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Why Practice “Biblio Tourism” (And Six of Its Most Beautiful Destinations)


What if the mission of each trip was the library of every place we visit?

In many ways, reading is the equivalent of traveling. A true bibliophile (also a traveler) knows that one of the most direct routes to the literary heart of a place is to visit its libraries. Within such places, lovers of books, reading, and knowledge will converge. They’re little-noticed meeting spaces for people with common points of interest, irrespective of whether they are visitors or residents of a given city.

Libraries are particular, not only because they are erected as spatial tributes to books and to reading, but because their charming spirit will always have something magnetic, at least to those who appreciate books, their production processes, the paper of their pages and even their unmistakable smell. Visiting libraries has a pragmatic purpose, too. Especially for a tourist, these are silent places, fresh and filled with calm within big cities, refuges from the outside world.

Beyond libraries, there are other meeting points for bibliophiles and travelers, and these are bookstores. Among the many around the globe, a few examples are City Lights in San Francisco, the bookstore of the last beat poet, Lawrence Ferlinghetti or the great Shakespeare and Company whose original owner, Sylvia Beach, first published James Joyce’s Ulysses is in Paris. Here the great writers of the era were received, including Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among others.  (Indeed, lots of other bookstores are worth crossing the ocean to visit.)

But to continue, here are six of the most beautiful libraries in the world for all those who love both travel and books…

The Vatican Library

One of the oldest libraries in the world, the Vatican Library was founded in 1475. Among its many treasures are the oldest complete manuscript of the Bible, about 75,000 ancient codices from around the world and more than one million printed books, plus many documents dating from the 1st-century CE.

British Museum Reading Room

This library and study space opened its doors in 1857 within the legendary British Museum in London. Some of its most frequent visitors were Karl Marx (who, some say, wrote Capital there), Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, Mahatma Gandhi and Virginia Woolf, among many others.

Bodleian Library

The main research library of the University of Oxford and one of the oldest in Europe, the Bodleian opened its doors in 1602. It houses an estimated 11 million volumes and owes its name to Sir Thomas Bodley, an English nobleman who helped finance the development of the site.

New York Public Library

With the entrance guarded by two enormous lions, Patience and Fortitude, the New York Public Library is the third largest library in the world and holds more than 50 million titles. These are divided among multiple branch libraries, 87 to be exact.

Library of Alexandria

In its heyday, the original Library of Alexandria housed about a million works. One of the most dramatic tragedies of ancient history, its fire ended the largest and most important repository in the ancient world. The current Egyptian library is a tribute to what is today but a dream of the past.

Marciana Library

Founded in 1468, in Venice, today the Marciana is home to one of the most important collections of classical texts in the world, including codices and ancient manuscripts from all cultures. Its name derives from San Marcos, the patron saint of Venice.

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