Next to the Charles Bridge, right in the historical center of Old Town Prague, Czech Republic, lies The Klementinum, which has been known as “the most beautiful library in the world.”
It was first opened in 1722 as part of a Jesuit university founded on a monastery that dates back to the 1500s. The Jesuits were invited to come to Prague by in 1556 by Emperor Ferdinand I.
In 1772, the library was opened to the public while remaining of service to the university.
The Klementinum houses over 20,000 books that are mostly theological in nature and it also has a large collection of literature written in the Czech language, which would eventually lead it to be named the national library.
Being that the vast majority of the books in the library date back hundreds of years and are mostly out of print, many have been handed over to Google to be digitized. This will help preserve the words of great thinkers long after the books have deteriorated.
The Klementinum also contains collections of material pertaining to Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe and Comenius, the Czech philosopher and theologian known as the father of education.
While its collection of books is impressive, the architecture and artwork at the Klementinum have given it global significance.
The library’s Baroque interior has remained almost perfectly intact since the 18th century, so walking its halls is an authentic trip into the past. Baroque architecture is a theatrical and highly decorative style that began in Italy in the 16h century and spread across Europe.
Baroque architecture has a sense of motion, evidenced by strong curves, rich decoration, complexity, and sculpted surfaces.
Its ceiling has frescoes depicting motifs about education and portraits of numerous university patrons and Jesuit saints. The head of the hall is dominated by a portrait of Emperor Joseph II. He arranged for abolished monastic libraries to send their books to the Klementinum.
The hall is also home to several large geographical, astronomical globes and astronomical clocks.
The library is also home to a Meridian hall that worked as a time-telling device centuries ago. The Jesuits were able to determine it was noon when the light shined through a small home in the wall. When light broke through the hole, the town was signaled by the raising of a flag.
The Klementinum is so awe-inspiring it was mentioned in “The Secret Miracle” by Jorge Luis Borges.
The main character in the story has a dream where The Klementinum librarians say that God is inside one of the books in the library.
“God is in one of the letters of one of the pages of one of the four hundred thousand books of Klementinum,” the librarian in the dream says. “My fathers and the fathers of my fathers have looked for this letter; I myself have gone blind looking for it.”
Today, The Klementinum is a must-see tourist attraction for anyone visiting Prague. Visitors can tour the amazing baroque hall and Meridian hall. The library’s Astronomical tower, which presents impressive views of Old Town Prague is also a highlight of the trip.
Photo credit: Klementinum.com, Flickr.