Monday, May 9, 2016

Library Paradise

When in Prague, don't miss the libraries. Here are three of them.

The library at the Strahov Monastery is mentioned in all the tourist guides but many people don't know that there is another library that is even more beautiful right in the Old Town just near Charles Bridge in the Klementinum complex.

The complex was founded in 1232, but the baroque library hall was opened in 1722 to serve the Jesuit University and when the buildings became home to the State and National Library, it came under the care of the state and has not been altered since the eighteenth century.

There are guided tours of the Astronomical Tower.
After the first spiral staircase I could only fix on the bum in front of me, step by step with clenched teeth, heart in mouth and sweaty toes and palms, clutching the handrail with both hands. I hate those spiral staircases. Each time we got to a small platform, we'd huddle in our group to wait for another group to go down before ascending - 172 steps in all. Up into the tower we went. Some people may have been there just for the 360 degree views from the platform at the top of the Tower, others may have been enticed by the description of a 'Harry Potterish' library, but I was fulfilling a dream I'd had for years, since I gazed at the picture of  it in a calendar featuring The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World that I had mail-ordered years ago, BI (before Internet) and decided that THIS was the The Most Beautiful of all. Stairs-schmairz! It was so worth it.

No photos are allowed but here is one I found via google.

And here's an example of the views from the Tower.

 The Municipal Archives and National Library now are located nearby. In fact, the Archives are in an outstanding baroque mansion that includes a theatre where Beethoven once played. I loved these little statues and a plaque high on a wall outside the building.

Inspired, I stuck my nose into the public library next. Well, to tell the truth, it was this nice little cafe that drew me in.

John Banville writes in Prague pictures "There are as many Pragues as there are eyes to look upon it - more: an infinity of Pragues".

He reached this conclusion by pondering on the question of how one can know an entity as amorphously elusive as a capital [city]. I got there by sticking my head into an opening in a tower of books I spotted in the foyer of the public library.

The effect was unnerving. There are mirrors on the floor and ceiling, delivering an image of an infinity of books (and even more terrifyingly, an infinity of Judiths). Four Russian teenagers arrived and hogged the view for ages, taking selfies and pictures of each other. A father encouraged his little girl to look in but she baulked, even though he held her hand. Off they went into the children's floor, and I thought about what it would be like to grow up in this city, and how young people would have engaged with the Klementinum library in Jesuit times. I dove into the depth of books again and thought, I have found Prague.

So, anyway. Now I'm at the Strahov Monastery, which has its own brewery.

Here's marketing for you, St Norbert's Antidepressant. Pale Ale. I'm happy, and I'm here to see another library.

The monks have been here since at least the tenth century, though during communist times many of them were taken into prison.

The library is located in two halls with Baroque ceilings. It is the largest monastic library in Czechia, with over 200,000 volumes, 1,500 of which were created before the year 1500. The oldest book is the ninth century Strahov Gospel, and there is a facsimile on display in the vestibule. Actually you can only get into this vestibule, and you need an extra ticket to take photos. The library halls are roped off and people are jostling around - not so much as to see in but primarily to take a selfie or have their photo taken with the books. "Wow honey, I'd love a library like this at home". And, "I wonder how long it would take to read all those books". Beware the selfie stick, owner unaware of surrounding crowd. Can we go have a beer now?

Images from  
Meantime here's a library I personally would quite like to have at home, in fact, as it is just over the foyer from that lovely bistro/cafe, it could BE home. It is the Friends' reading room at the Prague public library.

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