From a hieroglyphic-engraved modern monolith on the western edge of the Nile Delta to an Old World literary oasis in New York City, here are five of the world’s most beautiful libraries that are sure to awe as much as they inspire.
Bibliotheca Alexandrina | Alexandria, Egypt
A marvel of contemporary design, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina is the modern-day reimagining of the former Great Library of Alexandria, one of the most venerated libraries of the ancient world.
Wedged into the shoreline of the Mediterranean Sea, this eleven-story, 80,000-square-meter circular monolith was commissioned to bridge history, heritage, and human knowledge under one impressive sloping and skylight-adorned roof. Inside, its jaw-dropping main reading room can house up to eight million books across seven stacked and overlapping tiers of platforms. Outside, the Aswan-sourced granite exterior is engraved with hieroglyphics, pictograms, and letters from languages both modern and extinct.
The Royal Portuguese Reading Room | Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Inspired by the Neo-Manueline revival style of the Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon, Portuguese architect Rafael da Silva e Castro is the author of this decadent three-story literary oasis in Brazil’s capital city. Commissioned by a group of Portuguese immigrants and political refugees in the early 1800s, The Royal Portuguese Reading Room was intended to foster a sense of connection to the culture and literary works coming out of Portugal at the time. Today, its floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, Gothic archways in hues of gold, green, and dark wood, and kaleidoscopic stained-glass dome entice visitors to peruse the largest collection of Portuguese works outside of Portugal.
The Old Library at Trinity College | Dublin, Ireland
Founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I, The Old Library at Trinity College is the oldest library in Ireland. Nestled in the heart of Dublin, its two floors of dark wood bookshelves contain the literary world’s best and are accessed by sliding ladders—a fantasyland for book lovers. The Long Room is The Old Library’s most treasured architectural jewel, with oak ceilings and endless arcades of ancient volumes that stretch the length of the room. More recently, an illuminated sculpture of Earth was added by artist Luke Jerram, injecting yet more visual intrigue into the already eye-catching space. Don’t miss the Book of Kells exhibition for a peek at the 1,200-year-old manuscripts containing four Latin Gospels, plus the colorful Celtic art and calligraphy that goes with it.
Tianjin Binhai Library | Tianjin, China
In the cultural center of the northeastern Chinese city of Tianjin, the Tianjin Binhai Library is like a sci-fi movie come to life with its stark, all-white color scheme and futuristic floor-to-ceiling cascade of stepped bookcases that double as seats. Though the library can carry as many as 1.35 million books at a time, not all of the books on display are real. Some are just embossed aluminum copies playing a part in the immersive visual experience. Anchoring the center of this naturally illuminated space is a spherical auditorium that adds to the grandiosity of the entire design. Spend an afternoon wandering its five stories, which include everything from reading rooms to educational facilities, lounge areas, and even two rooftop patios.
The Morgan Library & Museum | New York, NY
A short stroll from either Grand Central or Penn Station along Madison Avenue, The Morgan Library & Museum is a stunning example of Old World elegance. Architect Charles Kim was inspired by the Renaissance palazzos of Rome when he built it in 1906 as a private library for financier J.P. Morgan. The soaring 30-foot ceilings, walnut bookshelves, stained glass windows, and grand tapestries perfectly suit the treasures within. A few examples of aforementioned treasures, to inspire your visit: drawings from Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and Picasso; three Gutenberg Bibles; original manuscripts of literary legends like Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and John Steinbeck; and handwritten sheet music from Beethoven himself, among other priceless cultural relics.