This Renaissance building is one of the most beautiful gems of the Eternal City and few people know about its existence and the treasures of knowledge it holds.
This magnificently fascinating hidden gem of Rome was opened in 1701 by the Dominicans of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in accordance to the will of its founder, Girolamo Casanate, and has remained the same ever since. Besides its incredible beauty, this library is absolutely awe-inspiring as it quietly holds a vast collection of Greek, Roman, Hebrew manuscripts, books, illustrations exquisitely displayed in an environment adorned with Renaissance details that will leave you breathless.
As all of the world’s most beautiful collections, the Casanatense Library was born from the passion and dedication of a man. The Cardinal Girolamo Casanate was once the Holy Church’s librarian and during those times acquired books, manuscripts and precious texts he then left to the Dominicans along with a few properties as his last will was to have them create a special library that would hold all the treasures he had acquired.
Thus, in a building adjacent to the Dominican Santa Maria Sopra Minerva convent (where Galileo Galilei’s received his sentence and where Giordano Bruno lived with the Dominicans for a time until his ideas became heretic in their eyes) and the Santa Maria Sopra Minerva church (once the location of the Temple of Minerva) a Renaissance library with high ceilings and white walls was carefully designed to preserve the heritage left behind by Girolamo Casanate.
Upon stepping into this library, you will feel like you’ve just stepped into a magical place. I serendipitously learned about this location when I was called on set one day in Via Sant’Ignazio 52, upon arriving, I discovered the scenes for the movie were to be shot in this library. The main hall will surely call to mind Harry Potter as it looks like a mix between Hogwarts and a Renaissance building with medieval chairs. Its atmosphere is so hypnotic it will have you wondering how it is possible it has remained so well hidden. Cardinal Casanate overlooks the main hall as a white marble statue of him stands as if to guide visitors. It was created by the French sculptor Pierre Legros.
On each side of the main table of the hall, two globes, maps of the world dating back to the 700s will captivate your attention due to the details painted upon them by Silvestro Amanzio Moroncelli, the best Dominican cartographer of the time. Representing the Earth (as the territory was known at the time) and the Sky (constellations and zodiac signs) each globe appears to tell a story that will surely intrigue you with its symbols. To bring them into the library the main entrance had to be altered and once it was restored to its original size the globes were unmoveable. Thankfully, they have been marvellously preserved as the Casanatense Library constantly does restoration work to keep its treasures intact and as beautiful as they were centuries ago.
Did You Know?
The main hall of the library has a secret entrance into the Basilica of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva that has been closed down and covered by a green curtain.
Each column of the library is organized to perfection and the books are still kept in the order they originally had. You will find medicinal books complete with illustrations, legal edicts and even cooking books all handmade. There truly is a whole treasure of knowledge to explore within the library. In the beginning, although open to the public, the collection was only accessible to a select few. In other words, you needed to be a royal or a famous scholar to even have a chance of accessing the texts within the library and even then, only a part of the texts was available for consultation. Nowadays, the contents of the Casanatense library have been digitized but only analyzing the digital version will have you missing out on the wonders of its astounding collections and atmosphere. From its initial 20.000 volumes left by Girolamo Casanatense, the library now holds more than 400,000 texts that will astound you with the delicate handmade details, illustrations, languaging and contents.
If you are traveling to Rome, I highly recommend a visit to this magnificent library as it makes for a beautifully enriching, memorable experience.