Art & CultureArt & Culture

7 Must-See Historical Libraries in Emilia-Romagna

by /// November 23, 2023
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes



Emilia-Romagna – land of history, culture and architectural beauties – is a real paradise for knowledge and literature lovers.

Among the many hidden gems of the region, the historical libraries stand out with an estimated heritage of more than 21 million of documents, which preserve the traces of a precious memory.

Wanted by culture patrons and decorated as works of art, they keep a vast variety of documents, manuscripts, ancient books and specialised materials.

We have chosen 7 of them that you absolutely have to visit. You will have the possibility to spend some time surrounded by the great beauty of these places, inebriated by the scent of ancient printed-paper books, which only wait to be opened and rediscovered.

Palatine Library (Parma)

Parma (PR), Biblioteca Palatina (Sala Maria Luigia)
Parma (PR), Biblioteca Palatina (Sala Maria Luigia) | Credit: Ministero della Cultura

Enter the majestic Palazzo della Pilotta, right in the heart of Parma, climb the imperial staircase and start exploring the great halls of the Palatine Library.

Founded in 1761 by duke Philip of Naples and Sicily, the library boasts an exceptional bibliographic heritage – with more than 700,000 volumes, manuscripts, incunables and prints – and more than 4 exhibition areas: Petitot Gallery, Maria Luigia Salon, Sala Dante and Sala De Rossi.

A particularly fascinating aspect of this complex is its inclusive vocation. Apart from being a place of study and research, the library is also open to the public, offering everyone the possibility to explore its rich heritage.

Biblioteca Estense (Modena)

Modena (MO), Biblioteca Estense Universitaria
Modena (MO), Biblioteca Estense Universitaria | Credit: Ministero della Cultura

Born with the ducal family, the book collection of the Este family has always been part of it. At the beginning, it was located in Ferrara, then – when in 1598 the capital of the Este dynasty was moved – it was transferred to Modena.

After the Unification of Italy, Biblioteca Estense merged with the library of the university, which preserved a significant collection of philosophical, legal and scientific texts. Thus was born the current Biblioteca Estense Universitaria, now hosted inside Palazzo dei Musei in Modena.

The complex boasts an extraordinary collection of manuscripts, incunables, ancient books and rare works. Its book heritage is vast and varied and ranges from philosophy to science, from literature to art history. Every shelf tells a story, every page houses knowledge and secrets collected over the centuries.

Walking along its shelves, visitors can admire ancient atlases and maps, dive into illuminist and humanist works that have shaped the European thinking.

Archiginnasio Municipal Library (Bologna)

Bologna, Biblioteca Comunale dell'Archiginnasio
Bologna, Biblioteca Comunale dell’Archiginnasio | Credit: RossHelen, via Shutterstock (solo per uso editoriale)

The Archiginnasio Municipal Library in Bologna is another unmissable stop.

Archiginnasio is an extraordinary historical building, built in 1562 to host the ancient University of Bologna. Today, it is home to this historical heritage and offers visitors the unique opportunity to dive into the culture and art of the city.

The frescoes and wooden furniture – other than the coats of arms on the walls (almost 6,000!) – make this place even more fascinating, taking visitors back in time as they explore the pages of the books preserved here.

High ceilings and decorated windows add a touch of grandeur to this space, creating an atmosphere that inspires concentration and respect for knowledge.

Among the many precious works preserved here, worth a mention are undoubtedly ancient editions and original manuscripts of some of the greatest Italian thinkers and writers, which make the Archiginnasio Municipal Library a sanctuary of knowledge and culture paying homage to the glorious past of Bologna.

Biblioteca Ariostea (Ferrara)

Ferrara (FE), Biblioteca Estense
Ferrara (FE), Biblioteca Estense | Credit:

Biblioteca Ariostea in Ferrara owes its name to the great poet Ludovico Ariosto, author of the epic poem Orlando Furioso and native of the place.

Founded in 1452 as the Municipal Library, it is one of the city’s most significant cultural places and offers a wide variety of services and resources for readers, students and researchers.

In addition to Ariosto’s works, it preserves an extensive collection of manuscripts, ancient books and maps that tell the story of the city and the surrounding region.

Malestiana Library (Cesena)

Cesena (FC), Biblioteca Malatestiana
Cesena (FC), Malestiana Library | Credit: Marco Boschetti

Built in the mid 15th-century the Malatestiana Library in Cesena is Italy’s and Europe’s first civic library, as well as the only library of monastic origin that has perfectly come to us.

With its 250,000 volumes, the Malatestiana Library is the perfect legacy of Franciscan friars, honoured by the then Lord of Cesena Domenico Malatesta (called Malatesta Novello), main responsible of the building of this stunning library.

In 2005, the library was declared Unesco World Heritage Site, as a place that preserves the Memory of the World.

Classense Library (Ravenna)

Ravenna (RA), Biblioteca Classense
Ravenna (RA), Classense Library | Credit: Ravenna Photo Archive

Hosted inside a Camaldolese monastery whose construction began in 1512, the Classense Library in Ravenna is one of Italy’s 20 greatest and most important libraries.

The complex is a true architectural and artistic jewel, attracting every year hundreds of curious visitors, who come to admire its spaces and treasures.

Today, the library is a dynamic space open to the public, a point of reference for students and researchers but also for art and culture lovers, offering a unique heritage of ancient, modern and contemporary books.

Don’t miss a visit to Sala Dantesca and Aula Magna (currently under renovation).

Gambalunga, Library (Rimini)

Rimini (RN), Biblioteca Gambalunga, Rimini
Rimini (RN), Gambalunga Library | Credit: Ivan Ciappelloni

Born in 1619 from the generous legacy of Alessandro Gambalunga from Rimini, the Gambalunga Library is located in the heart of Rimini and preserves a collection of more than 400,000 volumes, including rare books, manuscripts and incunables. It was Italy’s first public library open to everyone.

The walnut shelves located in the 17th-century halls create a perfect atmosphere for study and contemplation, which will make you fall in love with reading in all its expressions.

Immersed in a green inner courtyard, the library offers a silent shelter from the chaos of the city. The courtyard is an ideal place to relax with a book, admire the sculptures decorating it or take part in open-air cultural events.


Davide Marino

Davide Marino was born archaeologist but ended up doing other things. Rational – but not methodic, slow – but passionate. A young enthusiast with grey hair

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