Antonio Magliabechi: a life of booksHistorical Curiosities
Antonio Magliabechi: a life of books
The Central National Library of Florence, in Piazza Cavalleggeri, is one of the most important libraries in Italy with a collection of over 8 million volumes! The original nucleus of this prestigious collection was formed by Antonio Magliabechi, a Florentine scholar who lived between 1633 and 1714. His life story revolves around his boundless passion for books.
Orphan at the age of seven, he began working in a workshop as a young goldsmith but soon enough his thirst for knowledge led him to discover Latin and Hebrew, which he studied with passion. It didn’t take long for him to gain reputation as an intellectual, thanks to which he made important connections. This is when he began to accumulate books: asking people books as presents, exchanging and buying them. It is said that he was willing to give up anything for his books: he saved money on everything else, had no servants, made basic meals, practically dressed in rags, never married or had children and even used a pilchard as a bookmark! His fame for his ‘furor of having books and stacking them’ reached the Grand Duke Cosimo III who entrusted him with the Laurentian library and the Palatine. He was also offered an apartment but preferred to stay in his house in Via della Scala.
His house was literally full of books, piled up everywhere. Yet it is said that when asked, Magliabechi always knew how to find even the smallest book. When he died he decided to leave his precious heritage to the city: "Especially for the poor. I want a public library to be formed, especially for those who have no way of buying and studying." At this point it was necessary to find a place to put those 30,000 volumes. Teatro della Baldracca (in the brothel district) was chosen, where comedians performed and where, in 1747, one of the first public libraries was born. That first nucleus grew so much that when it reached 3 million in 1935 it was moved to its current location in Piazza Cavalleggeri. If you want to discover other stories like these, book our private guided tour discovering the secrets of Florence and listen to our guides tell you many more!
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