Global Conference in Prague, 2023 News Top Travel

Baroque Library is Prague’s literary heaven

The Baroque Library. (Naz Mergen/YJI)

PRAGUE – Walking into the second floor of the Clementinum Astronomical Tower and Baroque Library, visitors are greeted by a corridor that leads to the magnificent library, which boasts a collection of 27,000 books, most of them in Latin. 

Viktorie Goldmannová/YJI Click on the image to read more ‘Postcards from Prague.’

One of the most interesting things about the Clementinum Astronomical Tower is that the building stands as a testament to the scientific discoveries that have served the public since its construction, and still serves them to this day. 

The tower makes an appearance in Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Secret Miracle.” In the short story, the protagonist has a dream in which they find themselves within the Clementinum library, witnessing librarians fervently searching for God amidst its vast collection of books.

Youth Journalism International students toured the Clementinum, marveled at its library and climbed its tower as part of the 2023 Global Conference in Prague.

The first floor’s walls were almost completely covered with pictures of the moon, which seems ordinary, as it is an astronomical tower. Then it came as a surprise to learn that these were the first pictures ever taken of the moon.

The earliest photos of the moon are at the Clementinum in Prague. (Anjola Fashawe/YJI)

The Baroque Library on the second floor was built by the architect Kilian Ignaz Dietzenhofer and finished by 1726, according to Clementinum guide Krystof Komoly.

Academics – especially astronomers – would reunite in this building to study and talk about their thoughts and theories. What’s interesting about this building is that the Baroque Library is also the National Library of the Czech Republic.

All of the books published in Czech have been stored here. It’s an integral part of preserving Czech culture, Komoly said. 

Some of the oldest and most unique books in the world are inside this beautiful room. The oldest book they have is an Egyptian manuscript from the third century, while the heaviest is a 75-kilogram book filled with Catholic songs, according to Komoly.

An astrological book at the Clementinum. (Regina López/YJI)

The Clementinum also shelters 4,000 incunables, meaning 4,000 books that were printed 50 years after printing was invented. In total, the library contains three million books.

The Jesuits began the construction of the Clementinum. Every detail of the insides of the building was set up with the purpose of spreading knowledge and the Catholic faith.

On the ceiling, angels are painted in a way that it looks like they’re peeking into the books, but you can also see little drawings of fire.

The ceiling. (Viktorie Goldmannová/YJI)

According to guide Krystof Komoly, fire was a symbol of knowledge, so they considered fire a gift from God that needed to be shared.

Every space of every shelf, of every column, was filled with books, which need to be in a specific light and temperature.

Visitors cannot enter the library, but you are allowed to take a peek into this literary heaven. 

In the heavenly painting on the ceiling there’s a little inscription in Latin that reads, Scientia non habet hostem nisi ignorantem, which means, “Knowledge doesn’t have enemies except ignorance.”

Compasses, magnetic needles and other instruments on display at the Clementinum Astrological Tower. (Norah Springborn/YJI)

Every single part of the tower was built to serve the community.

The third floor just has an artifact whose whole purpose was to give people the time. From 1892 to 1927 people would gather outside of the tower and wait in the street to set the time in their clocks by this device.

In 1925, the radio started broadcasting the time.

In 1723, the Clementinum Astronomical Tower became the first museum in Prague and the Czech Republic. The academics at the time realized they had a magnificent collection of measuring devices which they wanted to show to the public. 

Every country’s history includes some violence and a bit of tragedy, including the history of the beautiful city of Prague.

But then you find these hidden gems in the history of humanity which are meant to show you that not always everything was – and is – as bad as we might think.

Regina López is a Senior Correspondent with Youth Journalism International from Mexico. She is a co-author of this news story and contributed a photo.

Usraat Fahmidah is a Senior Reporter with Youth Journalism International from Bangladesh. She is a co-author of this news story.

Reporter Naz Mergen and Senior Correspondent Bilge Güven of Türkiye, Reporter Viktorie Goldmannová of Czechia, Senior Correspondent Norah Springborn of the United States and Senior Reporter Anjola Fashawe of the United Kingdom contributed photos.

From left, Regina López, Holly Hostettler-Davies, Bilge Güven, Anne van Mill, Ana Fadul, Anjola Fahawe, Usraat Fahmidah, Joanne Yau and Arooj Khalid at the Baroque Library.

Read more from YJI’s ‘Postcards from Prague’ series about the 2023 Global Conference.

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