The hidden libraries of Rome
Whether it’s to research, study, visit or soak up into Italy’s culture and history, visiting one of the capital’s libraries should be on your to-do list. Below you’ll find some of our favorite libraries in Rome.
(Biblioteca apostolica vaticana)
Cortile del Belvedere, Vatican City
Mon to Fri (8.45am-12pm), Tues and Thurs (3pm-4pm). Visit www.vaticanlibrary.va for special admission criteria. 06.69879403
One of the oldest libraries in the world, it was officially established in 1475 but its priceless collection has been around for much longer. As well as being the papacy’s theological storehouse, the Vatican Library contains key secular texts and was central to the revival of classical Greek and Roman culture during the Renaissance. Just some of the innumerable (known) treasures include Henry VIII’s love letters, one of the 50 bibles custom-made for Emperor Constantine (the first Christian Roman leader), and ancient Chinese manuscripts. Among its collection, the Vatican Library currently has over 180,000 manuscripts and over 1,600,000 printed books. The library is typically not open to undergraduates or high school students. However, you can acquire a short-term pass with the appropriate documents.
Piazza Sant’Agostino, 8
Open Mon, Fri, Sat (8.30am-1.45pm) and Tues, Wed, Thurs (8.30am-7pm). Visitors must be over 16 years old. Guided group visits are available on Wed and Fri (9am-2pm). 06.6840801
Established in 1604 by the Augustinian bishop Angelo Rocca, it was first opened to the public in 1609. The Angelica library is near Piazza Navona and holds around 120,000 manuscripts. Many of these works are key documents on the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. Other assets include Bibles, 2,700 Latin, Greek and Oriental volumes, plus Italian literature and theatre from the 15th to 18th centuries. Highlights are rare editions of works by Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. Open to anyone 16 years and older with valid documentation.
Piazza della Chiesa Nuova, 18
Open Mon, Tues, Fri (8.15am – 1.30pm), Wed and Thurs (8.15am – 7.15pm), Sat (8.15am – 11.30am only open for consultation of the catalogues. 06.68802671 – 06.6869237
The Vallicelliana Library is a gorgeous Baroque library, founded in 1565 by an Italian priest called Filippo Neri. The collection of around 130,000 volumes, including vellum-bound wonders, is primarily made up of religious works documenting the Reformation and the Counterreformation and medieval history. There is also a small but notable collection of texts related music and a collection of photographs. Open to anyone 16 years and older with valid documentation.
The Library of the Senate
(Biblioteca del Senato)
Piazza della Minerva, 38 (Pantheon)
Open Mon – Fri (9am – 7.30pm) and Sat (9am – 12.30pm). Closed in August. Visitors must be 16 years or older, have valid documentation and fill out a form. 06.6706.3717
The library of the Senate opened its doors to the public in 2003. It provides a wealth of about 700,000 volumes, about 3,000 periodicals and 600 Italian and foreign newspapers, the most important collection of Statutes of Municipalities and corporations from the late Middle Ages to the contemporary age, ancient editions of Common and Canon Law, one of the richest collections of 19th century periodicals and much more. The library is open to anyone 16 years and older with valid documentation after having filled in a form.
The Library of the National Academy of Science/Lincean Academy
(Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei e Corsiniana)
Palazzo Corsini, Via della Lungara, 10
Open to general public Mon, Tues, Wed, Fri (9am-1pm) and Thurs (9am-5pm). Guided group visits are available and loans are permitted. 06.680271 – 06.6861983
Galileo Galilei himself was once a member of this prestigious academy. The Lincean Academy was founded in 1603 by Federico Cesi and then revived in the 1870s. The Academy’s library was conceived as the meeting place of scholars from all disciplines and its catalogue ranges from works on philosophy, mathematics, architecture, astronomy, oriental philosophies, geography, philology, ancient and modern literature as well as alchemic and hermetic studies. The library is located at Palazzo Corsini, which backs onto the Botanical Gardens and is a Baroque palace built between 1730 and 1740. This library hosts regular conferences on scientific, historical, and fiscal subjects.
Library of the National Institute of Archaeology and the History of Art
(Biblioteca di archeologia e storia dell’arte)
Piazza Venezia, 3 (Mon-Fri 8.30am-7.30pm, Sat 9.30am-1.30pm) – Via del Collegio Romano, 27 (Wed 9.30am-4.30pm, Thu 9.30am-1pm). Visitors must be 19+ years old. 06.6977001
A national public library located in two spots: the main library is in the elegant Barbo and Lanciani rooms of Palazzo Venezia, with a smaller branch at the Crociera del Collegio Romano. This library is the largest in Italy focused on art and archaeology. The catalogue includes more than 370.000 books, with many graphic examples and rare manuscripts dating back to the 16th and the 17th centuries. The collection was assigned to the National Institute for Archaeology and the History of Art at Palazzo Venezia in 1922.
Via S. Ignazio, 52
Open Mon-Fri (8.15am-7m) and Sat (8.15am-1.30pm). Visitors must be 16+ years old
The Dominican cardinal Girolamo Casanata opened this library to the general public in 1701. Since 1870, however, the Italian government has administered the library. The original catalogue was around 25,000 volumes and donated by Casanata to the Dominican convent of Santa Maria sopra Minerva along with a large endowment fund for the purchase new books. Amongst the library’s possessions are Greek and Hebrew texts, Roman governmental proclamations, and comedies of the 17th and 18th centuries.
The Herzitania Library/Max Planck Institute for Art History
Via Gregoriana 30
Open Mon – Fri (9.30am-8pm). Access is possible only with a valid user ID card. +39 0669 993 242. www.biblhertz.it
Located just near the fabulous Spanish Steps, the revamped library exists thanks to the art-lover and German philanthropist Henriette Hertz (1846–1913), who originally donated the Renaissance Palazzo Zuccari – along with a well-stocked catalogue – as a home for the Max Planck research institute. Hertz created a foundation dedicated to “the study of art and culture, from the Renaissance on[wards]…especially in relation to Rome as the nucleus of European culture.” Her vision also encompassed a meeting place for world art scholars. The institute’s mission is to support and promote future art historians…and what a beautiful spot to do just that.
Luigi Chiarini Library
(Biblioteca Luigi Chiarini)
Open Mon-Fri (9.30am – 4.00pm), Via Tuscolana, 1524.
Founded in 1935, this library is unique in that it is dedicated to cinematography. The National Film School’s private library collection includes over 130,000 volumes, often sourced from the private collections of influential Italian film writers, producers, and directors. The library has many films, playbills, and microfiches as well.
As for some modern public places to be bookish, you could explore one of the many foreign cultural academies and institutes, such as the American Academy or the British School, for example. Finally, not far from Termini Station there is also the National Central Library of Rome (Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma) on Viale Castro Pretorio (open Mon-Fri 8.30am to 7pm and Sat 8.30am-1.30pm), which is all very new and shiny.