At Biblioteca Joanina at the University of Coimbra in Portugal, the bats come out after dark. The magnificent library, adorned in ceiling frescos and gold leaf, is home to irreplaceable treasures, including a first edition of the epic poem The Lusiads (one of only twenty in the world) and a Latin Bible from 1492. The bats help preserve these volumes, flying through the stacks at night and eating insects that would feed on the books. It’s just one of dozens of unforgettable tales contained within the pages of Temples of Books, a book by Marianne Julia Strauss and gestalten, featuring exquisite architecture photography from around the world.
Temples of Books is an ode to libraries past and present, starting with the story of the lost Library of Alexandria and running through 5,000 years of human history. As for the libraries photographed for the book, the oldest, al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco, dates back to 859. Others were built as recently as 2020, many generations later.
Paging through the photographs, you might imagine that you’re traveling backward through time. That’s only partially true: while some of these libraries do house (very) old manuscripts, they’re also living, breathing spaces—evolving in real-time and continuing to inspire their communities.
At Maria Laach Abbey in Germany, where about forty monks live, the Jesuit Library participates in inter-library loans, meaning the books can be read and enjoyed far and wide. Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, a church, originally built in 1884, was converted into DePetrus Library in 2018, with the original stained glass windows and floor plan kept intact.
While few of us will get the chance to visit these places in person, the architecture photography selected for the book invites us to travel through our imaginations. Take in the ceiling fresco at the Wiblingen Monastery Library in Germany; feel the sunlight on your face as you open a book at Salle Labrouste in Paris. Discover etchings by the Old Masters at the Cuypers Library in Amsterdam, or hear the songs of bats late at night at Biblioteca Joanina in Portugal.
Get your copy of Temples of Books here.
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• Bold and Colourful Architecture in the Highest Metropolis on Earth
• Extravagant European Theaters Photographed From The Actor’s Point of View