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11 Fabulous Libraries in South America

Last week we toured some of Europe’s most beautiful libraries. Now let’s see what South America has to offer.

1. The Royal Portuguese Reading Room, Brazil

The Real Gabinete Português de Leitura in Rio de Janeiro holds more Portuguese works than anywhere outside of Portugal, including a number of rare titles. Completed in 1887, the building is adorned in the neomanuelino style based on the Gothic-renaissance style that was popular at the time of the Portuguese discovery of Brazil. Inside the library there is both a stunning chandelier and a gorgeous iron skylight that was the first of its kind in the country.

Images courtesy of Luciano Joaquim’s, Sebastian R.’s and Mathieu Struck’s Flickr streams.

2. The National Library of Brazil

Another amazing library of Rio, the National Library of Brazil was constructed all the way back in 1810 and has since become the largest library in Latin America and the 7th largest in the world. As a copyright library, publishers have been required to send over one copy of every title they publish all the way since 1907, pushing the library’s collection to over 9 million items, including a number of rare books and an extensive collection of over 21,500 photos all dating from before 1890.

Image courtesy of Patricia Valeria’s and Yuken Chen’s Flickr streams.

3. The National Library of Chile

Featuring a similar style to the National Library of Brazil, this beautiful building was designed in 1913 and completed in 1925 with a neoclassical design meant to commemorate the country’s centenary anniversary. Aside from housing the National Library, the building serves as headquarters to the country’s National Archives.

Image courtesy of Ejercito de Chile’s Flickr stream.

4. The Library of the San Francisco Monastery, Peru

The library in Lima’s San Francisco Monastery is one of the oldest and most beautiful on the continent. The stunning convent was completed in 1672, with renovations and improvements continuing up until 1729. Given how old the library inside is, it should come as no surprise that the 25,000 volumes contained therein are extremely rare, chronicling a massive variety of knowledge dating between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries.

Images courtesy of Sierra Michels Slettvet’s and dgphilli’s Flickr streams.

5. Home of Peruvian Literature, Peru

If you think the architecture of this building looks familiar, that’s because it was a commonly used design for train stations around the early 1900s. As for why this library looks like a train station, well, that’s simple—it used to be one. In fact, it wasn’t converted into a library until 2009. In an effort to get more of the country’s citizens to read and to support the country’s artists and writers, the library features over 20,000 works, mostly written by or about native Peruvians.

Images courtesy of David Berkowitz’s and Chimi Fotos’ Flickr streams.

6. Public Library of Lima, Peru

The previous home to the National Library of Peru, the Public Library of Lima was completed in the 1940s with a small addition completed in 1974. It’s been declared a historical monument by the country’s National Institute of Culture. The main gallery features marble floors and stairs, sculptures of the library’s founders and gorgeous high ceilings.

Image courtesy of The Librarian is In.

7. National Library Costa Rica

With a massive upside-down arch above a glass window and concrete levels sandwiching a fragile-looking glass central story, the National Library of Costa Rica is quite striking in its design and still appears modern despite being over 40 years old. Unfortunately, the location has been subject to a number of earthquakes, leading to a number of closures throughout the years.

Images courtesy of The National Library System of Costa Rica and Alex Watkins’ Flickr stream.

8. Virgilio Barco Library, Colombia

Even if you don’t appreciate modern architecture design, you should still tip your cap to Colombia, where a number of massive libraries have been built in the last decade. But if you are a fan of newer building designs, then you’ll really love what the country has created in such a short time. Famed architect Rogelio Salmona designed this library that was completed in 2001. Featuring red brick walls, blue water pools and green lawns, this creative design looks like a maze of colors housing a labyrinth of books inside.

Image courtesy of elroquero’s, Seven Notes in Black’s and Colombia Travel’s Flickr streams.

9. Spanish Park Library, Colombia

The Parque Biblioteca España stands out from its native Santo Domingo more than any other library on this list. That’s because the striking modernist design of these three boulder-like structures stand in stark contrast to the simple homes of the neighborhood around it. Constructed atop a hill and featuring massive offset windows, the building offers amazing unobstructed views of the scenery outside.

The architect designed the building, specifically its odd windows, as a way to help the impoverished community imagine bigger and better things, disconnecting “the people temporarily from their context,” says architect Giancarlo Mazzanti, “We wanted to take people from this poor community into another place and change their reality.”

Image courtesy of Daniel Echeverri’s, Felipe Campuzano’s and dfinnecy’s Flickr streams.

10. EPM Library, Colombia

Designed like an upside-down pyramid, the EPM library, completed in 2005, may be a unique architectural feat, but its best-known feature remains the odd forest of white columns located just outside. Even so, the 107,000 square foot interior is quite beautiful, particularly the strikingly angled walls.

Images courtesy of Guia de Viajes Oficial de Medellin’s, HiperBarrio’s and Biblioteca EPM’s Flickr streams.

11. Villanueva Public Library, Colombia

Perhaps the most famous of Colombia’s new libraries is the Villanueva Public Library, which was constructed using not only locally sourced materials, but also by the people of the village. Stones were gathered by nearby rivers, sustainable wood from nearby forests, and local people were trained to help construct the building. The design, created by four nearby college students, focuses on natural ventilation and plenty of shade to keep the interior nice and cool. All of these cost-cutting measures went a long way in helping a truly impoverished area secure much-needed library.

Image courtesy of Nicolas Cabrera via Dezeen.

If you happen to know about other striking libraries in South America or have any more information about the locations above, share your knowledge in the comments!

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May 6th, 2012

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Stranger to the World

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