Once the library of emperors, today this building is three fascinating museums packed into one.
Many claim the Austrian National Library is the most beautiful library in the world. This 18th-century library is part of the Hofburg Palace complex, the stupendous former home of the Habsburg Emperors. But it's only when you step inside the doors of the Baroque Library Wing that you can fully appreciate that claim. With its enormously over-the-top ceiling fresco, smoky marble columns and richly carved, gilt-topped book-cases, this is a library fit for emperors.
The library’s collection dates back to the 14th century with books contributed by the Austrian Duke Albert III. Since then, the collection has swelled to become the largest in Austria, with over 7.5 million items. And while the Prunksaal (or State Hall), with its spectacular high-domed roof and walls lined with ancient tomes, is the undoubted showcase, there's much else to be seen in the adjoining wings.
The Papyrus Museum holds the oldest writings in the library, with 200 fragments of writing from Ancient Egypt, some dating back 3,600 years. As well as papyrus scrolls, the collection includes hieroglyphs written on pottery shards, clay tablets, bones and precious metals. The library also houses half a million old and valuable books, many from before 1500 – but to see these you'll need to be a registered museum user.
The Austrian National Library’s Globe Museum is the only museum of its kind in the world, bringing together 650 globes from across history. Most depict the earth, its oceans and land masses, but some show the stars and planets – and there are even working models of the solar system.
The library’s third section houses the Esperanto Museum, which contains an amazing collection of books, posters and magazines written in this recently formed language. While Esperanto itself never really caught on, the museum presents the fascinating story of a language that – it was hoped – would bring greater international understanding and world peace.
The Austrian National Library is located in central Vienna. Tours of the building and individual collections are available.