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  • Slow travel writing tips and examples

    A couple walking on the beach in the Bahamas in their swimsuits for the blog post travel writing tips from a professional editor.

    Slow travel writing tips and examples

    Slow travel focuses on making genuine connections. On first-hand interactions with local people and learning about their traditions and culture.

    It’s about taking a back seat, finding offbeat treasures and listening to local stories.

    Travel readers love storytellers who reveal their sense of humanity and who aren’t afraid to express their feelings. 

    Readers want deep-dive knowledge about the places they’re visiting. 

    They want a writer who can evaluate the environment and provide authentic advice about questions they haven’t considered yet.

    New York Times contributor and seasoned travel writer Tim Neville explained quality travel writing like this:

    Man with suitcase and laptop walking towards transport.

    ‘You need facts, and lots of really captivating ones, but the best travel writing also includes some subtle statement about who we are as humans, and how to make the most of the precious time we have on this great big earth.’

    The following slow travel writing tips and examples will help you identify your readers’ needs and deliver the information and inspiration they’re looking for.

    Before you write a word ask yourself

    Why is this place worth visiting?

    What happens when you do visit?

    Is something at stake?

    Can I see conflict?

    Is there dialogue with locals I can incorporate?

    Girl writing slow travel writing tips and examples

    Leave a subtle nod to something bigger than travel

    The story doesn’t need to revolve around an earth-shattering event.

    It could be a simple adventure, such as finding a historic library among the cobblestone laneways of Rome. A perfect opportunity to take your readers on a journey.

    As Neville reminds us, ‘By the end, I want to be left with a subtle nod to something bigger than just travel.’

    Slow travel writing should also reflect changes occurring in the travel industry – both from the perspective of the destination and that of the traveller.

    If you haven’t chatted to the locals, there’s little point attempting to write authoritatively about a travel destination.

    And even less point if you haven’t researched the demographic you’re writing for, or identified your niche readership.

    Infographic about slow travel writing tips.

    The following slow travel writing tips and examples should help you write authentic, compelling stories about the places you visit.

    Dig a little deeper

    Mont Saint-Michel, in France, is visited by more than 2.5 million tourists annually. 

    How do you explore this magnificent place without being trampled by other tourists?

    Can you find more meaningful experiences to share in print?

    Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, France. A perfect place for slow travel writing.
    Stay overnight at the spectacular Mont Saint-Michel.

    The answer is an overnight stay. Book early and you can reserve a room in one of the small hotels or B&Bs. This will give you time to explore the landscape and talk to locals. It’s an unforgettable experience and only a handful of other visitors will be joining you.

    Look to locals for the real stories

    The authorities in Venice have recently started charging day visitors a new tax that’s aimed at reducing the number of day travellers descending on the fragile city.

    But look closer and you’ll find a local group, Venezia Autentica, that’s coaxing tourists away from the crowded piazzas. Instead, they’re offering tours and experiences with local guides and artisans.

    The group offers tourists authentic cultural experiences that support the local community and ‘positively impact the city’.

    Of my slow travel writing tips, this is the most important. Peel away the tourism industry veneer and look for meaningful experiences and hidden treasures to write about.

    Many travellers are yearning for authentic travel experiences, and a lot of locals in tourist destinations want visitors to have genuine interactions with the local community.

    Search for gems in the back streets

    Pont Chiodo is the only bridge left in Venice without a parapet (handrail).

    Once upon a time none of Venice’s bridges had parapets. This little treasure is all that’s left.

    There is one other bridge without a parapet on the island of Torcello in the Venetian Lagoon.

    Pont Chiodo is the only bridge left in Venice without a parapet (handrails).
    The only bridge left in Venice without a parapet is Pont Chiodo, which is privately owned.

    It’s known as Devil’s Bridge or Pont del Diavolo.

    It has a tragic folktale attached to it, which you can check out via the link.

    Don’t overlook these gems in the backstreets and focus on local stories and history in your research and writing.

    Explore local myths and stories

    Another example of locals taking action against mass tourism is in the Cinque Terre. There you’ll find a UNESCO-sponsored youth program that’s helping to restore the decaying terraces and stonewalls. For centuries, these walls supported the vertical farming of lemons, apples and vineyards along the rugged coastline.

    View of Manarola from the sea
    Manarola is part of the fragile Cinque Terre, where tourism has been restricted.

    If you research the Cinque Terre online, you’ll find multiple references to the desperate measures being considered to restrict tourism – again because of overcrowding.

    So what do you do as a slow travel writer? It’s easy. You consider the jewels strewn among the backstreets.

    You search for local stories and for travel experiences that will involve your readers in the culture and history of the place.

    Consider writing about the Jewish Ghetto in Carneggrio in Venice (the first ghetto in Europe), instead of more famous and overcrowded places of interest such as the Rialto Bridge and Doge’s Palace. 

    Find one of Florence's best-kept secrets

    In Florence, write about the Laurentian Library, which was designed by Michelangelo, instead of marvelling at David in the Accademia Gallery after long hours in the queue outside.

    The Architectural Digest describes Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library in Florence as ‘a revolutionary and rarely crowded masterpiece’.

    Designed by Michelangelo and constructed in the 1500s, it houses the most important collection of antique books and manuscripts in Italy.

    From the freestanding grey stone staircase to the pew-like rows of reading benches, it’s an astounding achievement.

    The Laurentian Library is less than a kilometre from Michelangelo’s David and yet it’s relatively unknown to tourists.

    The little-known jewels are there to be found

    The word ‘ghetto’ is derived from the Jewish Ghetto in Venice, which was instituted in 1516. Known as ‘Campo del Ghetto’ it has an ancient and difficult history marked by tragedy and persecution.

    While the ghetto is of tremendous historical significance, along with its five synagogues and world-class museum, tourists are often completely unaware of the existence of this important place.

    In Milan, instead of sending readers to get trampled in the crowd at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, send them to Bosco Verticale. There they’ll find high-rise residential buildings almost completely covered in trees and plants.

    Or, rather than encouraging readers to join the queue at the Milan Cathedral, inspire them to pop around the corner and climb the 250 steps up the staircase to its roof. It’s almost half the price of the elevator and twice the fun.

    Walking on the cathedral rooftop with more than 3,400 marble spires, statues and gargoyles will blow their socks off.

    Slow travel writing is about honouring the place you’re visiting and writing about it with respect and anthenticity.

    Find a secret garden in central Milan

    Go on a treasure hunt and find the Botanical Garden of Brera hidden away in the centre of Milan. You’ll find it through a small gate at the end of an unassuming street.

    There often isn’t a tourist in sight and you may find yourself walking around with a few friendly locals.

    Botanical Garden of Brera in Milan- an example of slow travel writing tips
    Believed to be one of Mozart's favourite place to walk, the Botanical Garden of Brera is one of Milan's secrets.

    Created by Maria Theresa of Austria in 1774, the garden contains two gingko biloba trees that were planted in 1786. (Ginkos are the world’s oldest living trees dating back 250 million years.)

    The garden was also used by apothecaries and doctors to study botany and, according to legend, Mozart once walked around this secret little garden. Perhaps he was composing the Magic Flute as he walked among the hydrangea.

    Are you enjoying these slow travel writing tips and examples? Keep reading for more tips at the end.

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    Think and walk outside the square

    Think laterally and dig deeper to avoid the overcrowded main attractions.

    Instead of waiting in line for hours to see the interior of the Milan Cathedral send your readers off on an adventure.

    Show them how to climb the staircase up to the roof. It took 600 years to build the magnificent Duomo di Milano and the workmanship on the roof is worth the climb.

    In an interview with the BBC, the inimitable Paul Theroux spoke about the importance of travelling and writing, and he summed it up with this quintessential quote:

    ‘Travel in an uncertain world … has never seemed to me more essential, of greater importance or more enlightening.’

    The art of slow travel and how to make a living from it

    Backpacker Steve (2017). The art of slow travel – Gareth Leonard (A life of travel, Ep3).

    13 slow travel writing tips to help you shine the light

    1.

    Write in first person and past tense.

    2.

    Identify your reading audience and pitch specifically to them. When you’ve defined your niche stay with it.

    3.

    Plot out your travel story, and have a clear narrative that links the beginning to the end. It should never read like an itinerary, or a series of unconnected facts or thoughts.

    4.

    Don’t tarry about getting to where you are in the world and where your story is set. Your reader will want to know if your story is relevant to them before investing too much time reading.

    5.

    Avoid travel clichés. Be imaginative and make up your own quirky turns of phrase. Also be open to travel writing tips from other writers.

    6.

    Use emotion. How did the trip affect you or change your worldview?

    7.

    Detail is crucial. Remember what you leave out is as important as what you include.

    8.

    Don’t use words like ‘superb’, ‘stunning’, beautiful’ or ‘breathtaking’. Use a synonym finder and find interesting more imaginative substitutes.

    9.

    Show, don’t tell. This rule applies to any type of writing, but more so in travel writing. Don’t tell your readers what to think. A good idea is to imagine you’re describing things to a person living with blindness.

    10.

    Practise using all your senses when you’re taking notes at your travel destination – smell, taste, sound, touch and sight. This will help you describe things better in your writing.

    11.

    Include meaningful quotes and anecdotes from locals. This will add colour and context to your story. Take care to quote exactly and spell names accurately. Don’t run off without jotting down their contact details.

    12.

    Always check your facts. This is very important. Verify things people tell you and follow up your own observations. Only use reputable websites for research and double check on a second reputable site.

    13.

    Invest in a good camera and learn some basic photography skills. It’s much easier to pitch a travel story when you have good-quality images to go with it. Remember, if you photograph people ask them to sign model releases; otherwise, the photo won’t be accepted for publication. You can find sample model releases here.

    Slow travel writing tips are my job

    When I write blog posts, I’m grateful for my years of experience as an editor and writer.

    Working in a publishing house taught me how to massage content to fit on a page. 

    Writing and editing to an exact word count is a skill that isn’t easily learnt either. I picked that up as a newspaper subeditor.

    When you’ve worked with words every day for more than 13, 14, 15 years (I’ve lost count), writing is second nature. Creating the perfect blog post is a challenge I love.

    Before you go

    If you’re after ways to improve your blog writing check out How to write a smashing blog post.

    Stop right here if you want to know how to Have a slow travel experience.

    And if you love ancient libraries you might like to read Searching for Rome’s oldest public library and The library Michelangelo designed in Florence.

     

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    About Sharon Lapkin

    Sharon is a content writer and award-winning editor. After acquiring two masters degrees (one in education and one in editing and comms) she worked in the publishing industry for more than 12 years. A number of major publishing accomplishments came her way, including the eighth edition of Cookery the Australian Way (more than a million copies sold across its eight editions), before she moved into corporate publishing.

    Sharon worked in senior roles in medical colleges and educational organisations until 2017. Then she left her role as editorial services manager for the corporate arm of a university and founded Textshop Content – a content writing and copyediting agency that provides services to Australia’s leading universities and companies.

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  • How to have a slow travel experience

    Woman in red dress with suitcase walking down a country road into the horizon.

    How to have a slow travel experience

    A slow travel experience can change you for life. It’s challenging, exhilarating and can squeeze you right out of your comfort zone. 

    Why is it then, that some of us start planning our next trip within weeks of returning from our last one?

    The reason’s not so simple.

    When you travel, you take risks and make decisions on the run. Depending on where you go, there’s likely to be a different culture, different language and different food.

    There’s a good chance you’re escaping a drab winter too. Suddenly, you’re looking at turquoise water instead of grey skies.

    Your brain has to re-think how to go about almost everything – all those things you take for granted. Suddenly, you’re recalculating every assumption you’ve ever made.

    You figure out how to be polite in a different setting, and accept the uncertainty of never knowing if you have been.

    For many of us, these scenarios are both challenging and thrilling. Our natural boundaries start slipping away and we embrace difference without knowing if we can trust our ability to deal with it.

    Train station in Europe with suitcases on the platform ready for a slow travel experience.

    Even if we don’t acknowledge it, it’s exhilarating. Starry-eyed wonder follows you around when you’re travelling in another country.

    When we’re having a slow travel experience, we become hyper-aware of our environment and the need to be more agreeable and tolerant.

    Travel increases your emotional stability

    Travelling must be embraced wholeheartedly if it’s to be experienced in a meaningful way.

    If we don’t, what’s the point? We may as well stay at home.

    For those of us who are givers and carers, the sandal is on the other foot because, as travellers, we’re seeking our own experiences instead of providing them for others.

    An interesting study by Zimmermann and Neyer in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology looked at personality development in university students studying abroad.

    Over the course of an academic year, the researchers found that students had increased levels of three of the five personality dimensions —’Openness’ (to experience), ‘Agreeableness’ (the need to get along), and ‘Neuroticism’ (emotional stability). It all adds up doesn’t it. Travel really can change you in meaningful ways.

    A slow travel experience makes you more creative

    Columbia Business School Professor Adam Galinsky is the author of several studies on the connection between international travel and creativity.

    He found that creativity is greatest when travellers are able to immerse themselves and engage with the local environment.

    Young man focusing a camera thinking about his slow travel experience.

    In Galinsky’s most recent work, he examined 11 years of collections from the world’s top fashion houses. He concluded that ‘the foreign professional experiences of creative directors predicted the creativity ratings for their collections.’

    The foreign professional experiences of leaders can be ‘a critical catalyst for creativity and innovation’ in their workplaces,’ he said.

    Travel helps you know yourself better

    Being alone in a foreign country can be frightening, but a slow travel experience can also be a great opportunity to discover your own resourcefulness.

    This is especially true if you have an itinerary that includes catching trains, planes and buses.

    Obtaining timetable information from somebody who doesn’t speak your language can be a lesson in linguistics and hand gesturing.

    It’s not just the overt information, but the cultural nuances and local knowledge you can miss if you’re not plugged into environmental cues.

    As well as improving your problem-solving skills, a slow travel experience gives you plenty of opportunities to be alone.

    The geographical distance between you and your loved ones provides a chance to think deeply about your relationships.

    Some things are seen more clearly from a distance.

    Being away from home and all its conveniences leaves you free of possessions.

    This provides a unique space in your personal timeline to embrace experiences, rather than things.

    Girl sitting by the side of the road with her bicycle thinking about her slow travel experience.

    Remember that anonymous quote: ‘Travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer’? This is true, and it’s how travel can change you.

    Handwashing clothes, shopping for singular pieces of fresh fruit and mapping out daily activities all wind your speedometer back to walking pace.

    In fact, walking until you get lost without fear of being lost is a great way to find yourself.

    Travel shows you the world

    Whether it’s catching the sunrise over Angkor Wat, walking the Path of the Gods in the mountains above Positano, or standing in the glistening light of the Pantheon’s oculus —there is wonder and awe all around us.

    A slow travel experience also colours in experiences and ideas that only existed in black and white.

    It’s the most multi-dimensional learning available.

    There’s no doubt that travel can change you.

    It challenges assumptions and belief systems about your relationship with the world.

    Travel also exposes you to things you never thought about until you encountered diverse cultures.

    Travelling colours in experiences and ideas that only existed in black and white.

    Watch a slow traveller talk about her experiences

    A slower life (2015). 

    Travel makes us better people

    Picture a village bus winding up the very narrow mountain road from Amalfi to Ravello.

    In front of you the driver is holding onto the steering wheel with one hand.

    He takes the hairpin bends with seemingly reckless ease as he smiles and flirts with a gorgeous Italian woman standing near him.

    You’re sure he’s showing off.

    To your right the road melts into cliff tops that fall away into the Tyrrhenian Sea hundreds of metres below.

    You look at the other passengers and they don’t appear concerned at all.

    Meanwhile, your anxiety is through the roof. What do you do?

    You take a deep breath, cross your fingers, say a prayer, meditate or focus on some small detail in front of you.

    Like other travellers who find they’re in uncomfortable situations they can’t change, you practise calmness.

    You tolerate something you’re not accustomed to, even if it makes you squirm.

    You become more adaptable, more adventurous and more confident when you travel.

    Because you’re constantly on the move you learn to embrace the unexpected and to think on your feet.

    To survive you have to develop high levels of patience and tolerance.

    A slow travel experience also turns you into a storyteller.

    The picturesque winding road along the Amalfi Coast in Italy – travel can change you
    The picturesque winding road along the Amalfi Coast in Italy.

    Journalling, taking photos and posting on social media are important mementos of unforgettable journeys.

    But the most significant experiences are those that take place internally and change our lives forever.

    Before you go

    After a few travel writing tips? You might enjoy Slow travel writing tips and examples.

    If ancient libraries in foreign lands fascinate you, dive into Searching for Rome’s oldest public library.

    You might be surprised to learn that Michelangelo designed a library in Florence.It’s true! Take a look at The library Michelangelo designed.

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  • The library Michelangelo designed

    Close-up view of columns and stairs leading to Michelangelo's library.

    The library Michelangelo designed

    By Sharon Lapkin *

    A few years ago, I attended a writing workshop in Florence’s historical district of San Niccolo. The location was perfect for exploring the quieter, non-touristy parts of Firenze.

    The magnificent Bardini Gardens were nearby, and it was an exhilerating walk up the hill to Basilica San Miniato al Monte and Piazza Michelangelo.

    One sun-drenched Florentine morning, I found time to set off in search of a unique library I’d wanted to visit for years. Starting out at the Ponte a San Niccolo, a bridge spanning the Arno River, I meandered through the ancient streets for a couple of kilometres until I reached my destination. 

    The Laurentian Library, also known as the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenzia (and the library Michelangelo designed), is adjacent to the Basilica di San Lorenzo, which is the second largest church in Florence.

    When I arrived at the Brunelleschi courtyard it was bathed in soft, muted light and carpeted in velvet green grass. Nuns coming and going through small brown doors were mostly silent or whispering to each other.

    Then a window was pushed heavenward and a smiling nun began selling tickets to visit the library Michelangelo designed.

    The library Michelangelo designed in Florence from the outside
    The Brunelleschi cloister, with entrance to the library in the far left corner.

    After securing my admission, I walked up some plain wooden stairs to the entrance of the library. It was an unremarkable door in the corner on the first floor and it provided no clue about the incalculable treasure behind it. I might have been walking into a storeroom.

    Michelangelo's David

    On my last visit to Florence, I’d stood at the feet of Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia Gallery and couldn’t find any words.  

    Weighing more than 560 kilograms and standing almost 14 feet tall, David is carved from a single block of white marble.

    Michelangelo had a deep knowledge of human anatomy, and he acquired this skill from participating in public dissections.

    As a young teenager he joined the court of Lorenzo de’ Medici and became acquainted with the physician–philosopher members there. It wouldn’t have surprised anybody that by the age of 18, he was performing his own dissections.

    The pulsing veins on the back of David’s hands are testament to Michaelangelo’s understanding of anatomy. So are the flexed muscles juxtaposed against David’s beautifully contoured limbs. 

    In 1501, when Michelangelo began to carve David, he was only 26 years old. 

    Over the next three years he worked in secret, often at the expense of his health.

    His biographer, Ascanio Condivi, wrote that Michelangelo barely ate during this time. He snatched brief naps while fully clothed between bouts of work.

    View into Michelangelo's library from the entrance.
    Looking down the tiled hall to the entrance of the reading room.

    Finally, on 14 May 1504, David was finally ready to be moved to his first home, the Piazza della Signoria. It took 40 men to push the statue there on a large wooden cart.

    The beginning of the library Michelangelo designed

    A lauded architect, painter and sculptor, it wasn’t until 19 years later that Michelangelo began sketching the design of the Laurentian Library.

    Construction began on the library in 1524, and continued until he left Florence for Rome in 1534.

    After his departure, Michelangelo’s followers – Medici court artist Giorgio Vasari and Bartolommeo Ammannati – continued with the construction of the library. They based their work on plans and verbal instructions from Michelangelo.

    The library designed by Michelangelo was finally opened in 1571. It was 37 years after Michelangelo left Florence and seven years after his death. 

    Michelangelo's staircase to heaven

    The vestibule, or entrance hall, of the library is almost entirely overtaken by a colossal staircase. It’s composed of three adjoining flights that ascend to the library.

    Built by Ammannati in 1559, he used a clay model created by Michelangelo as a guide.

    The staircase design is said to have come to Michelangelo in a dream. The three flights of stairs are composed of smooth grey sandstone and plaster, and the centre flight is convex with three complete elliptical steps at the base.

    On exiting the library, the steps look like lava waiting to float you down to the level below. It’s a remarkable effect and characteristic of Mannerist (or Late Renaissance) architecture for which Michelangelo is well known.

    The multiple staircase leading to the library that Michelangelo designed.
    The entry with its three flights of stairs was designed my Michelangelo.
    The main staircase to the library that Michelangelo designed.
    The design for the stairs is said to have come to Michelangelo in a dream.

    The purpose of the library

    Michelangelo designed the Laurentian Library for Medici Pope Clemente VII. The library’s purpose was to store 11,000 manuscripts and 4,500 early printed books collected by Cosimo the Elder and Lorenzo the Magnificent.

    It’s considered to be one of the most valuable collections of ancient manuscripts in the world. Manuscripts and books were organised by subject, and a panel attached to each lectern displayed a table of contents that are read from the centre aisle.

    The books and manuscripts lay on shelves built into the lectern, while a sloping platform allowed the reader to position their reading material.

    The Laurentian Library was a chained library, which was a common feature of public libraries in the Middle Ages when books were scarce and valuable. 

    Shelves and seats in the library Michelangelo designed.
    Functional lecterns support both seats and desks.
    Shelves and seats in the library Michelangelo designed.
    Books were chained in the space under the reading slope for easy access.

    It’s long rectangular reading room has simple well-defined lines. The reading desks, which sit effortlessly in ordered rows, are set off by ancient red and white terracotta floor tiles that reflect the rust-coloured tones of the timber. All of this is complemented by stained glass windows that run the length of the reading room on both sides.

    The linden wood ceiling is glorious. It was carved between 1548–1550, using early drawings by Michelangelo. And the entire space is transformed into a visual tapestry of familiar rustic tones when warm sunlight streams through the windows.

    These superb architectural elements blend so harmoniously with the practical seating and reading arrangements that you feel as if you’re in a great cathedral. 

    Rare and ancient manuscripts

    Among the ancient and rare manuscripts in the Laurentian Library collection are Tacitus, Pliny, Aeschylus, Sophocles and Quintilian.

    The Codex of Vergil is also there, along with the oldest extant copy of Justinian’s Corpus Iuris Civilis.

    One of the most fascinating acquisitions is an early complete collection of Plato’s dialogues. It’s one of only three in existence.

    Single carved post supporting both reading table and seat in the library Michelangelo designed.
    A lectern with a list of contents that can be read from the centre aisle.

    The library Michelangelo designed is now owned by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities. Unfortunately, it’s open only on selected weekdays.

    Don’t expect to see crowds of visitors, as this is a place of study and research. The library encourages conservation and study of its manuscript and rare book collection.

    If you manage to find your way to Michelangelo’s library, it will stay with you long after you leave the warmth and humility of the Brunelleschi cloister.

    Take a tour of the Laurentian Library in Florence.

    Smarthistory (2011). Laurentian Library.

    How to find the library Michelangelo designed in Florence.

    Before you go read this ...

    If you love ancient libraries, you might also like to read Searching for Rome’s oldest public library.

    If you want to travel slowly, savour the moments and connect with locals, check out How to have a slow travel experience.

    And if you’re keen to write about authentic slow travel jump into my Slow travel writing tips and experiences.

    Your business is important

    Let's find the right words for your brand.
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    About Sharon Lapkin

    Sharon is a content writer and award-winning editor. After acquiring two masters degrees (one in education and one in editing and comms) she worked in the publishing industry for more than 12 years. A number of major publishing accomplishments came her way, including the eighth edition of Cookery the Australian Way (more than a million copies sold across its eight editions), before she moved into the busy world of corporate publishing.

    Sharon worked in senior roles in medical colleges and educational organisations until 2017. Then she left her role as editorial services manager for the corporate arm of a university and founded Textshop Content – a content writing and copyediting agency that provides services to Australia’s leading universities and companies.

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  • Searching for Rome’s oldest public library

    Interior of Rome's oldest public library.

    Searching for Rome’s oldest public library

    By Sharon Lapkin

    I love working as a professional editor.

    It’s like being a tailor who works away quietly behind the scenes.

    We help writers present their words in the best possible way, leaving no part of our own voices behind.

    When an audience applauds our client’s speech, compliments our author’s story or pens great reviews about their book, we’re quietly rejoicing because we know their success means we’ve done our job well.

    So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many editors are bibliophiles – that we cherish and collect books.

    That when we travel, we look for historic libraries to explore.

    When I hold a beautifully written and designed book in my hands I’m drawn to the meaning of its words, the texture of its paper and the scent of its pages.

    I’ve found many remarkable libraries and bookstores in my travels. On my quest to find the oldest public library in Rome, I discovered Bibliotheca Angelica. It’s one of my favourites now, not only for its overall charm but its unforgettable interior. 

     

    In the early 1600s, when the Angelica opened its doors, books were generally kept under lock and key, or in chained libraries, such as the 15th-century Bibliotheca Malatestiana in Cesena and the Hereford Cathedral Library in England. It took thousands of hours of painstaking work to make a book.

    An example of a book curse, or warning from Medieval times, about stealing a book.

    They’d be copying text by hand, adding decorative elements, illustrations, page numbers and indexes before binding the pages together and adding a cover. 

    This made books expensive and valuable items. Medieval books sometimes had ‘book curses’ placed at the front, warning people that if they stole or defaced the book they would be cursed. (See Medieval book curse above.)

    But, in a revolutionary step, the Angelica opened its door to all people with no class distinctions or government restrictions.

    All they needed to access this remarkable collection of volumes, rare maps and other material was a curious mind, a yearning to read and a thirst for knowledge.

    It was a momentous decision to grant ordinary people access to scholarly knowledge.

    Looking back we can see that Bibliotheca Angelica and other early public libraries, such as the Milan’s Bibliotheca Ambrosiana, helped bring about the democratisation of education when, rather surprisingly, ordinary people were free to embrace the archives of history and knowledge.

    Even for somebody accustomed to Rome’s ancient piazzas and cobblestone alleyways, it’s easy to get lost searching for the Bibliotheca Angelica.

    The library’s humble street presence belies its importance as Rome’s oldest public library and one of the first public libraries in the world. 

    Interior of Rome's oldest public library.

    The entrance to the library provides no indication of its historical or the treasures within it. 

    Like the adjacent Basilica di Sant’Agostino, which is home to works by Caravaggio, Raphael and Sansovino, its riches are cloaked by a plain unassuming exterior.

     

    Acquisitions dating back to the 13th century grace the ancient shelves of the Angelica.

    These hand-inscribed manuscripts were bestowed upon the Monastery of Sant’Agostino before becoming part of the Angelica collection.

    Some of them were donated to the 

    Interior of Rome's oldest public library.

     Augustinians by Roman nobles in previous centuries.

    Safely stored within its walls are 1100 incunabula, which are books or broadsides printed in Europe before the year 1501, when books were printed using metal type. 

    Rare incunabula in Rome’s oldest public library include a manuscript from the ninth century – the Liber Memorialis from Remiremont Abbey.

    The first book printed in Italy, in 1465, De Otatore by Cicero is also in the Angelica library.

    So, too, is one of the earliest copies of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

    The person responsible for the founding of Bibliotheca Angelica was Bishop Angelo Rocca, who was born in Rocca in 1545.

    He earned a doctorate in theology from the University of Padua, and went on to become head of the Vatican Printing House in 1585.

    A renowned editor and book lover, his vast

    Interior of Rome's oldest public library.

     collection of 20,000 volumes was incorporated into the Angelica’s collections.

    The building and funds required for the library were provided by Bishop Rocca and, as mentioned above, it was on condition that the library would welcome all people, regardless of social status or income.

    In 1873, the Angelica became the property of the Italian State, and in 1975 it became part of the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Environment.

    You probably need to be a local or a determined tourist to find Bibliotheca Angelica, but once you step inside this ancient place it’s a remarkable feeling to be surrounded by millions of timeworn pages and their stories from the ages.

    Rome’s oldest public library is a treasure worth searching for.

    Bibliotheca Angelica is located at  Piazza di S. Agostino 8, in Rome, Italy.

    Take a minute to see the interior of Biblioteca Angelica in Rome.

    Harper's Bazaar Italia (2021). Unique interiors in Rome: Biblioteca Angelica

    Before you go

    If you love reading about ancient libraries, you might also enjoy The library that Michelangelo designed in Florence.

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