Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Oldest Libraries In The World

One of my favorite places to be is at a library. It's quiet, it smells like books, it's orderly and there's adventures and knowledge all around, with shelves so tall you need a ladder to reach the volumes at the very top. It hasn't always been like that. In the early days monasteries painstakingly built their collections one hand-copied volume at a time and often their entire wealth of knowledge could fit in one trunk. Here are 10 libraries that are still operating, some contain texts dating to 300s AD. Not all are open to the public, but they're there, preserving the knowledge of the centuries. 

The library at St. Catherine's Monastery at Mount Sinai, Egypt
The oldest record of monastic life at Sinai comes from the travel journal written in Latin by a woman named Egeria about 381-384. [...] The monastery library preserves the second largest collection of early codices and manuscripts in the world, outnumbered only by the Vatican Library. (Source)

Bibliotheque Nationale de France in Paris, France
The National Library of France traces its origin to the royal library founded at the Louvre by Charles V in 1368. It expanded under Louis XIVand opened to the public in 1692. (Source)
Library Company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Founded in 1731 by Benjamin Franklin as a library, the Library Company of Philadelphia has accumulated one of the most significant collections of historically-valuable manuscripts and printed material in the United States. (Source)
Redwood Library in Newport, Rhode Island
Founded in 1747, it is the oldest community library still occupying its original building in the United States. (Source)
Vatican Library in Rome, Italy
Pope Nicholas V established the library in the Vatican in 1448 by combining some 350 Greek, Latin and Hebrew codices inherited from his predecessors with his own collection and extensive acquisitions, among them manuscripts from the imperial Library of Constantinople. The Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana was established in 1475. (Source)
Al-Karaouine University Library in Fez, Morocco 
(also spelled as Al-Qairawān, Al-Qarawiyin or Al-Qarawiyyin)
The Al-Karaouine madrasa is part of a mosque, founded in 859 by Fatima al-Fihri, the daughter of a wealthy merchant named Mohammed Al-Fihri. It gained the patronage of politically powerful sultans and compiled a large selection of manuscripts that were kept at a library founded by the Marinid Sultan Abu Inan Faris in 1349. (Source
Bodleian Library in Oxford, England
Bodleian Library, in its current incarnation, has a continuous history dating back to 1602, its roots date back even further. The first purpose-built library known to have existed in Oxford was founded in the fourteenth century (Source


  1. The second oldest library in the world is the "Biblioteca Capitolare" (Cathedral Chapter Library) of Verona, Italy:
    still in activity from the fifth century!

  2. That is very interesting, thank you for the link! I'll have to use a translator to read the article but it'll be worth the effort.