Finland’s National Library, previously known as Helsinki University Library, is the country’s oldest and biggest scientific library. Located at the Senate Square, the light yellow building houses Finland’s largest library collection of over a hundred kilometres of books inside its skilfully designed walls. The library is not only the gatekeeper of Finland’s cultural heritage, but it also has the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection chronicling the Russian Empire.
The main library building is a landmark of early-19th century Empire architecture, and it is designed by the renowned architect C.L. Engel (1778–1840). He was a German architect who had a great impact on Finnish architecture in the early 19th century. Engel designed, for example, the majestic Senate Square and Helsinki Cathedral as well as Helsinki City Hall. The National Library’s main building dates back to 1840.
Engel’s foremost aim when designing the library building was, logically, fire safety, which is emphasised by the sturdy halls and rooms covered with arches. The façade and the interiors combine motifs from Classicism and references to the ancient world. In fact, the layout of the library halls can be derived from the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s bathhouses.
Corinthian columns create a majestic feel to the library, and the façades bring to mind Classical temple architecture. From the entrance, you can directly reach the core of the building, the magnificent Cupola Hall, and then continue to the Art Nouveau Rotunda annexe that dates from 1906. The reading rooms and other halls are all connected to the Cupola Hall, and the columns are coated with stucco marble.
The National Library and the entire Senate Square were designed to emphasise Finland’s connection with Russia. Nowadays, the Square is one of Helsinki’s most breathtaking sights with straight lines, symmetrical rows of white columns, and pastel-coloured Empire-style buildings dominate the view. The majestic Helsinki Cathedral rises highest of them all. By stepping into the National Library, you will also step back in time – to an era dominated by grand ideas that were executed with imaginative, architectural sophistication.