National Library in Rio: the largest library in Latin America

Fabio Jardelino | Live the World

November 23, 2022

You probably did not know that, but the largest Library in Latin America is located in Brazil and, more specifically, in the wonderful city of Rio de Janeiro. Together with other tourist attractions of the city, such as big mo[numents](, na[tural landscapes](, and mu[seums](, the National Library shows its importance not only for Rio but for the history of the country. 

 The National Library is the holder and keeper of Brazil's memory, as it stores every book produced in the country since its origin. The city of Rio de Janeiro was the capital of Brazil for almost 200 years: as a result, at the beginning of the XX Century, the government decided to build at the city center this fantastic construction. It was big enough to hold its almost 9 million books and fancy in the way of becoming the city's symbol. Through this article, I will show you how to visit and what to expect of this indispensable destination

Before I explain the history of the building, I have to tell you a bit about the history of the institution. It all starts after the arrival of the Portuguese royal family in Brazil in 1808, which was a result of the invasion of Portugal by French troops commanded by Napoleon Bonaparte. Because of this fact, the Portuguese court brought to Brazil all the royal books collection in three stages, the first in 1810 and the other two in 1811. 

© Facebook / Biblioteca Nacional

However, back then, Brazil did not have the infrastructure to support all this catalog of books in 1810. That is why the library was initially accommodated in the upper floor rooms of the Hospital da Ordem Terceira do Carmo, which was not exactly the best place to hold this valuable collection. Anyway, the works for the new building started in 1813, when the collection was to be transferred.

Officially established in a new place, the Library continued to have its collection expanded, through purchases, donations, and mainly by the mandatory delivery of a copy of all printed material produced in Portugal and the Royal Printing of Brazil. Even today, the Decree of Legal Deposit is still in force: the donation to the National Library of one sample of every book printed in Brazil is still obligatory.

© Flickr / Arquivo Nacional

In 1858, because of its size, the Library was transferred to Rua do Passeio, number 60, in the La[rgo da Lapa]( Currently, this building houses the School of Music of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. But with the constant and permanent growth of the Library's collection, the creation of the final larger headquarters was important. And it was because of this that its current building was designed. The construction started on August 15, 1905, and shows an eclectic style, in which neoclassical and art nouveau elements are mixed. The inauguration took place on October 29, 1910.

Guided tour

The guided tour is the best way to discover the interior of the building and appreciate its imposing architecture. Inside, the building showcases ornamented staircases, wide skylights in colorful stained glass, and preserved rooms, in addition to the works of art that decorate the spaces - such as paintings, panels, and sculptures. In the corridors leading to the "Salão de Obras Raras" and at the "Eliseu Visconti" Cultural Space, you will also find thematic exhibitions from different collections.

© Facebook / Biblioteca Nacional

The guided visit to the National Library is free and can be done from Monday to Friday, from 10h to 17h, in three different languages: Portuguese, English, and Spanish. To get access, you have to go to the reception of the guided tour, located in the main hall. Keep in mind that you also have the option to visit on your own without the guide.

© Facebook / Biblioteca Nacional

During the week, the visitor can see the interior of the reading rooms from its exterior luxury doors. That is because the access to its interior is exclusive for properly registered researchers, in consultation with the collection. On Saturdays, visiting is not allowed, and only the rooms on the second floor remain open. On Sundays, it is all closed. 

© Facebook / Biblioteca Nacional

How to get there

The National Library is located at the historic center of Rio and to get there, you can take basically any public means of transport going to the center. By metro, go until the Cinelândia Station and use the exit C. By tram, take the line 1 (blue) towards Santos Dumont airport and get off at Cinelândia Station. By bus, you can choose lines with itineraries along the Avenida Graça Aranha: get off at the bus stops located between the numbers 58-76 on this avenue. By the way, my suggestion here is to avoid going in your own car. However, if you decide to do so, there is an underground parking at Mahatma Gandhi Square, not far from the Library - the prices can be very high depending on the time of the year.

© Wikimedia Commons / Halleypo

The National Library in Rio is the memory holder of Brazil and one of the best places to visit in the city.  The largest library in Latin America is waiting to be explored! Enjoy!

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