The Real Gabinete Português de Leitura is a must-visit spot when in downtown Rio
Did you know that Rio hosts one the World’s 20 most beautiful libraries? The selection was made by Time Magazine and put the Brazilian institution in a list alongside with the Library of Alexandria, the public Library of New York and the one at the Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. It’s named The Real Gabinete Português de Leitura and it’s worth visting not only because it’s historic and important collection but also for the impressive architecture of its building, located in downtown Rio, near Largo da Carioca.
The institution was created in 1837, roughly a decade after Brazil’s Independence. A group of proeminent Portuguese citizens decided to invest in a library that could elevate the cultural level of recently arrived and incoming Portuguese immigrants. The idea soon prooved a success and in a matter of years the collection gathered some 30,000 volumes, swiftly becoming one of the country’s most important libraries.
In 1880 as part of the celebrations for the 300th anniversary of Luís de Camões’ death, the emperor attended the cornerstone cerimony of a new building to host the institution. The architect responsible was a Portuguese, Rafael da Silva e Castro, and the construction took seven years to be completed. The façade was made of lioz marble and was shipped from Portugal as well as the sculputures on it – the statues of Pedro Alvares Cabral (the commander of the fleet who supposedly discovered Brazil), Luís de Camões (the founder of Portuguese literature), Infante Dom Henrique (a Portuguese king) and Vasco da Gama (one of the most important explorers the first to get to India.
The building follows the Neo-Manuelin style, reference to Dom Manuel, Portguese king when the nation made its greatest conquests. The Neo-Manuelin was an attempt to counter-attack the revival of the Gothic style. Other examples of it are the Belém Tower and the Saint Jerome Convent. All the details of the construction of the building and its architectural choices are told in a guided tour that has to be booked in advance.
The interiors of the building follow the same tendency of the façade and look like a movie set. Actually it has been repetedly used as a location by many TV and movie productions.
The collection has more than 350,000 volumes, what makes it the most important in Portuguese literature outside Portugal. Among the treasures are some manuscripts of important Portuguese and Braziian writers like Machado de Assis and Camilo Castelo Branco, as well as one of the first copies of Os Luisiadas, considered the fundamental stone of Portuguese literature printed in 1572. The collection is constantly being updated. Each new title published in Portugal automatically sends a copy to the Gabinete.
Admittance is free and visits are allowed on weekdays from 9AM to 6PM. The address is r. Luis de Camões, 30. One of the best ways to get there is taking the Subway and getting off at Carioca station.