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.
Image Credit: Photograph by Adrian Petrisor
Tre Cime landscape
An incredible shot of the atmosphere and light at sunset in the Dolomite Mountains of Italy.
LIFE considers the phenomenal edifice through a single picture: Dmitri Kessel’s classic 1948 portrait of La Dame de Fer as seen on a winter’s day.
The popular French writer Guy de Maupassant (1850 – 1893) reportedly ate lunch in the Eiffel Tower’s restaurant every day for years — not because he loved the great iron monument but because, so the story goes, it was the only place in Paris where he could sit and not see the tower itself.
Maupassant, like countless French artists and aestheticians of the late 19th century, despised Gustave Eiffel‘s creation, seeing it as a vulgar eyesore and a blight on their beloved Parisian skyline.
Whatever. For the rest of the world, the Eiffel Tower is and has long been one of the singular architectural emblems anywhere on earth: a formidable, graceful, soaring structure that connotes Paris as surely and as indelibly as the Empire State Building, Il Duomo, Hagia Sophia and other enduring landmarks signify their own great, respective cities.
Perhaps it’s the absence of a single, visible human form that lends Kessel’s photograph its timeless power.
Maybe it’s the ill-defined look of the structure, almost phantasmal as it looms in the Parisian fog, that somehow draws the viewer even deeper into the scene — as if, given enough time, the fog itself might clear and, even as we watch, the spire might grow more defined in the stark winter light.
Whatever the source of this one picture’s abiding appeal, the tower itself remains undimmed 125 years after awestruck crowds first encountered what was then, and remained for the next four decades, the tallest manmade structure on the planet.
Ben Cosgrove is the Editor of LIFE.com –