Strahovskà knihovna or Adventures in World Libraries

This entry is by Sarah Adams, student assistant extraordinaire and recent Davidson graduate. (Strahovskà knihovna means Strahov Library in Czech)

A few weeks ago, I spent a week exploring Prague with my aunt.  Since I was technically missing my  first week of work to go, Jan only gave me permission to go if I promised to visit a library while I was  there.  So my aunt and I made sure to plan a trip to the Strahov Monastery library in the Castle  District.  It cost roughly four dollars (80 koruna) for us to walk down the hall in the library. monastery libraryThe Strahov Monastery was founded in 1143 in Prague, and it’s still functioning as a monastery today.  The monks make beer, grow strawberries, and run a library with 200,000 volumes.  The majority of the works were printed between 1501 and 1800, and the library has over 1500 incunabula (books printed before 1505) stored in the vault!  In comparison, our Rare Book Room has probably 2200 physical volumes (about 2000 titles).

The books are mainly stored in depositories and in the treasure vault, but they do have a Theological Hall and a Philosophical Hall where certain books are kept.  The Theological Hall was built in the 1670s, and it contains over 18,000 volumes, including one whole wall of Bibles (in many languages).  The ceiling is decorated with frescoes that echo the Hall’s motto:  the beginning of wisdom is fear of God.  Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take pictures inside the Hall, but I’m including a link to their website which has pictures of the libraries. (We weren’t even allowed to go into the room; instead guests can peek through the doors to see the interior.)

monastery ticket

Here’s the link to the library’s website

In between the Theological Hall and the Philosophical Hall, there is a connecting passage which contains the Cabinet of Curiosities.  The displays involve archeology and natural science.  I was fascinated by the prepared remains of a Dodo that was hanging in one of the displays, although it looked very odd as someone had painted a very surprised expression on its face!

Being a (former) philosophy major, I was especially excited to see the Philosophical Hall.  It was added to the library in 1783, and it contains over 42,000 volumes of philosophy, history, astronomy, mathematics, and philology.  They also have a full copy of the Diderot’s L’Encyclopedie (we do as well; for more information, check out Sharon’s Around the D post from September of 2009).  The ceiling of the Philosophical Hall is a fresco called “Intellectual Progress of Mankind,” depicting developments in science and religion, and their impacts on each other.

klementiumUnfortunately, the Philosophical Hall was being renovated at the time.  We were able to peek in the doors, and the whole room was gutted and lined with scaffolding.  We couldn’t even see the fresco on the ceiling.  But be sure to check out their website for pictures of what the Hall will look like soon!  Incidentally, we encountered the same problem when we tried to visit the National Library at the Klementium in Prague.

Even with the renovations and restrictions on what you could see in the libraries, it was a very impressive visit! I’d highly recommend going to anyone who is on their way to Prague soon (it’s also nice that the monastery is in the Castle District, so you can visit all the castles in the same day)!

–Sarah Adams, Assistant to the Davidson College Archives