Literary Landmarks: The Top 7 Oldest Libraries Still Open Today

Libraries have long been repositories of knowledge, culture, and history. They offer a glimpse into the intellectual pursuits of a society and stand as testaments to human curiosity and quest for understanding. The oldest libraries, those that have withstood the test of time, offer a unique perspective into the past. While technology and digital media are rapidly changing the landscape of reading and learning, these ancient libraries still stand, preserving the rich textual tradition of our ancestors. In this blog post, we will journey through seven of the oldest libraries that are still open today, revealing the stories behind their inception and their enduring importance.

The Library of Alexandria - Egypt

The Library of Alexandria is one of the most famous libraries in history. Founded in the 3rd century BC, it was renowned as a major center of scholarship. Though the original library no longer exists, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina was built in 2002 to commemorate this ancient center of learning, and houses over a million books.

St Catherine’s Monastery Library - Egypt

In the heart of the Sinai Peninsula, St Catherine’s Monastery houses the world’s oldest continually operating library. Established in the 6th century, it is home to an unrivalled collection of early Christian texts. The library’s most prized possession is the Codex Sinaiticus, a 4th-century manuscript of the Bible.

Al-Qarawiyyin Library - Morocco

Founded in 859 AD by Fatima al-Fihri, a woman, the Al-Qarawiyyin Library is considered the oldest existing and continually operating educational institution in the world. Located in Fez, Morocco, this library is part of the University of Al-Qarawiyyin and houses a collection of Islamic manuscripts, some dating back to the 9th century.

Al-Aqsa Mosque Library - Palestine

Established in 1923, the Al-Aqsa Mosque Library in Jerusalem houses a vast collection of Islamic literature and manuscripts, dating as far back as the 8th century. The library was founded to serve the scholars of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

Malatestiana Library - Italy

The Malatestiana Library, or Biblioteca Malatestiana, was established in 1452 in Cesena, Italy. It is the first public library in Europe and has maintained its structure, fittings, and collections virtually unchanged over centuries. It holds more than 340,000 volumes, including manuscripts and incunabula.

Merton College Library - United Kingdom

Merton College Library, based in Oxford, England, was founded in 1276, making it the world's oldest library in continuous daily use. It was the first library to introduce the chained book system, where books were chained to their bookcases, reflecting their high value in medieval times.

The Vatican Library - Vatican City

Last but not least, the Vatican Library. This library, established in 1475, is one of the oldest libraries in the world and contains one of the most significant collections of historical texts. It has 75,000 codices, and 1.1 million printed books, which include some 8,500 incunabula.

These seven libraries, steeped in history and culture, continue to serve as important centers of research and learning. They are a testament to human civilization’s enduring commitment to knowledge and education. As we move further into the digital age, it is worth remembering the irreplaceable value and incomparable charm of physical libraries. Their quiet aisles filled with books, each carrying a legacy of wisdom across ages, continue to inspire awe and reverence in anyone who values the pursuit of knowledge.