First, due homage to the guys at the source of this post: One of my favorite websites is put together by Joshua Foer and Dylan Thuras who produce something called Atlas Obscura. Always fascinating, their latest offering includes a page on the secret libraries of Rome. Among those “secrets” The Bibliotheca Hertziana instantly grabbed my attention.
Palazzo Zuccari is a 16th-century building in Rome located near the Spanish Steps at the crossroads of via Sistina and via Gregoriana. The house once belonged baroque painters, Taddeo and Frederico Zuccari who started work on the house in 1590. Two years into construction of the palazzo they decided that both door and windows would be designed as huge gaping mouths, and the ground floor of the house painted in frescoes.
In the early years of the twentieth century a German woman with a love of art arrived in Rome with the idea of establishing a library to encourage research and study of the city’s ancient and modern treasures. Her name was Henrietta Hertz and she came with the support of a wealthy German industrialist who helped to acquire the Palazzo Zuccari situated in the heart of Rome. Hertz began putting together a collection of books on Italian art as a private library. The Bibliotheca Hertziana welcomed its first art historians and research scholars in 1912.
Still owned by the German government, today the library’s collection includes 300,000 books and 800,000 photos on the history of Italian art and architecture. In addition, researchers have access to computers at eighty work stations with a view out over the rooftops of Rome.
The Bibliotheca Hertziana is probably the only library in the world with a front door shaped like a giant mouth, where inside the Bibliotheca Hertziana, visitors step into a modern glass-walled atrium with white marble floors displaying three floors of open-stack shelves. Upon entering the library, the sharp contrast with its entrance and the surrounding architecture is quite the surprise.