Italian National Libraries

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Central National Library of Rome

The two central national libraries of Italy in Florence and Rome as well as seven other libraries are subsumed under the term Italian national libraries, which are called “national library”.

List of Italian national libraries

In addition, there are several “state libraries”, which in some cases also have the role of university libraries . Well-known state libraries are the Biblioteca Reale in Turin, the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence, the Biblioteca Universitaria Alessandrina in Rome and the Biblioteca dei Girolamini in Naples. Some of these state libraries are not inferior to the national libraries in terms of their historical importance.

The Royal Library, founded in Palermo in 1782, was renamed the National Library at the end of 1860. In 1977 it became the Biblioteca Centrale della Regione Siciliana , the central library of the Autonomous Region of Sicily . It is the second largest library in southern Italy after the National Library of Naples.

The national libraries and the other state libraries are subordinate to the Ministry of Culture , either directly or via its peripheral organization.


Central National Library of Florence

Until the middle of the 19th century, the history of Italian libraries was groundbreaking, but not very stringent. Whereas in the Middle Ages there were primarily monastic and private libraries, public libraries flourished in the early modern period.

In contrast to antiquity , in which Rome and the south were the spiritual, cultural and political centers, northern and central Italy functioned as the center of development for both socio-economic and cultural reasons that the great scholars of the 14th and 15th centuries had their roots in northern and central Italy. The world's first public library was founded in Florence in 1441 ( Medica Pubblica ). This was followed by numerous new libraries founded and built throughout Italy. The marriage of the university libraries followed in the 17th century.

This exemplary development was interrupted by political events towards the end of the 18th century. During the French Revolution and Napoleon's Italian campaign , libraries were plundered and old literature destroyed or confiscated. In 1861 the Kingdom of Italy was created in the Risorgimento from the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont , first with Turin, then with Florence as the capital. This circumstance ensured that the first national library of the Italian kingdom was founded in Florence .

The holdings of the Florentine National Library at that time consisted of two important libraries: that of the Biblioteca Magliabechiana , a public library in Florence at the time, to which the librarian and book collector Antonio Magliabechi bequeathed his private book collection of 30,000 volumes in 1714; and that of the Biblioteca Palatina , the library of the Palazzo Pitti (90,000 volumes). Furthermore, writings from collections of various private and monastery libraries were added.

The Kingdom of Italy was expanded to include some territories in the following years. a. the Papal States , which is why Rome was finally declared the capital of Italy in 1870 and thus another national library was set up in Rome in 1873 to give the new state a national library that should be able to stand up to the comparison with the largest in Europe. Their holdings consisted of writings from various monastery libraries and those of the Bibliotheca Maior or Bibliotheca Secreta of the Jesuits (45,000 volumes).

With political unity, the library system was also to be centralized and the rich cultural heritage of Italy was to be organized and centrally administered. The first all-Italian library regulations were launched in 1869 and completed in two stages (1876, 1885). It assigned the two national libraries in Rome and Florence to the autonomous libraries. In addition, under the premise of owning the most important book collections in the country, they were given priority among the libraries, more financial donations and in 1885, in addition to their already existing name Biblioteca Nazionale, the addition Centrale , which clearly stated that the national libraries in Rome and From now on, Florence together devoted to the tasks that a national library has.

The late unification of Italy as a nation-state also had an impact on the library system: the first library regulations valid for the whole of Italy from 1869 gave the 13 largest and most important libraries for Italy supraregional importance; seven of them were named Biblioteca Nazionale (Palermo, Florence, Naples) , Venice, Turin, Rome, Milan), because the aim was to recognize the cultural significance and continuity of the former territorial states and at the same time to defuse exaggerated autonomist tendencies.


  • Eberhard Bartsch: The bibliography . Saur, Munich 1989, ISBN 3-598-10878-8
  • Enzo Bottasso: Storia della biblioteca in Italia . Editrice Bibliografica, Milan 1984, ISBN 978-88-488-0009-9
  • Arthur T. Hamlin: Libraries in Florence . In: Miriam Drake (Ed.): Encyclopedia of library and information science . Dekker, New York 2003, ISBN 0-8247-4259-1 (Vol. 8, pp. 532-545)
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