Bibliothèque Nationale Richelieu
Two majestic reading rooms with monumental ceilings are the showstoppers at this enormous and historic library bursting with books, journals and artefacts and finally, it is open to the public.
Mid January 2017, I was lucky enough to visit an ‘open weekend’ at the Bibliotheque Richelieu-Louvois, to view some of the improvements that have been taking place since the restoration was signed off in 2006.
The desks, green lamps, furniture and the majority of books and fixtures have been removed to get ready for the works.
This room is normally out of bounds unless you are an academic or researcher, although I did brazenly strut on in one day, knowing full well I wasn’t allowed.
The caretaker asked for my membership card and I was promptly asked to leave but I did have a short and thrilling 30 second view!
But this time I was allowed, with hundreds of others to gaze in awe.
One of my biggest tips for visitors to Paris is to look up and in the spectacular Oval Reading Room you are naturally compelled to do so to admire the vast bookcases that draw your eye upwards to this wondrous oval glass ceiling.
The Bibliothèque Nationale of France or BnF for short is made up of 7 different sites, 4 of them in Paris, with over 14 million books, magazines, manuscripts, coins, photographs and various artefacts, including approximately 150,000 ‘legal deposits’ each year. The legal deposits is a copy of every book published in France each year.
Before the BnF was so-called named, it was the Royal Library, instigated by Charles V back in 1368 and housed in the Louvre.
It was here that a cataloguing system began but by 1424 the collection was in the hands of the English.
Over time and a few French Kings later another collection was amassed and Francis I had it moved to Fontainebleau in 1534.
By the time the collection was back in Paris on the left bank, it was rapidly outgrowing its home and it was then, in 1666, it was decided to move the collection to what is now known as BnF Richelieu-Lavois on Rue de Richelieu.
The large block that was made up of the Palais Mazarin, the Hôtel Tubeuf and the Mansart gallery was, overtime, developed to become a public library in 1692.
Parisian born architect Henri Labrouste who was also responsible for another magnificent library with an equally gorgeous ceiling at Bibliothèque Sainte-Genevieve, located near the Panthéon, was the brains behind the library and this amazing Reading Room, named in his honour; Salle Labrouste.
By the reign of Louis XIV the collection which included Queen Catherine de Medici’s library, France had the largest collection in the world.
After architect Henri Labrouste’s death, the library was expanded again to include the Oval Reading Room.
Henri Labrouste didn’t only add beauty to the library with the 9 glass and steel cupolas but also functionality with this pneumatic tube delivery system, preserved for all to see.
The central storage area which was off bounds to those lucky enough to enter the library is now also open to readers with a fresh modern slant, where they can sit and read and have access to several tens of thousands of works in the history of the arts.
But it is this dazzling ceiling in a spectacular hall that will have you in awe.
There are many secret treasures to be discovered in Paris, you just need to know where to find them.
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