I have a small confession to make. On my first trip to Vienna, I tried to find this mythical library. It was meant to be the most beautiful thing a bibliophile could ever bear witness to. But I…couldn’t find the door. And by the time I did, it was closed for the day. No chance.
This time I was hell-bent on discovering the State Hall of the Austrian National Library—and discover it we did.
State Hall of the Austrian National Library in Photos
Photos don’t really do the Austrian National Library justice. The shelves ascend into an incredible fresco’ed ceiling. Everything is warm and woody, with gilt accents catching the sun through the high windows. Of course, it’s a national library and public space—but imagine it being your own. Through in a few thick rugs, a few deep sofas, a hot pot of tea, and Heidi at my feet, and I think I’d never leave.
Once the surprise and delight from the space wore down, I started looking at the books themselves. The exhibits are beautifully curated and fascinating. Most center on the life of Emperor Maximilian, “The Great Hapsburg”, who is celebrating his 500th death day this year. He reigned during the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, and the exhibits focus on the way his education bridged those two eras. I loved this illustration of hand-to-hand combat techniques.
As someone obsessed with stars and cosmos, I also loved the section dedicated to the court’s astrology practices. The image on the left, below, is a handwritten astrological prediction (ahem, horoscope) for 1482. The center is a stunning illustration of the star signs, and the last shows the earth surrounded by different spheres, starting with the elements.
This book really made me chuckle: it’s Emperor Maximilian’s natal chart. For those who don’t know, a natal chart is a map of where all the major planets and astral bodies were located at the time you were born. Astrologers can then analyze and interpret those placements to give indications about your life and personality. The court astrologer apparently complained about how stressful it was to do the horoscope of the reigning ruler. Man, I feel you. It is….an inexact science. 😉
We spent easily an hour in the State Hall, poring over the old books and relishing the magic of this old and beautiful place. If you love libraries, books, and the smell of old leather, this better be on your Vienna itinerary!