With every move, the bulk of my boxes contain books. Books make me happy. Just looking at them all lined and stacked up in my own personal library is like looking at old photos. There are so many memories tied up in the books that have made the move with me. And for every book that didn’t make the move, it feels like a loss, especially when I go to reach for one and it isn’t there.
Unsurprisingly then, libraries and bookstores are my happy places. All of those books to be discovered! Adventures to go on, knowledge to expand your world … it’s all there in those pages. The books are the most important thing to me in a library; the setting is secondary. I’ve been in utilitarian-looking libraries, and I’ve been in beautiful libraries. That said, a beautiful setting full of books is always a pleasure. The public library here in Bologna is one of those bonus places where you have a wealth of information at your fingertips, all in a visually stunning setting.
The Bologna public library is the Biblioteca Salaborsa. It is technically part of the Palazzo d’Accursio on the Piazza Nettuno, which is essentially an extension of Piazza Maggiore, the big square in town. [The fact that the Salaborsa is on the Piazza Nettuno might explain why I still don’t have an exterior photo of that part of the building, since it’s currently blocked to some degree by the restoration taking place of the Neptune fountain/statue in the square.]
The location of the library is rich with history, with archaeological discoveries dating back to at least the third century BC. It’s also had a surprising horticultural history. In the 1300s, Papal legate Androino de la Roche (a personal representative of the pope) established his own private garden, or viridarium in part of the area, as well as stables. In fact, the stables were reinforced and restructured in 1554. By 1568, a well-known botanist of the time, Ulisse Aldrovandi, turned the earlier walled garden into a botanical garden and orchard where they grew a variety of plants and herbs, including exotic plants from around the world. The resulting research that they were able to do at the university contributed to the development of modern botany.
It wasn’t until the late 1800s (1883-1886) that the current structure took form and became a stock exchange (sala borsa). It combines fairly classical design elements with newer materials, such as cast iron, combining to form a modernist style. The result is a grand building full of arches, decorative detail, and lots of light. It was a modern building for a modern era. Unfortunately, the good economic times didn’t last long and the building closed in 1903. However, after World War I, the stock exchange expanded and reopened in 1926. Then, after the World War II, it remained a stock exchange/bank during the day, and a public sports hall in the evening, with basketball and boxing often taking place. This lasted until the 1960s. After that, the building functioned primarily as administrative offices for the city.
In 1999, the city decided to turn the building into a public library. In 2001, the Biblioteca Salaborsa opened to the public as a modern library to serve the public in a new technological era. As well as hundreds of thousands of books, magazines, maps and other documents, there is extensive digital media, with videos, ebooks, audiobooks, databases, and other electronic resources. In addition, the library serves as a space for exhibits, lectures, conferences, and cultural events.
You’ll also find free wifi, a café, toilets and other amenities that make it a handy place to meet up with friends, take a break from your sightseeing, or while away some time on one of those days when the weather isn’t cooperating (though those seem to be few and far between). Usage of the library is free, though if you want to take anything home, you must be a resident and register with the library, though that is also free. (In the Netherlands, there was a yearly fee if you wanted to be able to check books out.)
It’s worth a visit, just to enjoy the interior. It was a busy Saturday when we went, and we had limited time, so I want to go back and see more of it, from different angles, when it’s maybe not quite so busy. Plus, you know, books! There’s also a special permanent exhibit in the lower levels that I’ll post about in the coming days. For now, a few photos I took inside. Pro tip: don’t have a coffee right before trying to take photos, especially if you’re trying to zoom in and don’t have a tripod. Lordy, I took some blurry photos of the ceiling that day!