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most beautiful libraries

16 Of The World’s Most Beautiful Libraries

Many book lovers appreciate the sanctity of libraries, and when it comes to the world’s most beautiful libraries, you can be sure that the appreciation borders on infatuation.

While the rise of electronic devices like Kindles have made reading more accessible and brought books into the digital age — which should rightfully be celebrated — there’s little that can dim the majesty of a brilliant library.

Not all were were created equal, however, and sometimes the architecture and aesthetics manage to rival the beauty of the books within.

Looks aren’t everything, we know; but the prospect of seeking solace in a book while in some of the world’s most beautiful buildings is thrilling indeed.

Here are the 16 most beautiful libraries in the world.

1. Mortlock Wing of the State Library of South Australia

Australia

most beautiful libraries

By jonwestra (CC BY 2.0)

This wing was built in 1884 in a French renaissance style, complete with mansard roof, in the centre of Adelaide.

After a couple of redevelopments, the centrepiece of the wing is now an exhibition space dedicated to the culture and heritage of South Australia.

2. Baroque Library Hall, Clementinum

Czech Republic

most beautiful libraries

By Bruno Delzant (CC BY 2.0)

The Clementinum is a complex of historic buildings in Prague, and was once the third largest Jesuit college in the world.

The Baroque Library Hall was built in 1722 and was painted in 1727 by Josef Hiebel — the ceiling is decked with frescoes on the subjects of science and art.

3. New York Public Library

USA

most beautiful libraries

By DAVID ILIFF (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

This is the Rose Main Reading Room in the NYC Public Library on Fifth Avenue. It’s currently closed until 2017 sadly as it undergoes a rejuvenation, although it’s hoped that they will finish ahead of schedule.

The plaster ceiling here is a masterpiece.

4. State Library, Sydney

Australia

most beautiful libraries

By Christopher Chan (CC BY -ND-ND 2.0)

The oldest library in Australia and the Mitchell Wing, above, is the most beautiful — completed in 1910.

State Library as a whole is home to over 2 million books and 1.1 million photographs.

5. Stadtbibliothek Stuttgart

Germany

most beautiful libraries

By Jan Stöcklin (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Probably one of the most German buildings we’ve ever seen — clean, sharp lines and an almost clinically white palette. Here, the books and visitors provide the colour.

It was designed by Yi Architects studio back in 2011.

8. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

USA

most beautiful libraries

Lauren Manning (Creative Commons)

A library of Yale University, Beinecke was designed in 1963 with the intention of the rare books being the centre point. Hence, why they populate the core of the building.

The low light and marble panels protect the books while also lending quite a luxe vibe to the library.

9. Richelieu Building, Bibliothèque Nationale de France

France

most beautiful libraries

By Zubro (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The National Library of France holds all French publications and has origins dating back to the 14th Century and Charles V.

The Richelieu building dates back to the 19th century. There are three other Parisian sites belonging to the library, with around 14 million books in total.

10. Old Library, Trinity College

Ireland

most beautiful libraries

By DAVID ILIFF (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

This is the Long Room of Dublin’s beautiful Trinity College library. It’s 65 metres long and home to 200,000 of the building’s oldest books and manuscripts. It was built in the early 18th century.

As well as some beaut wood panelling, the room is lined with marble busts of various patrons of the college — mostly philosophers and writers.

11. Jay Walker’s Private Library

USA

most beautiful libraries

By Aaron “tango” Tang (CC BY 2.0)

Described by Wired as “the most amazing library in the worl,” Priceline.com founder Walker’s private library is pretty beautiful.

Rare books, pop culture memorabilia and historic items can all be found here — including a list of plague deaths from 1665 and a sputnik.

12. Abbey Library of Saint Gall

Switzerland

most beautiful libraries

By Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen (Creative Commons)

Now a World Heritage Site, the library was the only part of the Abbey to survive a fire in 937, and now houses the oldest collection in Switzerland,

It was originally founded by Abbey founder Saint Othmar, and was designed in its current Rococo style by Peter Thumb. In situ manuscripts date back to the 8th century.

13. Bodleian Library

UK

most beautiful libraries

By DAVID ILIFF (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Probably the most famous library in the world, Oxford University’s beloved ‘Bod’ is home to 12 million items.

Above is the Duke Humphrey’s Library — the oldest reading room that dates back to 1487. It’s primarily for maps, music and rare books pre-1641. It’s named after Humphrey of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Gloucester, a son of Henry IV.

14. San Francisco Monastery Library

Peru

most beautiful libraries

By dgphilli (Creative Commons)

Home to 25,000 works of incredible rarity and value from the 15th to the 18th centuries. The building was completed in 1672.

15. Wiblingen Abbey Library

Germany

most beautiful libraries

By Christopher (Creative Commons)

The former Benedictine abbey was completed in 1744 in the baroque style, although was functioning long before that as a centre of learning and excellence, in strict adherence to St Benedict.

The library was designed by Christian Wiedemann and is now open to the public.

16. William Randolph Hearst’s Private Library

USA

most beautiful libraries

By Trey Ratcliff (Creative Commons)

Hearst Castle in California is home to a beautiful library and this, the gothic study, where media magnate Hearst carried out much of his business.

The library is home to over 4,000 books, as well as countless antiques and works of art. 150 Ancient Greek vases are also in evidence.

 

What have we missed?

bangkok book clubs

Bangkok Book Clubs

Love reading but fancy making it more sociable? Easy — just sign up to one of the many Bangkok book clubs.

As you’d expect in such a big city, there are a large handful of book clubs for English speakers, reading all manner of tomes from Austen to the latest in ASEAN political discourse.

Here we’ve listed the best of them – take a look and see which one piques your interest. Each club’s Meetup page is linked to in the headings.

Bangkok Book Club

This is the largest book club in Bangkok, with over 900 Meetup members at the last count. We can only assume that a much smaller proportion actually attend the monthly meetings.

The club meets at Hemingway’s on Sukhumvit Soi 14 and is known for being a relaxed and friendly environment.

Novels are the order of the day here, with recent discussion focusing on The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Better Read Than Dead

This brilliantly named book club again meets every month, this time at The Admiral’s pub on Sukhumvit Soi 24.

Books to be discussed are voted for in advance by members who are given a choice of three, with the main criterion being that it must have “stood the test of time”.

Previous books include Atonement by Ian McEwan, Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene, and The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid.

bangkok book clubs

By Alper Çuğun (CC BY 2.0)

The Lit Society

This is a quasi-intellectual gathering with the intention to discuss themes like writing style, genre, socioeconomic trends and what’s in the zeitgeist, with the focus on a particular book.

The Lit Society meets on the first Tuesday of every month and each month a book is chosen by a different member, who then serves as that month’s host. That person will prepare questions and some introductory material, as well as leading the discussion.

Book choices range widely anywhere between fiction, poetry, cognitive science, archaeology and more. Past choices have included How to Pass as Human and Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. 

ASEAN Critical Reading and Discussion

This group meets regularly to read and discuss 100 Ideas that Changed the World by Time Magazine at a location in Laksi.

Native English and intermediate ESL speakers are welcome to attend in these sessions lead by Steven Sills, a teacher of advanced critical reading, writing, American literature and conversation for ASEAN classes at Ramkhamhaeng University.

Previous sessions have examined the journey from animism to polytheism to monotheism in Egypt, then replicated by Judaism; the creation of a rudimentary geometry in Ancient Egypt; and the Buddhist heaven or Nirvana.

bangkok book clubs

A rather French looking book club (By Bart Everson CC BY 2.0)

Silent Reading Party

Not quite your traditional book club in any sense, these bi-weekly meetings invite readers to drink together and read to themselves — no book discussions or mandated book!

Previous locations have included Mikkeller in Phra Khanong, the SkyTrain Jazz Bar at Victory Monument and Dexter Cafe.

They haven’t been active for a while according to their Meetup profile so feel free to give them a nudge.

Dr Wayne Dyer’s Mastermind Study Group

Definitely something of a specialist study group, members study and share the teachings of Dr Wayne Dyer – described as an influential leader in spiritual consciousness and self-motivation – through books, audio and video.

Previous topics have included mind mastery and how to propagate positive mental thoughts.

Again, this looks as though it may need a nudge or for someone new to step in and take over the helm.

 

There are also plenty of writing workshops and meet-up groups in Bangkok, which I’ll document soon too.

Featured image is by Louis de Mont (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

quotes on bangkok

11 Of The Most Brilliant Quotes About Bangkok

Bangkok’s exotic allure has inspired writers for generations.

The city is often described as an ‘attack on the senses’.

Smells, colours, noise.

Visiting foreign writers have captured these primal reactions we have to the city since they first started visiting – back in the late 19th Century.

Of course, not all of them loved Bangkok — far from it — and complaints about smells, soi dogs and laziness are commonplace. Colonial attitudes at this point viewed the native Thais as ‘other’ and some of their comments by today’s standards would probably be considered racist.

Nevertheless, much positive has also been said about Bangkok over the years too.

Here are 13 of the most on-the-nose, witty and evocative quotes about brilliant Bangkok.

1. Ernest Young on Chinatown

The Kingdom of the Yellow Robe, 1898

The one truly native quarter is a long narrow bazaar known as Sampeng…

At night, the shops are closed, but the gambling houses, opium-dens, and brothers are thronged by the lowest of the low.

2. Todd Phillips

When discussing filming The Hangover II

Bangkok, like Las Vegas, sounds like a place where you make bad decisions.

quotes on bangkok

By Conrad (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

3. Bernard Kalb

From The New York Times in 1961

Bangkok, though, is a rejuvenating tonic; the people seem to have found the magic elixir. Life, a visitor feels, has not been wasted on the Thais.

4. Noël Coward

From the song Mad Dogs & Englishmen in 1929

In Bangkok at twelve o’clock they foam at the mouth and run,

But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

quotes on bangkok

By Roberto Saltori (CC BY-NC 2.0)

5. Ludovic Marquis de Beauvoir

On the Chao Phraya River from A Week in Siam in 1867

Behind a bend of the Maenam, the entire town of Bangkok appeared in sight. I do not believe that there is a sight in the world more magnificent or more striking. This Asiatic Venice…

6. Jean-Georges Vongerichten

From Asian Flavors of Jean-Georges in 2007

I landed in 1980 in Bangkok, and I stopped to eat ten times between the airport and the hotel. It was all lemongrass and ginger and chilies.

quotes on bangkok

By Tore Bustad (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

7. Captain GJ Younghusband

Speaking in 1888

There is no medium in Siam; it is either gorgeously gilded palaces and fantastically adorned temples, or filthy looking huts.

8. Joseph Conrad

From The Shadow Line in 1915

There it was, spread largely on both banks, the Oriental capital which had yet suffered no white conqueror…

quotes on bangkok

By Juan Antonio F. Segal (CC BY 2.0)

9. The Otago Witness

A New Zealand newspaper which ran from 1851 to the early 20th Century. In 1894

It is pre-eminently a place for mosquitoes, smells, Chinese pawnshops, wild dogs…

10. William Burton

From The New York Times in 1937

Siam conforms to occidental notions of what the East should be. There is an attitude of lotus-eating languor, and any show of zeal in work that may be observed is by Chinese immigrants.

quotes on bangkok

By Ahron de Leeuw (CC BY 2.0)

11. Eric Read

From Chequered Leaves in 1913

‘When you ain’t being slowly grilled at a thousand in the shade, you are sousing in floods, or the house is falling about your devoted ears in a thunderstorm …

‘There is a filthy old river, the colour of milk chocolate, flavoured with the juices of countless defunct and deeply lamented household pets, and one’s servants consider this liquid such sacred nectar that they will wash your socks in it, and then make your tea with the same…

‘Otherwise, of course, the place is all right.’

 

Featured image: Mike Behnken (CC BY-ND 2.0)

oriental hotel bangkok

The Authors And The History That Made The Legend Of The Oriental Bangkok

The Oriental Hotel — forever known as the Grand Dame of the Chao Phraya — was Thailand’s first hotel.

Now part of the Mandarin Oriental chain and widely regarded as one of the best hotels in Asia, if not the world, the Oriental is a true Bangkok treasure.

History

It was originally built in the late 18th Century, before being developed into a luxury hotel by Danish businessman Hans Niels Anderson in 1881.

It opened in 1887 with such elegance — unrivalled in Bangkok at the time — that it was compared to a royal palace. It first entertained royalty in 1891 with the future Tsar Nicholas, Crown Prince Nicholas of Russia.

oriental hotel bangkok

After the construction of the River Wing in the 1970s (Mandarin Oriental)

It was used as a officers’ club by the Japanese army during World War II and then to house liberated Allied POWs at the conclusion of the war.

Following the war, the Oriental had a few changes of hands and sought to regain her former glory. The famed Bamboo Bar opened in the 1940s and the Garden Wing was built in 1958, complete with celebrated French restaurant, Le Normandie, and Bangkok’s first lift.

oriental hotel bangkok

The Authors’ Wing now (Mandarin Oriental)

It was bought by the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group in 1974 and is now widely regarded as the best hotel in the city, and is a favourite amongst visiting celebrities.

Literary heritage

Not only is it notable for its age and pedigree, but the many authors who have based themselves out of the Oriental during their time in Siam is legendary.

The Authors’ Wing is the only part of the original building still standing and it holds the richest literary heritage.

oriental hotel bangkok

The Graham Greene Suite (Mandarin Oriental)

Over the years, it has been graced by the following:

  • Somerset Maugham, who suffered with malaria during his stay
  • John Le Carré, who finished The Honourable Schoolboy here
  • Joseph Conrad
  • Noel Coward
  • Graham Greene
  • Victor Hugo
  • Henrik Ibsen
  • Leo Tolstoy
  • Thomas Hardy
  • Henry James
  • Oscar Wilde
  • Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • Evelyn Waugh
  • James Michener
  • Barbara Cartland
  • George Orwell
  • Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • Rudyard Kipling
  • George Bernard Shaw
  • Maxim Gorky

It’s continually immortalised in literature — from Maugham writing about his bout of malaria to the plethora of travel blogs written on it today — and will always be an important part of Bangkok’s history.

Coward said in 1929 of the hotel,

It is a lovely place and I am fonder of it than ever.

Maugham wrote in A Gentleman in the Parlour in 1930 about his hotel-bound malaria:

I lay there panting and sleepless, and shapes of monstrous pagodas and great gilded Buddhas bore down on me. Those wooden rooms with their verandahs made every sound frightfully audible to my tortured ears …

Modern Updates

The Authors’ Wing was revamped recently for the hotel’s 140th birthday celebrations; one of the updates was to create a huge, six-bedroom Grand Royal Suite.

At 6,500 square feet, this suite also contains a dining room to sit 12, private spa and gym and a sunroom.

oriental hotel bangkok

The Authors’ Wing then (Mandarin Oriental)

In the hotel at large, there are a total of eight bars and restaurants, including Le Normandie and the Bamboo Bar, and the beautiful Authors’ Lounge, which offers a scrumptious afternoon tea.

oriental hotel bangkok

The Authors’ Lounge now (Mandarin Oriental)

But while the building has been updated and the decor revamped, the spirit of the Oriental, looking out over the twists of the Chao Phraya, has stayed the same — luxury and history steeped in rich literary tradition.

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