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Prague, Czech Republic

Strahov Monastery

Two stunning 17th-century libraries and a cabinet of curiosities  

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Tucked away on the top of a hill in Prague is the Strahov Monastery, the second-oldest monestary in the city.

It was built in 1140 and has been rebuilt numerous times since, due to the ravages of various wars. It is likely not the monastery itself, nor its church, however, that astonishes visitors. That distinction goes to the the library within its walls.

The library is divided into two major halls: the Baroque Theological Hall contains 18,000 religious texts, and the grand Philosophical Hall has over 42,000 ancient philosophical texts. The libraries hold many rare volumes, are masterfully frescoed, and contain 17th-century geographical globes.

Above the shelves of the Theological Hall are gilded wooded-carved decorations with wooden cartouches. These functioned as a sort of beautiful early card catalogue system. The pictures in the wooden cartouches and their titles specified the type of literature stored on the shelves below.

Of special note is the compilation wheel, used by 17th-century scribes to compile texts. The scribe would place various texts that he needed to copy from on the wheel, which functioned as a kind of rotating shelf. A planetary mechanism inside ensured that the books were always held at the same angle, even as they spun around.

Strahov also contains a beautiful cabinet of curiosities, brought to the monastery from the estate of Karel Jan Erben in 1798. The hall of cabinets include bits of a dodo bird, a large 18th-century electrostatic device, numerous old ocean specimens, insects, minerals, anthropological artifacts, and for unclear reasons, many glass cases full of wax fruit.

Know Before You Go

Trams No 22,23 to Poho?elec

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