The world offers its observers few examples of the past in which time has taken a sudden, abrupt stop. Pompeii is one example; a city preserved by the disaster that smothered it. When time takes a stop, we can imagine exactly the thriving city seconds before. A man abandons a still-wet painting, a woman wraps her arms around a frightened child.
The Biblioteca Malatestiana is another singular example. It is the world’s first monastic humanist library. It is as it was, but this time it’s not disaster that preserved it, but extreme care with access. The uniquely carved door, produced, as you can see, in 1454, still protects the treasure of books inside the reading room. In 2005 UNESCO included the Library in the Memory of the World Programme Register.
To this day the door requires two keys. Originally, one key belonged to the abbot, the other by a representative of the city; the sacred and the profane. Malatesta Novello entrusted this library to the Emilia-Romagna municipality of Cesena, making it the first public library.
Inside the reading room designed by Matteo Nuti we see the simple and efficient design. A rose window lights the corridor, and individual windows provide ample light to the 58 rows of reading desks for reading during the day.
Sacred tomes are found on the left side of the corridor and classics on the right.
You don’t take books out of this public library. 343 volumes are chained in place.
Across the hall from the reading room is the Biblioteca Antica, the private library of Pope Pius VII. Numerous manuscripts and an interesting collection of miniature books are found in the display cases, as well as books and maps of local interest and illuminated chorals.
The old library and reading room are part of a complex that includes a modern library and media center and small archaeology museum. Your ticket to the Malatestiana Library (guided tour) includes a visit to the museum. The complex is about a 15 minute walk from the Cesena train station.