The National Library in Rio de Janeiro ranks as the eighth largest
library in the world. Obviously, it is also the largest library
in all of Latin America. Located in Cinelandia, the National Library
was originally created by the King of Portugual, Dom José
I in 1810. As with many of Rio de Janeiro’s cultural monuments,
the library was originally off-limits to the general public. The
first collections of the library were actually brought to Rio from
Lisbon by the Royal Family in 1807. The Royals were fleeing from
the French armies and carried with them; close to 60,000 items that
had previously been housed in the Royal Library in Lisbon. The Royal
Library was destroyed in 1755 by an earthquake.
The objects that arrived in Rio with Dom João VI and Queen
Maria I included medals, maps, coins, prints, and manuscripts as
well as books. From 1810 until 1814, public access to the collections
housed at the National Museum was limited only to those with permission
of the prince regent. In 1814, the institution was opened to the
public. In 1822, a decree was issued that required one copy of all
government documents be sent to the Library. Three years later,
in 1825, the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Brazil and Rio
de Janeiro deeded ownership of the National Library to the Brazilian
Empire. In 1907, that decree was extended to include one or more
copies of all materials published in the country be placed on display.
One hundred years later, the Library still receives these publications.
It was this decree that has created the largest collection of documents
in Latin America and positioned the Library as one of the largest
in the world. Housed within it’s walls are over 9 million
charts, scores, maps, books serials, folders, engravings, manuscripts,
records, compact discs, prints, tapes and videos.
Construction on the neo-classical building that houses the National
Library began in 1905 and took five years to complete. It’s
main hall showcases two murals and two bronze bas-reliefs, the works
of American artist George Biddle and his wife, Helena Sardeau Biddle.
These items were donated to the museum in 1942 by the United States
government. A beautiful building graced with marble staircases and
columns, the National Library joins the Municipal Theater and the
National Fine Arts Museum in Cinelandia Square to form what is known
as the ”Triangle of Culture.”
Guided tours of the Library are available and include information
on the architecture, and history of the building as well as information
on the works collected beneath it’s roof. The most valuable
collections in the library include; 4,300 items donated by Barbosa
Machado including a precious collection of rare brochures detailing
the history of Portugual and Brazil, 2,365 items from the 17th and
18th century that were previously owned by Antônio de Araújo
de Azevedo, the "Count of Barca,” including the 125 volume
set of prints ”Le Grand Théâtre de l'Univers,”
a collection of documents regarding the Jesuítica Province
of Paraguay and the "Region of Prata," and what is considered
the most impressive, the Teresa Cristina Maria Collection, donated
by Dom Pedro II. This collection contains 48,236 items.
Individual items of special interest include; an extremely rare
first edition of Os Lusíadas by Luis de Camões published
in 1584, two copies of the Mogúncia Bible, and a first edition
of Handel’s Messiah-to name just a few.
The National Library is located on Avenida Rio Branco 219 in downtown
Rio de Janeiro and can be reached by telephone at +55 (21) 2220-9484.
A guided tour takes approximately 30 minutes. These tours are available
weekdays at 11 am, 1 pm, and 4 pm. During tourist season, the tours
run every hour. Normal operating hours of the library are weekdays,
from 9 am to 8 pm and Saturdays from 9 am to 3 pm. Visitors can
stop by the library’s café for snacks, cakes and coffee
or visit one of the many restaurants and bars located nearby. A
favorite is the Bar Amarelinha.