As book lovers, book spots such as cozy bookstores, a sunny nook, or communal libraries are our destination go-to’s for books (obviously) and to bask in all of the things that we love most about bookish culture. To think libraries have always been a constant space of readership, scholarship, and community throughout time. Personally, libraries have always been a place where I caught up with university work after rushing to cram in essays and chapters of assigned reading because of an ill-advised bout of procrastination. Some of the oldest libraries on the planet were founded on creating a safe and peaceful environment for scholars and preserving important books.
I hope you’re prepared for some riveting history because here are some of the coolest and oldest libraries on the planet, and some are even still being used today!
1. The Tianyi Ge
The Tianyi Ge was established during the Ming Dynasty in 1561 in Zhejiang, China, by Fan Qin, a court official with a passion for rare, antique books. It was looted twice. First by the British during the First Opium War in 1831 and then by a notorious book thief, Xue Jiwei, in 1914, who stole almost a thousand books. Fan Qin’s descendants continued his legacy of caring for the library. They even went so far as to disown family members who sold any books from the library.
2. The Malatestiana Library
Known as Europe’s oldest public library, the Malatestiana Library in Cesena, Italy, was founded in 1452 and houses over 400,000 books. The library is an architectural feat, emulating the height of the early Italian Renaissance with 44 Venetian windows, which were also ideal for reading. The original 343 codices are still chained to their original reading benches where it’s laid for the past five centuries.
3. The Hereford Cathedral Library
The Hereford Cathedral Library in England was founded in the 12th century and is the only chained library to survive with all of the chains, rods, and locks still intact. The library miraculously remained unscathed during the English Civil War which saw widespread damage across the country. Instead, it saw the addition of books to its collection from a Jesuit college in 1678 to add to its already rare collections.
4. Saint Catherine’s Monastery
Established in 565, Saint Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt is the oldest and longest operating library and monastery in the world. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the monastery was built around what is considered to be the place of the burning bush seen by Moses. It is one of the only libraries in the world besides the Vatican itself to boast a large collection of early codices and manuscripts.
5. The Khizanat al Qarawiyyin
The Khizanat al Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco was founded in 859 and doubles as the oldest running university in existence. The library was founded by a Muslim woman, Fatima al-Fihri, whose diploma hangs on the walls of the university’s library to this day. The women-led legacy of the library continued on with Aziza Chaouni, an architect who oversaw the library restoration project in 2012.
6. The Saraswathi Mahal Library
Established in the 16th century, the Saraswathi Mahal Library in Thanjavur, India, is one of Asia’s oldest operating libraries. The library was originally a royal library created by the Nayak Kings of Tanjavur until 1918, when it was opened to the public. The library also has on display one of the rarest collections of palm leaf manuscripts in the world written in Tamil.
7. The Trinity College Library
Last but surely not least, the Trinity College Library was founded in Dublin, Ireland, in 1592 with the founding of the college itself. An interesting fact about the Trinity College Library, the library itself holds a copy of every publication ever published in Ireland, as required by law.
For more fun and interesting articles, read about England’s most famous Elizabethan theater here!