austrian national library

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The largest library in Austria is the Austrian National Library (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek) located in Vienna. This incredible library is part of the Hofburg Imperial Palace, making it unsurprising that it’s so ornate. It is as vast as it is breathtaking, with more than 12 million items in its collections. Originally called the Imperial Court Library, the baroque library changed its name in 1920. This Habsburgs founded library includes four museums, as well as several special collections and archives.

austrian national library

Inside the Austrian National Library

After touring the Sisi museum, I headed over to the Austrian National Library, which is just a short walk away. On that day, we were cranking through our tour, so I only visited the State Hall, and it took less than an hour to walk through. However, you can also visit the Literature Museum, Globe Museum, Papyrus Museum, Esperanto Museum, and the House of Austrian History. And I would recommend you do so if you have a few days in Vienna.

Literature Museum: The first museum to convey the diversity of Austrian literature from the end of the 18th century until the present day. 

Globe Museum: View over 250 globes and related instruments, as well as the oldest globe within the exhibition.

Papyrus Museum: See 300 items, including the oldest papyri in the collection from the middle of the second millennium B.C. to the most recent papers from the Islamic time in the 13th century A.D.

Esperanto Museum: Is a modern museum concept covering the history of Esperanto, as well as the relationship between humans and language.

House of Austrian History: The Austrian republic’s first museum on their contemporary history.

The Beginnings of the State Hall

At the heart of the Austrian National Library, you will find the State Hall. It is one of the most gorgeous libraries I’ve ever been to! Take a moment to imagine that the Beauty and the Beast library has come alive,  that’s the sensation you’ll have when visiting (#sorrynotsorry about the joke below, I always think of if anytime the word ‘baroque’ is said). It began its life as an imperial library back in the Middle Ages. Duke Albert III (1349–1395) ordered the migration of books from the Viennese vaults to the library. Crucially, he had the important works translated from Latin into German.

By 1722, Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor had authorized the construction of the library’s permanent home in the Hofburg Imperial Palace. Prince Eugene of Savoy gifted 15,000 volumes to the library, including valuable books from France and Italy. The library’s estimated value then became 150,000 florins, making it more valuable than Prince Eugene’s Belvedere Palace, whose construction cost 100,000 florins. A total of about 200,000 books were housed in the Austrian National Library by this point. It also acquired one of the largest collections of Martin Luther’s writings from the Reformation Era.

Emperor Charles VI as “Hercules Musarum.”

The State Hall Today

By the 18th century, the former Court Library transformed into the State Hall as it is today. At nearly 80 meters long (about 263 feet) and 20 meters high (66 feet), it also has an elaborate dome, several frescos, and four Venetian globes. Each globe is about 1 meter (3 feet) in diameter, two terrestrial and two celestial globes.

The ceiling paintings were created from 1726 to 1730, depicting the apotheosis, the “deification” of Emperor Charles VI. Including the god Apollo, Hercules, and numerous symbols of the House of Habsburg unsurprisingly. The notable marble statue in the center is of Emperor Charles VI as “Hercules Musarum.” Talk about believing in your god-given right to rule!

Venetian globe

“deification” of Emperor Charles VI

Today, the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (or Austrian National Library) is one of the world’s major libraries. With collections dating back to the 14th century and a total of 2.5 million books that’s not a surprise. Everything in the State Hall was gorgeous! Baroque library architecture is really a marvel. Not only is the hall itself fantastic, the special collections displayed within include historical prints, maps, papyri, portraits, and more!
1457 Mainz Psalter

Baroque Library Collections

The 1457 Mainz Psalter, listed on the UNESCO World Document Heritage list, pictured above is the oldest example of a printed text with multi-colored printed ornamentation. The red and blue initials, illuminated letters, and ornaments were created using metal shapes that would be taken apart and reassembled. These shapes were inked and inserted into the printing of the black text pages. Amazingly, only ten copies have survived, with the National Library Vienna copy being the only complete version of the more extensive edition.

Side note, I’ve read that you should keep an eye out while visiting. You may see an Austrian National Library employee slipping through the concealed passages hidden behind certain bookcases! While I didn’t see any hidden passages, make sure to report back if you do!

Austrian National Library Entrance Fee

There was no Austrian National Library entrance fee for me since I had the Vienna Pass. Without the Vienna Pass, it is 8 euro for adults, but children under 19 are free. An audio guide is an additional fee. I didn’t take a guided tour, but they are available every Thursday at 6 pm and every Sunday at 3 pm but only in German. Interested in seeing the baroque Augustinian Reading Room? Every month, on the second Wednesday at 4 pm you can view its famous ceiling frescos by Johann Baptist Wenzel Bergl (also in German).

Set on doing a guided tour of the National Library in Vienna? You can do a private tour for groups of 10 or more in German, English, French, Spanish, and other languages by request.