The Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana is the Medici’s library designed by Michelangelo in the San Lorenzo complex in Florence. It is also a major working library.
The Laurentian Medici Library (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana) is a major library in Florence. For tourists, the main sight is the magnificent Renaissance reading room designed by Michelangelo. The entire room and furnishings are authentic sixteenth century. Only a small number of historic works are on rotating display — causal visitors do not get to see the working library or book vaults. Access to the Medici’s library is from the upper level of the galleries in the cloister of San Lorenzo (Note separate tickets and opening hours from the rest of the San Lorenzo complex!)
→ Some top museums in Florence re-opened on 21 January 2021 for a few weeks but have closed again by late February 2021. Most churches remain closed. See 2021 Florence New Opening Hours of Top Sights, Museums, and Churches for the latest information and reduced opening hours.
Laurentian Medici Library by Michelangelo in San Lorenzo
This beautiful Renaissance Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana library was designed for the Medici Pope Clement VII by Michelangelo. Michelangelo supervised work from 1523 to 1534, when he moved to Rome, but work was continued by Vasari, Ammannati, and others strictly to the plans of Michelangelo, as they were instructed to by the Medicis.
Access is via a vestibule with a monumental stone staircase, which Michelangelo originally intended to be walnut.
The measurements of the reading room are impressive — 46.2 m long, 10.5 m wide and 8.4 m high. As the lower floor of the monastery complex determined the size of the dimensions of the reading room, Michelangelo had to use several techniques to reduce the weight of the walls to prevent structural damage.
Even more impressive than the size is that basically all items in the reading room are original from the 16th century and mostly to the designs of Michelangelo.
The plutei (wooden reading benches) served both as reading bookstands and to house the large codexes. These large codexes were chained physically to the plutei — readers frequently had to change seats to read a different book.
The Medicis loved good ceilings and this fine ceiling is no exception. It was carved from lime wood by Giovan Battista del Tasso to Michelangelo’s designs. The windows were probably made by Flemish artisans to designs by Vasari while the terra-cotta floor is by Niccolo Tribolo.
Behind the reading room, historic codexes and books are shown in rotating exhibitions. It often follows a specific theme. Only a small number of books is on display at any given time and the rest of the library and book collections are not seen on tourist visits.
Collection of the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana
The Medicis opened the library to scholars in 1571 and it remains a major functioning library. The collection includes around 11,00 manuscripts, of which 700 are from before the 11th century. It further has 2,500 papyri, 43 ostraca, 566 incunabula, 1,681 16th-century prints, and 126,527 prints of the 17th to 20th centuries.
Amongst the collection is the Nahuatl Florentine Codex (a major source of pre-Conquest Aztec life), the Codex Amiatinus (the earliest surviving manuscript of the Latin Vulgate Bible), a Virgil of the 4th century and a Horace of the 10th, and around 100 codices of Dante.
Many of these works may be seen online. Serious scholars may apply in advance to study material in the library as well. Tourists see only the works selected for display on any given day.
Visitor’s Information for the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana
Admission to the Medici library is €3, or adds €2.50 when bought as a combination ticket with the San Lorenzo Basilica and crypt. (The Medici Chapel with Michelangelo statues is charged for separately.) The Firenze Card is valid at all — go directly to the library, no need to pick up a ticket.
Tickets are sold in the cloisters, entrance to the left of the basilica when facing the facade-less church.
Access to the magnificent Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana is from the upper level of the galleries in the cloister. Note the shorter opening hours — don’t cut it too fine, as the guard at the door may refuse entry even if a ticket was bought only a few minutes earlier.
Opening hours are weekdays from 9:30 to 13:30 — last admission at least half an hour before closing time. The library is closed on weekends and all public holidays.
The Laurentian Medici Library generally get good reviews on Tripadvisor — bad ratings are mostly due to visitors being caught out by the early closing time.
The rest of the San Lorenzo complex is among the top attractions in Firenze. The Basilica by Brunelleschi and several items by Donatello is seen as one of the first Renaissance buildings ever built while the Medici Chapels not only served as the mausoleum of the Medicis but also have several Michelangelo statues.
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The high season in Florence is increasingly long: Easter, May, July, August and the Christmas holidays are especially busy. November and January to March are the only quiet months. Plan and book time-slot reservation tickets and tours when available in advance. Top sights are quieter directly at opening time or in the late afternoon.
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