a library card to enter, so make sure to request one prior to your visit.
Address: Santa Maria Formosa, Castello 5252
Opening hours: In the spirit of Count Giovanni, the library is open until midnight (except on Sunday when it closes at 19.00).
The library of La Biennale di Venezia counts over 145,000 volumes. It includes all the historical catalogues of the Biennale from the start in 1895, as well as books and periodicals in the fields of Architecture, Cinema, Dance, Music, and Theatre.
The new Biennale Library was officially opened in 2010 in a completely restored wing of the Central Pavilion (the former Italian pavilion) in Giardini. The Central Pavilion dates from 1894, and was first known as ‘Pro Arte’. It was designed by Enrico Travisanato, but has been redesigned several times since then. If you have visited the Art Biennale or the Architecture Biennale, you have certainly seen the library. It is located at the back of the building, near the Carlo Scarpa inner garden, and has an entrance via the Calle Paludo Sant’Antonio. The combination of functionality with architectural quality results in high standards for consultation and attractive reading rooms for the public.
It is open for students in Venice, for researchers and visitors to the exhibitions.
Address: Calle Paludo Sant’Antonio, Giardini, Castello
Opening hours: Tuesday – Friday: 10.00 – 17.00
ASAC (Archivio Storico delle Arti Contemporanee)
The ASAC (the Historical Archives of Contemporary Arts) used to be part of the Biennale library. It has been set apart from 2006 onwards. This allows a better preservation according to the highest technological conservation standards. Consultation of the historic archives and the remaining collections such as the photo library and painting collections is however allowed.
The new location in the ‘Venice Gateway for Science and Technology’ on Marghera consists of 7 rooms spread over +- 2,100 m². Of these, 5 rooms are dedicated to the storage in a perfect microclimate and 2 rooms are used for consultation. The bookshelves have a total length of 6,810 meter to store all the books. Similar to the Biennale library at Giardini, the metal structures are coloured red, similar to the Biennale logo.
The Archives are open for everyone on request, but they are mainly visited by researchers and scholars.
Address: VEGA – edificio Cygnus, Via delle Industrie 23/9, 30175 Porto Marghera
Opening hours: Tuesday – Thursday: 9:30 – 17.00 by appointment
Biblioteca Hugo Pratt
The Hugo Pratt library is a contemporary library on the Lido island. It is housed in a restored historic building ‘ex tiro a volo’ (a former skeet shooting area). In this cultural centre, many activities are organized all year round. This summer for instance, they organize ‘Libri in spiaggia’ (books on the beach). Every Thursday, an Italian author presents a book.
DID YOU KNOW? Hugo Pratt is an Italian comic book writer. He spent most of his childhood in Venice, and a couple of years around the age of 20. One of his most famous series is the one on Corto Maltese.
Address: via Sandro Gallo, 136/B, Lido
Opening hours: Monday, Wednesday, Friday: 9.00 – 14.30, Tuesday, Thursday: 9.00 – 18.00
There are several other interesting libraries in Venice which I didn’t cover here. Examples are the libraries of the Ca’ Foscari university (both contemporary as historical) and the Armenian library in the monastery on the island San Lazzaro degli Armeni. On top of that, there are also many beautiful ancient libraries in Venice. You can visit these as part of a tour or museum, but they do no longer take the role of library. One example is the library in the Scuola Grande di San Marco. You can read more about this in my post on the hidden gems in Castello.
You can of course also browse books in one of the beautiful bookstores in Venice. I have listed my favourites in ‘7 bookstores for booklovers traveling to Venice‘. If you feel like reading a book after all this info on libraries, you might want to take a look at my 10 favourite novels that are set in Venice.
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