The Biblioteca Vallicelliana is almost hidden, its entrance located through a mundane door in the façade of baroque maestro Francesco Borromini’s Chiesa Nuova, not far from Piazza Navona.
One of those shallow ceremonial stairways that unfortunately are no longer common leads to the library started by Saint Filippo Neri, the founder of the Congregation of Orators in 1575 and an avid bibliophile who put reading, study, and music at the center of his religious practice.
This was one of Rome’s first libraries built for public use, and the first in the world to stack books one on top of another vertically due to the invention of the printing press.
Its collection includes books banned by the Catholic Church, as well as a bible owned by Charlemagne.
The main reading room today is lined by wooden stacks with a creaky wooden floor, where people come to study the library’s manuscripts and archaeological texts.
Take a peek at the Sala Monumentale, across the hall from the main reception desk.
Designed by Borromini himself and dating from 1644, this huge, high-ceilinged room is lined with two-story wooden stacks, which hide a spiral staircase in each corner that leads to the upper level.