With over 9 million items, the National Library in Rio de Janeiro is an intellectual's dream

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.

From The National Library Rio de Janeiro to Rio-de-Janeiro.info