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The Royal Portuguese Reading Room (Real Gabinete Portugues da Leitura) is truly a hidden gem in Rio de Janeiro’s city center. Despite receiving on average 150 visitors a day, it is all but ignored in the tourist itineraries of places to visit within the city. Yet for beauty and culture, this place of architectural genius and history is one of the best spots in the city center to go.
The library was founded in 1837 by a group of 43 Portuguese immigrants who wanted to promote culture throughout the Portuguese community living in the Brazilian empire. However, the construction didn’t actually begin until several decades later in 1880 by Portuguese architect Rafael da Silva.
The library was constructed in a neo-manueline style with a limestone exterior decorated with the statues of Pedro Alvares Cabral, Luis de Camoes, Infante D. Henrique and Vasco da Gama, four Portuguese explorers of the past. The outside is beautiful, yet it is the inside that is truly magnificent.
The reading room has large galleries and a stained glass dome with an ancient cathedral feel. The floor to ceiling wooden bookcases are filled with the largest collection of Portuguese works outside of Portugal, with a total of 350,000 volumes of both national and foreign books.
The reading rooms protect some rare pieces, such as an edition of Princeps by Os Lusiadas de Camõesfrom 1572 and As Ordenações by D. Manuel from 1521. Each year, the library receives approximately 6,000 additional titles from Portugal to add to its collection. It also houses some significant paintings from artists such as Jose Malhoa, Carlos Reis, Oswaldo Teixeira, Eduardo Malta and Henrique Medina.
In July 2014, it was voted the 4th most beautiful library in the world by Time. With the appearance of being frozen in time yet simultaneously alive with the history and tales of the last few centuries, it is little wonder that it is celebrated for its beauty and immense cultural value.