Coming in the Bibliothèque Richelieu is like walking through the history of France. The origin of this library goes way back to the 18th century, a time during which the Palais Mazarin was in the middle of Paris.
Since 1721, the so-called palace has been housing the Bibliothèque Royale, that houses – at the instigation of Abbé Bignon – five departments (Manuscripts, Engravings, Titles, Medals and Prints). Collections are scattered in several hotels (Hotel de Nevers, Hotel de Lambert) and several galleries (Galerie Neuve, Galerie Mazarine) that constitute the Palais Mazarin.
Under Napoleon III, the Bibliothèque Royal is said to need even more space – even though it already takes over all the Palais Mazarin buildings – even the Treasure and the Bourse. Since the Napoleonian wars, the city’s libraries such as the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève indeed house the many books and works of all genres that have been taken to the ennmy.
It is decided that the Bibliothèque Royal should be expanded and it’s Henri Labrouste, the architect behind the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, who’s picked up in 1854 to carry the work out. The bill of specifications plans to expand and modernize the whole while keeping as much as possible the different buildings of the Palais Mazarin.
In the 1860’s, the architect builds the wonderful salle Labrouste in which the architect plays with metal, glass and earthenware and created a stunning ceiling inspired by the Byzantine cupolas, the main store and its beautiful metal structure lit with a zenithal glass roof and the Richelieu wing. He also restores the galerie Mazarine.
We must say that the architect didn’t really try to keep the original premises. He’s politely thanked, and a new architect comes after him: Jean Louis Pascal.
From 1878 to the late 19th century, Pascal restores the façade, modernizes the Cottte wing, builds the Manuscripts reading room and enhances it with Louis XV woodworks, brought from the Hotel de Nevers. We also owe him the Salle Ovale, the second largest room in the library. This beautiful room shaped like an amphitheater and with huge dimensions is bathed with light from the glass roof.
In 1912, Jean-Louis Pascal leaves the project and his assistant Alfred Recoura steps in. Recoura is entrusted with fitting the Salle Ovale, the Cabinet des Médailles and a new Louis XV lounge. He’s also the one who puts a heating system and electricity into the library.
You get it, the Bibliothèque Richlieu has been between many expert hands and it’s an architectural gem you have to visit! Moreover, it has reopened in 2017 after several years of renovation works!
Note that during the second half of the 20th century, collections keep on expanding, it becomes hard to stock them all within the Bibliothèque Richelieu. It is decided then to take them to a new place: the Bibliothèque François Mitterand!
BnF - site Richelieu
58 rue de Richelieu
75002 Paris 2