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Madrid's Biblioteca Nacional   | © Biblioteca Nacional de España
Madrid's Biblioteca Nacional | © Biblioteca Nacional de España
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A Brief History of the Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid's National Library

Picture of Lori Zaino
Updated: 22 March 2017
The Biblioteca Nacional, is a public library that is not only the largest in Spain, but the world. It houses over 26 million items, which extend beyond books, to include magazines, maps, drawings, stamps, photographs, newspapers and more. It is home to some extremely famous and valuable antique books from authors such as Barbieri, Usoz, Gayangos, Gómez Imaz, Graiño and of course, the famous Miguel Cervantes, author of Don Quijote.

The library was built back in 1712, but actually started off as a Palace Library, called the Biblioteca Pública de Palacio. The library become public and the name was changed to the Biblioteca Nacional in 1836.

Madrid locals using the library back in the day | © Biblioteca Nacional de España
Madrid locals using the library back in the day | © Biblioteca Nacional de España

During the Spanish Civil War, the library was closed, and many of its most valuable books and works were moved to Valencia. The exterior of the library was damaged during the war, but fortunately, the precious books and volumes that were left housed inside were not. Also many private works were confiscated from families, churches and palaces during the war and stored inside the library. Some were not returned after the war, so one could argue that the library is home to several “stolen” works, a matter of some controversy.

The facade of Madrid's Biblioteca Nacional | © Jean-Pierre Dalbéra/Wikipedia
The facade of Madrid’s Biblioteca Nacional | © Jean-Pierre Dalbéra / WikiCommons

In 1986, many of Spain’s most important media was also sent over to the National Library from the Newspaper Library, the Bibliographic Institute and Center for Documenty and Bibliographic treasures, making the library home to pretty much every national document, book, newspaper and manuscript of importance within Spain.

As the library was home to so many items and continued to grow, another building was constructed in the 1990s to house some of the works, in Alcalá de Henares, a nearby suburb of Madrid.

Nowadays, the library provides important resources for the public, a quiet place to study or browse and hosts a variety of different events such as concerts, special exhibitions and workshops. You can take guided tours of the library on Tuesdays and Fridays at 5:00 pm (you must sign up here in advance) or Wednesdays and Thursdays at 10:00 or Saturdays at 12:00 pm (you must sign up here in advance).