Summer blog 2014 Pt. 3 - The Strahov Library

More catching up to do.

So, Hannah and I had the chance to go back to the Strahov Monastery Library (which we visited earlier in the week, see here) for a private tour that gave us greater access to the rooms. From the first moment we saw the library on our first visit we knew we had to come back for a tour. Standard access to the library lets you walk down the main corridor and look across the velvet rope barriers into the main halls of books, but you can't go in them. While looking into the Philosophical Hall we saw three people walking around, it looked like a couple with a guide. Hannah wanted in and I mentioned that it looked like they were getting a private tour. Hannah immediately responded, "How do we do that? Hold on." And she went to ask. This is why I like traveling with Hannah. A couple emails later we had our appointment with an English speaking guide and on Friday we showed up at our appointed time and ready to tour what we had begun referring to as "Belle's Library" (Beauty and the Beast fans will understand once they see the pictures).

Our tour cost the equivalent of $50 (it was 1000 Czech Crowns). But that includes the English speaking guide (if you speak Czech it would be cheaper), permission to take photos and videos, and full access to the library with the guide pointing out "hidden" features and amazing history. We also were given a small bag with a guidebooks and maps about the history of the library, the monastery, and Prague. For us (and any other book/library nerd) it was totally worth it. Our guide Lucie was seriously the nicest person. She knew so much about the library and obviously loved it and loved sharing its stories. She also seemed to love how much Hannah and I loved the library. Book nerds unite!

I'll include some of the information and history in the photo captions but for a full history of the library and info on visiting, click here for their website.


Close up of the top of the church next to the library.
The main hall at the beginning. This is included in the standard visit/admission cost.
The Theological Hall with frescos by S. Nosecky. The library is the second oldest library in Bohemia, the oldest manuscript dates back to 860. This hall holds 16,000 volumes of theological materials as well as geographical and astronomical globes from the 17th-19th centuries.

First off, I want one of these, never mind it would take up a quarter of my living space in my apartment back home. Second, this is the compilation wheel, which was added in 1678. As you can see, there are ledges which can hold open books. You can then turn the wheel to bring forward the book you need at the moment. In the front there is a small desk with drawers to work at. Genius! Can IKEA get on a version of this please? Seriously a must need for every PhD student.

Can you tell I'm in love with all the old books and manuscripts? I was seriously in heaven.

Ok, it's a little blurry, the lighting wasn't the greatest and I'm not as smart as my camera. But at each end of the hall at the top of the shelves are these golden cabinets. Lucie told us that these are where the banned/dangerous books were kept. I'd love to know what those books were!

This is the hall that connects the Theological Hall and the Philosophical Hall (like the TH and PH this is also only part of the private tour, yay for "backstage" access!).

Detail of one of the exquisite cabinets.

The Philosophical Hall (aka "Belle's Library"). 

Pictures really don't do this place justice. I tried. In person it literally takes your breath away.

The fresco on the ceiling. It represents a number of philosophical and historical aspects and figures.

Part of the scene depicting the New Testament.

Church fathers and patron saints of Bohemia with Abbot Vaclav Mayer.

Strahov Canonry Coat-of-Arms.

To the right some of the Greek founders of geometry, astronomy and medicine, and to the left scenes symbolizing the New Testament.

Gift from Marie Louise, the wife of Napoleon I in 1812 after she visited the library.

I think Hannah and I both wanted one of these. It's a table but as you can see in this picture on the one side you can pull out a chair. The seat back folds down and you push it back in, flush to the table. On the other side there's a hinge in the middle of the table that opens up to create a pop-up step ladder. Again, are you listening IKEA? I need a cheaper version of this, like, last week.

If you look around at all these photos you'll notice that there is an upper gallery but no stairs. ???? So how did they get up the the upper level? 
Cue the secret staircase. Awesome! I think Hannah and I both died a little from pure joy. A fake bookshelf, with fake books, to hide the secret door. (These were taken with my iPhone as my Canon DSLR was running low on battery, so sorry for the lower quality.)

You can kind of make out where the fake books end and the real ones return, as well as the curving of the hidden staircase.

Signature of the painter, Franz Anton Maulbertsch.

One of the many curiosity cabinets in the front hall.

For many years they were told this was a Dodo bird, they've since learned that it's a fake, possibly a sting ray that has been refigured into something else. Either way, it's a bit creepy.

If you look really closely, these books are all made from wood. Each one from the wood of a different tree with a sampling of the leaves, nuts, etc. of that tree in it's pages. Hannah and I were both captivated by these.

Hannah, doing what bloggers do, taking pictures. 

At the end of the hall is a tromp l'oeil painting to extend the look of the hall.

Blurry, but another gift from Marie Louise.

"Europa Regina", the continent of Europe depicted as a queen. Her right arm is Italy, holding Sicily. Her left arm extends up to Scandinavia, her crown is Spain. There's a glare in this shot (sorry) but I think you can make out some more of the countries.  

Replica of the 860AD manuscript in the collection.

So, one other interesting note before I leave the library in this post, the next day we went to a bookshop (I'll talk about that more in the next post) and we found a book about parts of Prague used as film locations. And it turns out that the Strahov Library was used as the interior scenes for the Houses of Parliament in London in a scene from Casino Royale! Seriously, how did I not recognize it?! Between fun watching and research watching for my thesis I've seen that movie more times than I can count and it's one of my favorite scenes. Fortunately I found the clip on YouTube so here it is so you all can take a look. 

Definitely one of my favorite movie speeches. Judi Dench is amazing.

So, the other fun thing about this day was it was Friday the 13th and the night of the full moon. It's blurry in this shot but here it is coming up over the building next door.

After a bit of fiddling around I managed to get these shots of the full moon.

So that was our awesome and nerdy day at the library. We did some other stuff afterwards but I'll roll those photos in to one more general "sightseeing in Prague" posts. I hope you enjoyed this quick tour of the library, please be sure to check out their website for more detailed history than I was able to provide, and if you're ever in Prague it is definitely worth it to get the private tour.


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