Bibliothèque Nationale de France

France’s Leading Museum Right in the Heart of Paris

The BNF, located in the former palace of Cardinal Mazarin (17th century), was the first museum in France. It owes its current architecture to a restoration that was carried out at the end of the 19th century by the architect Henri Labrouste. The library is dedicated to research and has reading rooms. Several rooms displaying collections from Antiquity to the present day are open to visitors.

The main courtyard is a blend of 18th and 19th century styles. Under the entrance porch, 4 statues symbolise the different sections: Printing, Engraving, Calligraphy and Numismatics.

The entrance to the BNF is via the Labrouste vestibule, which has a white marble floor decorated with round cameos and walls lined with hard stone frescoes.

The Salle Labrouste, reserved for students and researchers, is where the books are kept. Neoclassical in style and very sober, it is very bright thanks to its glass dome and the nine oval openings, called oculi, which are placed around it and rest on 16 cast-iron columns. Thirty-six medallions of literary men from all over the world adorn the perimeter of the room. Only one woman is featured: Madame de Sévigné. Caryatids can be found at the back of the room. They are guardians of the forbidden spaces where books are kept.

Upstairs, the Manuscript Room is reserved exclusively for researchers. Its very sober architecture was designed by Jean Louis Pascal in the 19th century. Only the entrance doors are decorated with low-reliefs representing gilded metal torches set in black metal medallions. This room houses a very large collection of medieval, as well as modern and contemporary manuscripts.

The Salle Ovale is kept for periodicals, comic strip collections and manga. This room was added to the BNF at the beginning of the 20th century, with work completed in 1936. It is accessible to everyone and has an air-conditioning system hidden in small pillars bearing the names of donors. The oculi are shaped like flowers to provide natural light. Beneath these are the names of cities famous for their libraries (Washington, Jerusalem, Florence, Athens, Berlin, Alexandria, etc.).

After crossing the Vivienne garden, which was landscaped during the BNF’s last restoration project, completed in 2022, we discovered the new main staircase, a beautiful spiral of metal.

By AUDE HERVE - Unexpected Paris