Strahov Monastery Library, Prague, Czech Republic

Strahov Monastery Library, Prague

Website: https://www.strahovskyklaster.cz/en/strahov-library

Physical address: Královská kanonie premonstrátů na Strahově, Strahovské nádvoří 1/132, CZ 118 00 Prague

Phone number: +420 233107718

Business hours: Open daily 9am – 5pm (closed noon – 1pm); closed 24-25 December and Easter Sunday

Widely considered to be among the most beautiful libraries in the world, the Strahov Monastery in Prague actually boasts two exquisite rooms full of books. Originally built in 1140, the monastery became home to the Premonstratensians (an order of monks related to the Jesuits) in 1143 and from there the library and nearby basilica began to develop. Destroyed by fire, sacked by attacking Hussites and decayed by the ravages of time, the Strahov Monastery has been rebuilt and revitalised many times over, each time with architectural and artistic advances to enhance its beauty.

In the 17th Century (1671-1679), the Theological Hall was built in the Baroque style, with vaulted ceilings, upright book shelves, and cartouches (ornamental images with titles) above the shelves providing a guide to what the reader would find in the books below. The library contains terrestrial and astrological globes to help scholars understand the world, and a rotating ‘compilation wheel’ where they could set out several books at a time, which would remain balanced even when the wheel was turned. The ceilings of the Theological Hall contain frescoes of wisdom acquired through piety, derived primarily from the Book of Proverbs and added 50 years later (1727) when the Hall was extended by several metres.

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Although the Theological Hall contains more than 18,000 texts (including an entire wall dedicated only to the Bible), the monastery’s collection eventually outgrew its capacity and the Philosophical Hall was built in the late 1700s. With an ornate maple wood interior and 14m high ceilings, the Philosophical Hall is much bigger and grander than its older counterpart, but the original library is more recognisable as the Strahov Monastery library. Like the Theological Hall, the Philosophical Hall also contains a frescoed ceiling, this time depicting the “Intellectual Progress of Mankind”, which depicts not just Biblical knowledge, through Adam and Eve, and Moses, but also the Greek philosophers, Socrates, Aristotle and Diogenes, and even Alexander the Great.

Visitors to the monastery should be aware that the entrance fee does not include entry into the library halls themselves, but rather a view of the rooms from a roped off doorway and access to the Cabinets of Curiosities (collections of oddities brought together by 18th Century collectors) and other parts of the buildings and grounds. The monastery has limited the numbers of people allowed into the libraries as a result of humidity damage to the books and frescoes. Tours that include access to the Theological Hall and Philosophical Hall must be arranged in advance, either with the library directly or through an authorised tour company. There is also an additional fee to take photographs.

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