Austrian National Library, Vienna
The first thought that popped into my head as I walked into the State Hall of the Austrian National Library in Vienna was “Holy crap, Borges wrote about this!” The alcoves, the massive columns and elaborate frescos and rotundas, the sheer volume of books…they all recalled The Library of Babel I stood for a few moments, stunned, awed and utterly in love.
I have seen dozens of pictures of the library, read many travelogues, but nothing prepared for me for the sheer magnitude and majesty of such a massive collection of beautifully aged texts.
On display throughout the library are illuminated codeces, parchments, and scroll fragments from Europe and Eurasia. I caught myself a few times with my nose nearly pressed to the casement windows, trying to examine the details of the illustrations and brushstrokes of the text. Its a slightly embarrassing position to find yourself in as fellow visitors stroll into your personal space, but to my relief I wasn’t the only one so engrossed.
What surprised me was the way such a huge hall could smell so… cozy. Anyone who has ever walked into a library knows that old book smell. Magnify that by a several hundred years and you’ve got a room that seems somehow intimate, despite its grandiosity.
A photo of one of the back rooms of the Imperial Library (from the Lessing Archives):
I leave you with a quote from Franz Grillparzer, a poet who also begrudgingly worked as an archivist for the Imperial Library most of his adult career :
“Science and art, or by the same token, poetry and prose differ from one another like a journey and an excursion. The purpose of the journey is its goal, the purpose of an excursion is the process.”
And so it is with travelling, and so it will be with me as I continue to stride through Vienna, gleaning all that I can from it.