Bibliotheca Thysiana – Leiden, Netherlands - Atlas Obscura

Bibliotheca Thysiana

This public library and its impressive collection of academic books have not changed since the 17th century. 


The Dutch city of Leiden has long been a center of scientific learning, and has many historic sites to prove it. One such place is the Bibliotheca Thysiana. Built in 1655, it is the only surviving 17th-century public library in the Netherlands.

The building and the collection of academic books within have both been incredibly well preserved, truly as if time has stood still for over 350 years. The building itself is an architectural gem, but what’s inside is even more special. 

The library houses a collection of around 2,500 books and thousands of scientific pamphlets amassed by Dutch lawyer and bibliophile Johannes Thysius in the early 1600s. The collection includes once-controversial scientific works, scholarly writing from a wide range of fields, classical texts, medieval manuscripts, historical Bibles, as well as letters and journals from his family’s personal archive. What’s more, many of the original book covers are bound using hundreds of medieval scraps of paper and parchments. 

The tomes have been a wonderful resource for historians, providing a window into both intellectual thinking and everyday life from this period. Thysius would have been pleased: When he died in 1653 at the young age of 31, he left a sum of money to make sure his beloved books were available to the public to promote learning. 

Know Before You Go

It is possible to visit the library with a guided tour. Prices and times are available on the website.

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