The Strahov Library: A Czech Republic Gem

Visit a national treasure, one of the most valuable and best-preserved historical libraries in the world.

I’ve always enjoyed traveling and long ago became the person my companions have relied upon to put together an itinerary that will be second to none. One of the necessities is to find and work with the best experts and guides. They will magically transform any vacation into a memory for the ages. I tend to rely on Wendy Perrin, Conde Nast, Travel & Leisure, or Rick Steves in my search for those at the top of their game.

Pick the Right Guide

For instance, in Russia, we were accompanied by two excellent guides arranged by Exeter International, Gennady in Moscow, and Anya in St. Petersburg, who were absolutely perfect! It would not have been possible to duplicate our experience with a group tour. Moreover, if you travel with three others, the expense of hiring the best guides is no more than the cost of traveling on a high-end group tour; in fact, it’s probably less. And, now you get to go when you want, have the flexibility to stay shorter or longer, and handle things on the fly rather than being part of a larger group, struggling to hear what the guide has to say.

Another one of the tidbits I learned from our experience in Russia was that some places that are supposedly “off-limits” to tourists might be available for a visit provided you have the right connections. You might wish to check out my previous article to learn about some of these experiences. If you try hard enough, it’s possible to arrange a behind-the-scenes view of some of the most memorable places you could ever imagine.

VIP Treatment

With this bit of knowledge in hand, I prepared for our visit to Prague this past December. I learned about the Strahov Library, but when I checked out the reviews on Tripadvisor and elsewhere, there were many complaints! Visitors stated it appeared to be nice from a distance, but they were forced to stand behind the ropes at the entrance. Well, that’s not entirely correct…

Strahov Monastary
Matěj Baťha, via Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 2.0

We were fortunate to hire a fabulous guide, Nina Oliberiusova, in the stunningly beautiful city of Prague, capital of the Czech Republic. Nina decided to begin our tour at the Strahov Monastery, where there are great views of the city and to visit the incredible Strahov Library, where she made arrangements for us to step beyond the ropes and entrance hall, all for a mere $16 per person.

Of course, we felt like VIPs or rock stars when every other visitor was standing beyond the ropes, struggling for a long-distance view of this amazing place while the three of us, along with Nina, were prancing around, taking in the fantastic sights from up close. Let me give you an idea of just how cool this place happens to be.

Philosophical Hall

Monastic Splendor

Most people are unaware that many of Europe’s most incredible libraries can be found in monasteries. The Strahov Library is purported to be the most beautiful library in the world, and I can personally vouch for that!

Ceiling in the Theological Hall.

The Library consists primarily of two major halls, the Baroque Theological Hall and the Classic Philosophical Hall. Each of these halls, approximately 250-feet long and 75-feet wide, date from the late 17th century. Each of the halls is filled with two stories of books, antique globes from the same periods, elaborate sculptures, and woodworks, all under elaborate frescoed ceilings that celebrate the time.

Theological Hall

1440 Jan of Šelmberk’s bible on display.
Yelkrokoyade, via Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Connecting with History

When you first enter the Library, you are taken aback by the impressive frescoes, which are stunning. And then you slowly begin to notice the books, the globes, the antiques.

Of course, the books were terrific, dating from the 10th through 17th centuries, but I was taken aback by some of the other items. As we entered the Theological Hall, we came across one of the unique woodworks, a compilation wheel, made in 1678, which is like a rotating shelf that allows readers to work on several books at a particular time.

Compilation wheel.

I was particularly interested in the collection of antique globes, which I found to be fascinating. There were at least a dozen globes, each handmade at different stages throughout the centuries. I was amazed to view the changes in the maps of the world as time progressed.

We were so amazed by everything, from the elaborate wooden floors to the incredible ceilings, that we failed to notice that there were no ladders that would allow someone to visit the upper level of the Halls. When Nina brought this to our attention, she took us up close to the corners of the Halls. She pointed out these areas appeared to be filled with books but were actually wooden fakes designed to hide trap doors leading to winding staircases that access the second floor.

Doorway to hidden stairs

So, the next time someone asks whether you have any interest in visiting a library during your next trip, don’t jump to conclusions. They are not necessarily ho-hum; in fact, some of them might be among the most wondrous places you will ever have the opportunity to visit.

For more information on the Strahov Library visit strahovskyklaster.cz.