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Vatican Library is the library of the Holy See, located in Vatican City. Formally established in 1475, although it is much older, it 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 from throughout history, as well as 1.1 million printed books, which include some 8,500 incunabula.
History of The Vatican Library
Since you cannot bring food into the library itself, even stored, your best option for lunch is definitely the library café. It stands in the courtyard alongside the main reading room aula, suspended between the Manuscript Room and the Secret Archives. The little café, built over an old fountain, has great coffee, water, and sandwiches and salads. It is all sold with Vatican prices, i.e. without tax, so is a great bargain. Coffee and lunch can easily come below €5.
Climbing up a long flight of stairs with a lift shaft in the centre, you will come to the library on the second floor. The room you enter is the main reading room, the aula (beautifully decorated), and it’s lined with the reference books, including catalogues and periodicals published in Vatican City. These books go on into the Aula Leonina, on the side of the Secret Archives, but all are free to take from the shelves. Once you choose a desk, you will find numbered panels on it, and these can be put into the shelf to replace a book you’ve taken. Maps printed on the walls are a guide to the complex cataloguing system of these books. Reading is of course one of the best things to do at Vatican Library.
Among the many treasures kept in the Vatican Library, there are hundreds of 'non - book' objects which are placed as ornaments around the Institution. These works – paintings, sculptures, furniture and other objects – have been inventoried as Art objects of the Library. Admiring these arts is one of the best things to do at Vatican Library. The Art objects (BAVOA) have been catalogued and included both in the general catalogue and (together with images) also in the catalogue of Graphic materials and Art objects.
How to Get Tickets?
There is no admission ticket needed to visit the Library. The Vatican Library is not open for public and only scholars can access its collections. Undergraduates cannot, except in very specific circumstances, consult the library collections. Some time before you arrive, it is probably polite to email the director of admissions, Dr Federica Orlando, but this is not absolutely essential.
How To Get Around?
The Vatican Library tour can only be done by walking. It is big and easily accessible, so wear comfortable shoes and get ready to walk around to see its collections.
What Should I Wear?
Dress conservatively on your Vatican Library tour. Cover your shoulders and knees, otherwise you won't be let in.
Best Time to Visit
The first and most important thing to be aware of, before attempting a visit, is the portion of the year the library closes: most of July and all of August, as well as half of September. In addition, the library follows the calendar of Vatican City, not that of Italy, and thus closes for some special festivals and holidays, generally of a religious nature, so be sure to consult the library’s calendar before you begin to plan a trip. The Admissions Office has particular hours and is not open in the afternoon on Monday, Wednesday or Friday or during lunchtime, and you can’t enter the library without their say, so be sure to visit during the stated hours: Monday to Friday, 8:45 – 12:00, and Tuesday and Thursday, 15:00 – 16:00.
Will I Need a Guide?
No, the people from the Admission Office will give you an introduction to the library rules and regulations, and then you can explore the library by yourself.
How To Get There?
To enter, you must pass through the Porta Sant’Anna, a special gate into the Vatican that your average tourist never gets to go through. Approaching Saint Peter’s Basilica along the Vatican’s east wall, straight from Ottaviano metro station and the Piazza di Risorgimento along the Via di Porta Angelica, the Porta Sant’Anna appears on your right before the Piazza della Città Leonina. It’s difficult to miss, as cars can turn into it, and three Swiss Guard are attendant at all times. They do speak English, so simply make sure to say you are a scholar visiting the Vatican Library. They will then guide you to the police station just up ahead, which is your next port of call. The policemen at the round desk will take your passport or form of identification and give you a fetching badge with the Vatican crest on it. This is your pass to continue for your first entrance into the Library. Out of the police station you continue onwards up a slight incline, past the Vatican Post Office and a small car park, and through a set of gates, into the Cortile del Belvedere, a car park for Vatican employees and a fountain in the middle. To the far right of the Cortile is the Biblioteca Apostolica. There are two doors here, the first one you see on the right is the one you want. This nearer door is where the reception and Admissions Office are to be found.
You cannot bring any bags, food, pens or anything covered up into the library: only a computer or tablet, only pencils, and paper, as well as any books you may have brought yourself. Mobile phones are not allowed. So leave them and everything else in your locker, which has space to hang up coats if you’re visiting in winter. When you visit you need to bring your passport, or other form of identification, and your reference letter.