As you may have understood from some previous posts, I participate in an international voluntary guiding program, “Greeters”, with its Paris branch “Parisien d’un Jour”. You can click on the logo in the sidebar to read more about it. One nice thing with this is also that sometimes we meet between colleagues and make some more close visits to certain places. This happened again last week, when we made a tour of the Bibliothèque (Library) Sainte Geneviève.
The building was constructed around 1850 on plans made well before and must have been considered quite revolutionary for its architecture, using iron in a prominent, visible way, and with some pre-tendencies towards “art nouveau”. The architect, Henri Labrouste, also a few years later created the oval reading room at the National Library (see previous post). The Sainte Geneviève Library is on two levels, the first one being for storage and offices and the second being completely occupied by a very large reading room. It’s an academic (Sorbonne) but also public library with some two million volumes available.
This library took over the collections, partly from the 12th century, from what originally was the library of the nearby Sainte-Geneviève Abbey, for long considered as the third European library (after the Vatican and Bodleian Library of Oxford), although a large part of the collections were dispersed during the 16th century.
With the Revolution and the following decades, this area, which is one with a very long history and where the Roman Forum once was installed was radically transformed. The abbey, to a large part in ruins was closed, the abbey church was demolished and replaced by what today is Rue Clovis, part of the abbey buildings became a school, today Lycée Henri IV, where however the library survived until the collections could be moved to the present Library building, opened in 1851 (after a short period also in another college - de Montaigu, just in front of the present Library, also demolished). The major transformation was of course the construction during the latter part of the 18th century of what was supposed to be a new Sainte-Geneviève Church, but today is a Pantheon (see previous post). The beautiful Saint-Etienne-du-Mont Church survived (see previous post). If you are interested, I made some plans to illustrate the changes between a 1739 map and today, which you can find at the end of this post.
The façade of the Sainte-Geneviève Library is covered with hundreds of names and the entrance hall has a number of busts of authors and scientists, of which the works are to found in the Library. Walking up the stairs, you can find a replica of Raphael’s Vatican painting “The School of Athens”.
As we can see, the large reading room has hardly changed over the years. One difference is that the tables have changed direction, to allow more space for visitors, some 600. Most of the tables and many chairs are there from the very beginning.
We also got the opportunity to have a look on the office and storage space on the first floor, including the office of the Chief Librarian.
On a table of donators, I could read the Swedish / Norwegian government (countries unified 1814-1905), two Swedish universities (Uppsala and Lund), some Danish and Swedish editors… I suppose that that is the reason why you can find a very rich collection of Nordic literature in an annex (not visited this time).
We made our visit early in the morning. When we left just before 10am, we could see the line of visitors queuing up.
… and, as promised, some plans of Place de Panthéon and its immediate surroundings in 1739 and today.