Look, don’t touch – Strahov Library

Looking uphill at Strahov Monastery.

It was a long walk up the hill to Strahov Library in the monestary, where on a fine summer day folks sit on the brewery patio with a tremendous view of Prague. St. Vitus Cathedral rises out of Prague Castle, the domes of churches in Old Town populate the sky line and the guilted roof of the National Theater sparkles. But I wasn’t huffing up Nerudova Street for the view, I was on my way to see old books.

Strahov Monastery

Sitting at the top of the part of town called Mala Strava just inside the defensive wall, the Monastery began in 1143 and suffered ups and downs until 1586 when a new abbot breathed life into it. The parts I came to see are much newer. The Theological Hall was built between 1671-1679 and the grand Philosophical Hall in 1783, with the walnut cabinets and internal work done by 1794.

The library also include the Cabinets of Curiosity, a collection purchased in 1798 of things considered mysterious and strange (at the time) that mostly include specimens from the sea, bugs, butterflies, an amazing collection of tree books and what they believed at the time to be a unicorn horn. The corridor containing the Cabinet of Curiosoties (really several cabinets) is a look back in time at our urge to know the world and to see unimagined things from far away places. The transition time from natural philosophy into the natural sciences is a fascinating thing.

Cabinet of Curiosities

The trek to Strahov was not the things I hoped for, although I didn’t expect to get: peering into the spines of books hundreds of years old, craning my neck to look up at ceiling frescoes, holding my breath to look at a Blaeu family map or globe, soaking in the quiet and mustiness of a library. In fact, to preserve the rooms and their contents, you can only go into the halls by arranging for a tour (as in planning, which isn’t part of this trip). Otherwise, you stand in the doorway looking in.. The library, even at the top of the hill, certainly isn’t quiet as groups of tours come through the narrow connecting hallway between the two rooms, and it’s even lacking the old musty smell, what with the conditioned air being circulated.

The Philosophical Hall

Even still, Strahov Libraby is a place of learning and commitment to preserving old books and specimens. The walnut shelves of the Philosophical Hall and the gleaming, geometric pattern of the floor are something to see all on their own. And the seeing but not touching leaves a whole lot of room for the imagination.

The Theological Hall


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