I have discovered for the first time the Humanist Library of Sélestat, a superb place that was inaugurated in November 2018 after major restructuring works. We took part in the guided tour, and I would really recommend for you to do the same, to discover this splendid building and and the no less magnificent collection with a passionate guide!
The architecture of the Humanist Library
The tour starts with some explanations about the architecture of the library, which was a covered market in the past. The architect Rudy Ricciotti imagined the current building. Personnally, I really like the different spaces and the spiral columns outside, but I am not a big fan of the metal bars upstairs, even if I must admit that representing a nave was a great idea (Why a nave, you might ask? Well you’ll have to come… and you’ll know!).
Afterwards, you’ll move to the first floor, where you can see the books, exhibited in a completely open space, partitioned in several parts about various themes, including the “treasure” under glass. You’ll start your tour with a short contextual setting around a very nice model of Sélestat, which will allow you to picture what the town looked like at the time, and to highlight the places related to the history of the library: for example the Latin School where Beatus Rhenanus studied (he was the local humanist who bequeathed his collection to the library).
The books are outstanding and displayed with great caution: they are kept at a certain angle not to damage them, without too much humidity or light. A rotation system has been implemented, allowing for visitors to regularly discover new books. I learned a lot of things about these books, such as the usefulness of their thick covers and of their big buckles to keep them in shape or about the various types of “paper”: for example, vellum (stillborn calf skin) or rag paper (made of textiles); or that people were binding their own books to save money or that sometimes several books were ending up “under the same cover”.
The bonus of this guided tour is definitely the anecdotes and stories. I can remember two of them: Erasmus was saying that, when he had money, he was first buying a book, then food, then clothes! Or that Beatus Rhenanus was putting in his books the following bookplate: “I belong to Beatus Rhenanus and I don’t change master”, to remind anyone borrowing one of his book to give it back!
It would be difficult to write, in one article, about all that I’ve learned or to talk about all the magnificent books that I’ve seen, but this place is absolutely splendid and a true goldmine of information, that everyone should visit, especially book lovers. The large touch screens will allow you to virtually browse the books on display. It’s a great way to see the most interesting pages, but also the writing techniques, the illuminations and even the drawings that schoolchildren were making in the margins of their books… some things never change!
- the guided tour
- the boooooks and everything that they say
- the touch screens to learn more
- the temporary exhibition rooms on the ground floor, while waiting for the tour
- it’s included in the Pass Alsace!
I liked a little less
- some specificities of the architecture, but it has nothing to do with the collection!
My pictures of the Humanist Library of Sélestat
You will find here some information about the guided tours of the Humanist Library.
The address is as follows: Bibliothèque Humaniste 1 place Dr Maurice Kubler 67600 Sélestat. It is located about:
- 25 km from Colmar (about 30 minutes drive)
- 50 kms from Strasbourg (about 40 minutes drive)
- 67 kms from Mulhouse (about 50 minutes drive)
By public transport
You’ll just need to take the train to Sélestat railway station, and then walk for a few minutes. You can have a look at the itinerary on Vialsace.
Feeling peckish when you finish your tour?
Don’t hesitate to go in one of the delicious tearooms of Sélestat.