Entering these unique rooms you have a feeling as if you were in a Baroque cathedral – the marble floor, ionic columns, marble sculptures and a dome decorated with beautiful frescoes.
However, this is not a church, this is the State Hall of the Austrian National Library – the Prunksaal, one of the greatest libraries in the world.
Emperor Charles VI ordered the construction of this Court Library in 1722. He wanted to get Vienna in the position of one of the most important centers of culture and art in Europe. The library was designed by the famous architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach (and finished by his son Joseph Emanuel). It took only three years to complete the building, after that they started with the interiors. The emperor and his family visited the new library for the first time in 1734. There is an inscription about it on the ceiling. It is also written there that everybody who wants to come into this temple of knowledge has to wear appropriate clothing and be acquitted well with ink. Well, what do you think, who could use the library in the 18th century? Only a few people were able to write and read until Maria Theresa, the daughter of Charles VI, introduced compulsory schooling for children in all of the Habsburg hereditary lands. So the library was used mostly by university students and scholars. The library was not only to study but also to dazzle, inspire and impress. The statue of Charles VI is situated in the oval-shaped center of the State Hall. The oval form is not accidental, it symbolized the perfection of the order in the universe and the orbit of the Earth around the Sun.
The library was created from former imperial collections. Its founding codex is Johannes von Troppau’s Evangelion from 1368, it is more than 650 years old.
Looking at such old books, I always imagine monks arching their backs copying texts at candlelight. They were sitting at small tables, some of them could be slightly turned to enable the monk to work on two or more texts at the same time… The Evangelion is a very precious book, it is exhibited only occasionally.
A very important part of the library is the collection of 15,000 books from the estate of Prince Eugene of Savoy. Emperor Charles VI bought these books and paid more for them than later Maria Theresa for the entire palace of Belvedere which also originally belonged to the prince. All the books are printed and as proof of the Prince’s wealth, they have a golden edge and are bound in leather of the Moroccan goat.
However, don’t forget to take a look upwards. Above your head, there is a dome with magnificent frescoes made by the painter Daniel Gran. The light is coming through the windows in the ceiling and illuminate the whole space in the same way as books can light up our souls. The ceiling fresco depicts the glorification of Charles VI and is full of different symbols. Let’s have a look at some of them.
The State Hall is housing more than 200,000 books. It is not only a library. Many interesting events take place here. We wrote already about the exhibits about Emperor Franz Joseph and also about the Freemasons on our blog. 2018 was dedicated to 650 years of the library. In addition to the exhibition about the history of this cultural institution, a very special object was exhibited every month. When I visited the exhibition, we could see two mandrake roots from Rudolf II’s Art Chamber which used to be dipped in wine to increase their magic power. Some months later, we could see the autograph of Mozart’s Requiem or the Gutenberg Bible from 1454 – one of the only 22 existing complete pieces in the world. You can find more information about the entrance fee and opening hours: here
26th October is the Austrian National Day – it is the day of the free entrance to the State Hall.
How to get here: underground U3 – Herrengasse www.vor.at
The library was originally planned as a free-standing building. But only a few years after its opening, it was obvious that the building by itself is insufficient. Therefore, two side wings were added to the library – this is how we can see the building today if we come to the square Josefsplatz. Here is the main entrance to the library. In front of it, there is a mounted statue of the emperor Josef II.
Text: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri
Fotos: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri