PRAGUE: the Strahov Library

Strahov is a district of Prague, which lies on the west part of Petřín hill. Its main pride is the beautiful Strahov Monastery and the Strahov Library.

My Mum booked a special tour and a few days after the booking we entered the Strahov Library. There, an elderly lady, who at first sight looked very strict and commanded respect in us, collected us and our adventure began.

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We were led through a cabinet full of curiosities. The stands which appealed to me most were a sea shell collection, a butterfly collection and a small dendritic library. The dendritic library consisted of boxes which looked like books. They were made of wood of a specific tree. Each „book“ contained typical things for a particular tree (a leaf, a cone…).

In the connecting Passage were also some important books, for instance, you could find there the binding of the Strahov Evangeliary.

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The library has two halls – the Theological Hall and the Philosophical Hall.

The Theological Hall was built under Abbot Jeroným Hirnhaim. The architect was a Czech of Italian origin, Giovanni Domennico Orsi.

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Most of the books in this hall are Bibles. Nowadays, storing books upright is common but in Romanesque or Gothic era, books weren’t stored like that. Storing books upright is a Baroque concept. Above the entrance and exit doors are situated special locked red boxes for forbidden books (especially protestant books).

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In 1727, the hall was decorated with frescoes by the Strahov painter Siard Nosecký. The main figures were the importance of books in people’s life and a woman who represented wisdom. Nosecký focused on the contrast between wisdom and stupidity and he tried to get through that wisdom should be always on the first place (even before faith).

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Nosecký was not allowed to sign his work. In order to personalize it, all characters in his paintings had conspicuous, big, red noses. The reason for that is pretty simple – the word “nos” in the Czech language means nose (and the author’s surname is NOSecký).

On the right side of the hall stands a wooden statue of St John the Evangelist. The link between this statue and the library is his small pouch. This pouch, called girdle-book, was basically a travel bag. It prevented the books from damage caused by travel or careless usage.

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On the opposite side, there is a ‘compilation wheel’. People used it for studying from more than one book simultaneously. The books were big and heavy, so this technique was much more comfortable for the readers.

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Because the library needed more space for books, Abbot Václav Mayer decided to build another hall – it’s collosal (length: 32 m, width: 22 m, height: 14 m) and there is more than 40 thousands of books there! The breathtaking ceiling fresco was painted by Anton Maulbertsch and his one assistant just in six months. Unbelievable!

The fresco ‘Intellectual Progress of Mankind’ depicts the history of the oldest times until the time the hall was built. You will see there Old Testament motifs (Adam and Eve, the Ark of the Covenant, the Decalogue…), the progress of Greek civilization, Patron Saint of Bohemia – Wenceslas with his grandmother – St Ludmila and many other important characters.

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There are hidden spiral staircases, masked with false book spines, which enable people to get to the highest book shelves.

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After leaving the library, my Mum and I were totally enchanted. It was an unforgettable experience!😊

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