If there’s one library in Paris you have to visit during your stay in the French capital, it’s the Bibliothèque Saint-Geneviève (BSG for friends), set in the Latin Quarter. In one word, it’s beautiful.
This library goes way back in time, at the same time as the construction of the Abbaye Sainte-Geneviève-de-Paris by Clovis in the 6th century. Remember, we told you about this abbey and its church, the Eglise Sainte-Geneviève in our article about the story of the Eglise Saint-Etienne-du-Mont! In the 13th century, the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève expands on the last floor of the abbey and includes a copyist studio. But the Hundred Year’s War and the religious war stopped its expansion.
It’s only in the 17th century that the BSG expands and includes 600 works, at the instigation of the Cardinal de La Rouchefoucauld. Several meaningful donations come and finally increase the catalog of the library. In 1687, 20,000 items including 400 manuscripts and thousands of engravings are counted.
In the 18th century, the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève is no more reserved for the elite and archives, it opens to the public. During the Napoleonian wars, the building welcomes 20,000 new items and works taken from the enemy and becomes a national library. But it’s starting t be lots of works! So many that the library has to move from the last floor of the abbey, that is now the Lycée Henri IV, to somewhere else.
A new library is built following Henri Labrouste’s blue prints, in lieu of the former Collège de Montaigu. The construction will last from 1844 to 1851 and the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève becomes the first library in France not to be connected to a palace, an abbey or a school. Labrouste makes of the building a beautiful representation of the neo-gothic style. The outdoor is pared-down but once inside, you discover a beautiful white and black marbled-flooring in the hall, and most of all a majestic reading room on the first floor.
Drew according to the plans of a basilica, this reading room is very bright and reveals a surprising iron structure and cast-iron pillars finely chiseled. Still today, you can find students from the neighboring universities, working quietly or browsing through the 2 million documents store in the library.
But even tough you’re not a student any more, go have a look!
10 Place du Panthéon
75005 Paris 5