It is not exactly on the main axis of tourism of Rio de Janeiro. For that matter, it is not even easily placed on the axis of tourism for visitors spending a day hiking among the many attractions in Rio’s Centro between Cinelândia and the newly fashioned port area of Praça Mauá. The Real Gabinete Português de Leitura lies inconveniently to the west, in an area of ‘Old Rio’ between the historic Largo de São Francisco and Praça Tiradentes that most natives might avoid for its seediness. That is a shame: Time magazine had noted its neo-Manuelian architecture and rare collection of books as the World’s 4th most beautiful library
Founded by Portuguese immigrants in 1837 to promote and preserve Portuguese culture, their library was not begun until 1880 and completed in 1887 under Portuguese architect Rafael da Silva e Castro. It houses some rare books from the 1500s, including original editions of The Lusiads by Luís de Camões, the Homeric poem of the Portuguese canon, describing the great mariner Vasco da Gamma’s discovery of a sea route to India in 10 cantos, totalling 1,102 stanzas.
I do not tire of popping into the library after lunch for an aesthetic moment — the appreciation of beauty absorbing one in the present and thereby discarding tensions of the past and future, even if momentarily. Its beauty from the past reminds me of the art of bookmaking and how unbecoming is my Kindle.
All photos by Ricky Toledano