Top 5 Oldest National Libraries in the World

by Jules on October 15, 2013

National libraries house vast collections of manuscripts, books and documents, many dating back thousands of years. Often housed in vast elaborate structures, the earliest national libraries were established to store royal collections and items of great historical importance.

National Library of the Czech Republic

The ‘Národní Knihovna Ceské Republiky’ aka the Czech Republic National Library is the oldest of its kind in the world. It was founded in 1366 from book donations from King Charles IV. Located in Prague’s Clementinum buildings, it’s also open to the public. As well as browsing the huge collection of books, maps, journals and specialist Slavistic literature, there are also special exhibitions, such as the Kralice Bible 1613-2013 exhibit.

National Library of Austria

The ‘Österreichische Nationalbibliothek’ was established in 1368 and is located within Vienna’s impressive Hofburg Palace. Its origins lie within the items of the Royal collection of Albrecht III, who was the Archduke of Austria. There are around 7.5 million items houses within the library including a vast map collection, medieval manuscripts and a papyrus collection. Known as the ‘Imperial Library’ before 1920, this library also sits alongside four intriguing museums within the Hofburg Palace.

Marciana National Library

Located in the Italian city of Venice, the ‘Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana’ was founded in 1468 and is the third oldest national library in the world. Also known as the National Library of St Mark’s, the impressive collections are housed within a Renaissance-era structure. Its origins lie in the personal collection of its patron Cardinal Bessarione who was a Roman Catholic Cardinal Bishop. The library is noted for its manuscript collection, which is said to be the greatest collection of classic texts anywhere in the world. Located on Venice’s central Piazza San Marco, the Nazionale Marciana is open to the public.

National Library of France

Established in 1480, the ‘Bibliothèque Nationale de France’ originally served as the royal library of Louis XI. Located in Paris’ 13th arrondissement, the National Library of France is home to over 30 million items, half of which are books. The building underwent massive growth in the late 1980s under President François Mitterrand to make it one of the biggest libraries on earth. As well as important collection of around 5,000 Geek manuscripts, the library also prides itself on its vast digital library, the ‘Gallica’ where users can access images, magazines and sheet music.

National Library of Malta

The Maltese city of Valetta is home to the ‘Biblioteka Nazzjonali ta’ Malta’, aka the National Library of Malta. Founded in 1555 from the Collection of the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, the library is today housed at 36 Old Treasury Street in the city. The new premises were inaugurated by Sir Hildebrand Oakes under the British administration. The Bibliotheca’s main aim is to preserve all printed books, manuscripts and journals which are in circulation in Malta. One of the oldest national libraries in the world also houses the ‘Melitensia’ which relates to important Maltese culture and history. The National Library of Malta is also open to the public.

Image credit: Gryffindor

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