Bibliothèque Nationale Opens Historical Richelieu Site

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Bibliothèque Nationale Opens Historical Richelieu Site
This weekend (17th /18th September) marks the end of a 10-year restoration project in Paris, and a moment fitting for a capital and a country where égalité is such a keynote. From now on, the beautiful Richelieu location of the National Library, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, will be open to all, not, as previously, just to academics and professional researchers. The public will enjoy free entry to use the reading rooms and admire the stunning architecture and, for a small entry cost, also be able to view the historic treasures in the library’s collection, some of which date back to the Middle Ages. And all of this is to be found a stone’s throw from the Palais Royal. And what historical riches will be on display, representing every era from antiquity to modern times. Headline treasures include the throne of Dagobert, the 7th-century king of the Franks, and a chessboard which belonged to Charlemagne, who became the first Holy Roman Emperor in the year 800. Among the many precious books in the collection are an illuminated Psalter, or book of psalms, which belonged to Louis IX, the only French king to be sainted, and, from the 15th century, an original Gutenberg bible, the first “mass-produced” printed book, only about 50 of which are still in existence today. Detail of the Oval room © Elie Ludwig/BnF This site, known as the Bibliothèque Nationale Richelieu, is in fact only one of the National Library’s main sites, the other being the François Mitterrand Library in the 13th. The Richelieu building has been sensitively renovated, celebrating the various architectural styles. It was originally a palace for Cardinal Mazarin in the early years of Louis XIV’s reign and some of the 17th-century building remains. You can also see the sumptuously decorated Salon Louis XV, with its royal portraits, chandeliers and 18th-century furniture. Then there is the stunning Salle Ovale, a huge oval reading room begun in the late 19th century in an elegant Art Nouveau style with arched recesses housing the bookshelves and a stunning 18-meter, glass-paneled roof, similar in style to those of the city’s elegant covered passages dating from the same era. The restoration work © Jean-Christophe Ballot / BnF / Oppic A research pass will be necessary for entry to some of the specialist library facilities, but the imposing Salle Ovale will have free access for all, whether they wish to just admire the grand décor, to browse the shelves or to settle at one of the 160 reading desks. There will be 20,000 books available here, covering France’s heritage and history, with works such as Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables or Pascal’s Pensées representing, say the librarians, “fundamental moments from French literature and thought.” But it’s not all about relics from the past, precious though they certainly are. For here you will also be able to consult a collection of bandes dessinées, the genre of words-and-pictures literature for which France is world-renowned. There are digital facilities too, such as the opportunity for a virtual try-on of costumes from bygone eras.

Lead photo credit : Rue Vivienne entrance © Élie Ludwig / BnF

More in Bibliothèque Nationale de France, BNF Restoration, BNF Restoration Completed, Reopening of the BNF

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Recently retired from teaching Modern Languages (French and German), Marian now has time to develop her interests in travel and European culture and history. She will be in Paris as often as she can, visiting places old and new, finding out their stories and writing it all up as soon as she gets home. Marian also runs the weekly podcast series, City Breaks, offering in-depth coverage of popular city break destinations, with lots of background history and cultural information. She has covered Paris in 22 episodes but looks forward to updating the series every now and then with some Paris Extra episodes.


  • Michael E. Schnur
    2022-09-27 05:06:39
    Michael E. Schnur
    Thank you for such interesting and helpful information. You have enriched my stays in Paris which I am again visiting!


    • Marian Jones
      2022-09-28 10:43:24
      Marian Jones
      Thank you very much for your kind comment. I love to know that people use the pieces when visiting Paris. All the best for an enjoyable next visit!