A Feast for the Eyes and Ears: The World’s Most Beautiful and Majestic Library
The Clementinum is a complex of historical buildings founded by Jesuits in Prague, Czech Republic, and is famous for its stunning Baroque-style library which houses more than 20,000 historically rare books and is adorned with beautiful fresco paintings.
Located near Charles Bridge and Staroměstské Square, this group of structures is one of the largest complexes in the city, second only to the Prague Castle. Three of the most notable buildings in the Clementinum are the library, astronomical tower, and the Mirror Chapel. Other interesting buildings in the complex include the Church of St. Clement and the Chapel of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.
Creating the Grand Complex
The Clementinum (Klementinum) was founded in the 11th century. The name of the complex was derived from the Chapel of St. Clement, which was set up by the Dominican Order. It was only during the middle of the 16th century, however, that the Clementinum became the grand complex that it is today.
1945 illustration of the Clementinum by Vojtech Kubasta. (antikvariat-kutnahora.cz)
In 1556, the Society of Jesus (“the Jesuits”), was invited to Prague by Ferdinand I, the King of Bohemia. Incidentally, Ferdinand I was also the King of Hungary and Croatia and became the Holy Roman Emperor in 1558. The primary reason Ferdinand invited the Jesuits to his capital was to strengthen the power of the Roman Catholic Church in Bohemia. Initially, the Jesuits were content with living in the former Dominican monastery, though later they used their wealth to buy up most of the adjacent neighborhood and embarked on elaborate building projects. For example, work began on the building of the Church of the Holy Savior in 1587.
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The Jesuits also ran a school from the moment they arrived. In 1622, it was promoted to the status of a college. At one point of time, it was the third largest Jesuit college in the world. As the construction of the Clementinum complex took almost 200 years to complete, different architectural styles can be detected. The most prominent are Baroque and Classical.
The Library and Astronomical Tower
One of the most impressive structures built by the Jesuits is the Clementinum Library, which is a fine example of Baroque architecture. This library was opened in 1722 as part of the Jesuit college. It is reported to house over 20,000 books, some of which date back to the beginning of the 17th century.
The library is best known for its Baroque hall, which is decorated with gilded carvings and ceiling frescoes painted by Jan Hiebl. The library, which is today part of the National Library of the Czech Republic, also possesses several historically rare globes. The Clementinum Library is recognized as one of the most beautiful libraries in the world.
A photo of the hall of the Clementinum Library. Source: klementinum.com
Another notable building in the Clementinum complex is the astronomical tower. This structure is 68 meters (223 ft.) in height, and is topped by a bronze statue of the Titan Atlas bearing the globe on his shoulders. Like the library, the tower also dates to the 1720s. It was used for astronomical observations until the 1930s. One of the interesting features of this tower is the Meridian Hall of its second floor - which was used to determine noon. There are 172 steps leading to the gallery of the tower, which is used today by tourists to get a panoramic view of the historical center of Prague. Additionally, the tower also houses a display of 18th century astronomical instruments.
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1945 illustration of the Clementinum’s astronomical tower by Vojtech Kubasta. ( antikvariat-kutnahora.cz)
The Chapel of Mirrors
The third building of interest in the Clementinum is the Chapel of Mirrors, which also dates to the same period as the library and the astronomical tower. The chapel is known for its marvelous Baroque architecture. This room is especially interesting to Classical music enthusiasts. Two 18th century organs can be found in this chapel, one of which was played by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart during his visits to the Clementinum. Classical music concerts are still held here daily.
The Chapel of Mirrors, Clementinum, Prague. (Palickap /CC BY SA 3.0 )
The Jesuits were suppressed by the Pope and were expelled from Prague in 1773. A local legend states that they hid their treasure somewhere in the Clementinum, as they believed that they would soon be back. Although the Jesuits were forced to leave the Clementinum, their university remained and became part of Charles University. The other beautiful buildings were also maintained.
A 1750 painting of the Clementinum. (Packare/ CC BY SA 4.0 )
Top image: Baroque-style Clementinum Library hall, Prague. (Bruno Delzant/ CC BY 2.0 )
By Wu Mingren
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