Joanina Library: a jewel of Coimbra

Joanina Library: a jewel of Coimbra

2 minutes to read

Besides one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world, Livraria Lello in Porto, there's also a few amazing libraries in Portugal. One of them, the exquisite library "Joanina", a jewel of Coimbra, is famous for its gorgeous interior, rare copies of important books from the 16th, 17th and 18th century, but also for its diligent employees - a colony of bats that are keeping the books safe from insects! 

First of all, I must mention the University of Coimbra itself, as this library belongs to it. Portuguese people are extremely proud of this prestigious institution, often stating that this is the second oldest University in Europe, after the one in Bologna. However, seems like they miscalculated it a bit, as the official listings reveal that there are six other European universities older than this one. Nevertheless, the UC, founded in 1290 and added to the UNESCO's World Heritage List in 2013, with its rich heritage offers much to see. If you decide to spend a day here, you get a time-traveling opportunities, great views of Coimbra, and Harry-Potterish atmosphere - enough reasons to climb to the top of the town to reach it. 

Photo © credits: Universidade de Coimbra
Photo © credits: Universidade de Coimbra

There are a few must stops within the campus, such as the old Royal Palace, one quaint chapel, an old prison, and the tower, but certainly, Joanina Library is the most special one, even if you are not really a book lover. This building, a real baroque masterpiece, was built in order to show off Portuguese wealth in the beginning of the 18th century, decorated with golden foils and other finest materials. The works were done under the patronage of Dom João V, Portuguese king at that time, and so the name "Joanina" was given after its patron. However, its importance is much more than just the glorious building. Joanina is the home of over 200.000 volumes, of which some are extremely rare. There are, among other titles, the very first 16th century edition of the most important book written in Portuguese - “Os Lusíadas” by Luís Vaz de Camões, and a Hebrew Bible, published in the 15th century (there are only about 20 copies of it in the world).

Besides different precautions put in place to conserve the volumes and the building, the University "employs" a rather unique creatures to keep the books safe from whatever insects may be interested in attacking them. Already for a few centuries, a colony of tiny bats lives inside Joanina offering their services of bug-eating during the night. 

Photo © credits: iStock/Nuno Almeida
Photo © credits: iStock/Nuno Almeida
Biblioteca Joanina
Biblioteca Joanina
Pátio das Escolas da Universidade de Coimbra, 3004-531 Coimbra, Portugal
University of Coimbra
University of Coimbra
3000-213 Coïmbre, Portugal

The author

Natacha Costa

Natacha Costa

Hello, I will tell you about the south of France, the Azores, Iceland, among other places, here on itinari. Traveling has taught me more than any school, and I am excited to be sharing this passion of mine with you!

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