The Laurentian Library
Built in a cloister of the Basilica of San Lorenzo there is one of Florence’s invaluable treasures: The Medici Laurentian Library.
The complex was designed by Michelangelo Buonarroti in 1519 for the cardinal Giulio de Medici, who later became Pope Clement VII. Michelangelo supervised the works in person until 1534, when he had to leave Florence after he had took part in the establishment of the Republic betraying the Medici family. He then continued to give instructions from Rome sending plans and drawings to those who had picked up his work, among whom we find Tribolo, Vasari and Ammannati.
In 1558 he sent the model in clay for the big wooden staircase he had designed for the vestibule, but in the end Cosimo I decided to build it in pietra serena, a type of stone typical of the Tuscan architecture.
The vestibule is a squared space with a 14-meters high ceiling that originally should have been topped by a skylight, but Clement VII believed the project was too modern so Michelangelo had to raise the walls to make it possible to open windows that ensured the entrance of light from above.
From the vestibule one can access the long reading room with wooden desks and ceiling, beautiful inlaid floor and glass windows made by a Flemish manufactory following a design by Vasari.
The construction works of the library ended in 1571, and since then the library has been housing one of the main collections of manuscripts of the world.
Amongst the treasures of the Laurentian Library are some of the most ancient and unique manuscripts in the world such as complete collection of works by Virgil, the autograph manuscript of the Vita di Benvenuto Cellini, the Codex Amiatinus which contains the earliest surviving manuscript of the Latin Vulgate Bible and the vastest collection of Egyptian papyri in Italy.
On the desks the manuscripts, subdivided according to the subject, were stored in the lower shelves and secured with solid chains to allow the consultation.
This arrangement was preserved until the early XX century, when the books were transferred to the storage rooms.
The Laurentian Library remains one of the most important sources of ancient manuscripts in the world, a place where time has stopped to allow all this knowledge to reach us, intact, preserved as the most precious of treasures in the spectacular coffer built by Michelangelo.
Open: Monday, Wednesday, Friday 8am-2pm; Tuesday, Thursday 8am-5.30pm.