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National Library in Rio de Janeiro – Read all about it

National Library in Rio de Janeiro – Read all about it


Considered by UNESCO one of the biggest libraries in the world, the National Library of Brazil is also the biggest library in Latin America. It’s located in the city center of Rio de Janeiro. All this grandeur of history and architecture is very close to you! Discover all the details of this space.


The National Library offers free guided tours. You can also have access to some rooms on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the library. See the details:

Days and Opening Hours

Reading and Research Rooms – Monday to Friday, from 9 am to 7 pm; Saturdays, from 10:30 am to 3 pm.

Visitation – Monday to Friday, from 10 am to 5 pm.


The National Library suspended guided tours for an indefinite period, as well as opening on Saturdays. These measures were taken by the institution’s management to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.


To be more precise, the nucleus of the National Library of Brazil has its origins in the old library of Dom José, organized and inspired by Diogo Barbosa Machado, who was the Abbot of Santo Adrião de Sever.

The collection replaced the old Royal Library (considered one of the most important in Europe) that was originally assembled by the collections of books by Dom João I and later by the collections of his son, Dom Duarte. Such collections were consumed by a fire caused after an earthquake reached Lisbon on November 1, 1755.

In order to restore the Royal Library, the pieces that had survived the fire at Palácio da Ajuda, where a new library was to be recovered, were recovered. In 1807, the new collection already had 70 thousand pieces. This was the collection brought to Brazil.


Fearing Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Portuguese territory, Prince Regent Dom João VI made the decision to leave for Brazil. With this, the history of the National Library of Brazil begins. The collection brought in about 60 thousand works including manuscripts, maps, medals and coins among other pieces.


In the begging, the library was installed in the upper rooms of the Hospital of the Third Order of Carmo (near the Paço Imperial). However, the facilities were considered inadequate, for such valuable parts.

On October 29, 1810, Dom João VI published the decree for the construction of the Royal Library in the place where he had served as catacombs for the religious of Carmo church. The entire cost of the work was the responsibility of Real Fazenda.


The process of setting up the books began in 1810, with part transferred in the same year and the others in 1811. Only in 1813 began the construction on the new library, when the collection was also transferred.

Consultation of the collection was only allowed to scholars, with royal authorization. With the end of the installation of the collection in 1814, the consultation was opened to the public and the Royal Library was made official.

The library’s collection has continuously increased through donations and purchases. The “bribe” method was also interesting for the library. In this system, it was mandatory to deliver a copy of all printed material in the printing shops in Portugal (through the license of September 12, 1805) and in the Royal Press, which operated in Rio de Janeiro.


Decree No. 1.825, of December 20, 1907, is called the Legal Deposit and is still in effect. For this reason, all material produced in the national territory must still have a legal copy at the National Library of Brazil.


After the death of Maria I, mother of Dom João VI, he was responsible for the crown until 1821 when he returned to Portugal. His son Dom Pedro de Alcântara, however, stayed in Brazil and in 1822, Dom Pedro proclaimed the Independence of Brazil, becoming the first Emperor of Brazil.


The Royal Library remained in Brazil, so the library was purchased, and the institution became part of the Brazilian Empire. For all the assets left in Brazil, the Portuguese royal family received a large sum of money in compensation. The Royal Library was then called the Imperial and Public Library of the Court.


In 1858, the library was transferred to Rua do Passeio, at number 60. The building that received the library currently houses the School of Music at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. The move was made to a building that could better receive its collection, which continued to grow. It was known that a new move to a larger space would soon be necessary.


In the republic scenario in Brazil, a project was carried out to build a headquarters for the National Library of Brazil and to meet its needs with the growing collections.

The current building of the library had its cornerstone foundation stone laid on August 15, 1905, and its inauguration took place on October 29, 1910. The building is signed by military engineer Sousa Aguiar and has an eclectic architectural style with neoclassical elements and Art Nouveau.

biblioteca national antiga

Wants to understand better the history of Brazil? Join our Walking Tour Downtown and Lapa. You will know more details about Brazilian History and the National Library is one of the points on our tour.


In 1990, the National Library of Brazil was transformed into a public law foundation. It became officially called the National Library Foundation and is linked to the Ministry of Culture. The library ended up taking over the functions of the National Book Institute (INL) which was extinguished in the same year. With all of this, we can understand the grandiosity of this institution!


The National Library is located at Praça Cinelândia, at Avenida Rio Branco, nº 219 in the center of Rio de Janeiro. Other grandiose buildings close to the National Library, among them the Municipal Theater and the National Museum of Fine Arts.


Don’t know how to get to Cinelândia Square? Read our post on Public Transportation in Rio de Janeiro and discover how easy it is to get around the city!


The National Library building underwent some renovations in order to attend the demands of research and activities offered to researchers.

The importance of the bibliographic set also demanded the search for technological methods mainly for the safety and preservation of the works. In addition, technologies were developed for cataloging and classifying the collection, which guarantees easy access to the public.


The National Library as an institution maintains a relationship with international organizations for the promotion and dissemination of Brazilian works and authors, due to its immense collection on the most varied themes. With this, it’s possible to access the desired works through the national center of bibliographic documentary information, both in Brazil and abroad.


Another important means of access to the public is through the digital newspaper library, which is an internet consultation website. National journals and other publications are available on this website. They include everything from the first newspapers created in the country, to the periodicals now extinct.      


Did you know that there is another library in the National Library headquarters building? Yes, it’s the Euclides da Cunha Library. This is dedicated to children and young people.


We know that the Portuguese royal family was very much in favor of science and the arts in general. The second Brazilian monarch, Dom Pedro II, was not far behind. A great photography enthusiast, he’s considered the first Brazilian photographer. With his passion for photography, he was important for the development of photography in the country.

With the Proclamation of the Republic in 1889, and having to leave the country, Dom Pedro II donated his collection with about 25 thousand photographs to the National Library, along with some books. The collection is called Dona Theresa Christina Maria Collection. Being one of the most diverse and precious collections of Brazilian photography by a private individual.

Really interesting the history of the National Library, isn’t it? Visit the National Library 

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