Is This the Most Awesome Library in the World?

We all love libraries. (If not, please let yourself out.)

We have previously established that Portugal has the most beautiful bookstore in the world, but now it appears they also get the most awesome library.

I came a cross a rather amazing one the other day, the library at Mafra National Palace in Portugal. The palace was built by a king who vowed to create it if his wife gave him descendants, which she did.

It looks rather lovely.

Mafra National Palace

But you came here to hear about the library, right? Yeah, it’s awesome:

Photo by Will Pryce

Photo by Will Pryce

Mafra Library

The magnificent floor is covered with tiles of rose, grey and white marble. The wooden bookshelves in Rococo style are situated on the sidewalls in two rows, separated by a balcony with a wooden railing. They contain over 35,000 leather-bound volumes, attesting of the extent of western knowledge from the 14th to the 19th century. Among them, are many valuable bibliographical jewels, such as incunabula (books printed before the year 1500). These beautiful finished volumes were bound in the local workshop (Livraria) in the rocaille style.

Wikipedia entry

Alright, that’s very impressive, but marble tiles and old books do not an awesome library make. So what is it that makes this the most awesome library in the world? They have some rather unique ways of keeping the books from being damaged by insects.

These guys:


Yes. To keep books from being damaged by insects, the Mafra library uses bats. 500 of them. The bats are kept in boxes during the day but at night they are let out and eat up to double their own body weight in insects. (There is a joke here about bats eating bookworms. But let’s not). I imagine most of the time just before opening in the morning is spent herding the bats back into the boxes and cleaning up guano.

Legends tell of giant rats inhabiting the library, going out at night to hunt cats and dogs and people, and also of an underground tunnel linking the library to a small fishing resort nearby.

I imagine this is not a library I would like to spend the night in.

And finally, because I couldn’t resist, this:

Batman Librarian


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