The Biblioteca Nazionale di Firenze (BNFC) is offering tours of the manuscript and restoration departments to the public this fall, in Italian. If you’ve never been inside this gigantic building, or even if you have spent hours studying in it, you’ll be fascinated by this behind the scenes tour with access to areas that are normally closed to the public. This closed-stack library hides a lot of secrets, and anyone privvy to the stacks, labs, precious old books and other staff areas will remember this experience for a long time. I was lucky to have one such tour in 1999 when I was a graduate student, and I still remember it vividly.

The restoration lab

When the Arno swelled in November 1966, the library was first to get hit, being along the banks of the Arno. Thousands upon thousands of books were buried in mud, and they are still digging out of it in many ways. The restoration lab was established at this time, and with the help of the mud angels (many Italian and foreign young people who came to help recover from the disaster), for some time this was the largest book restoration lab in the world.

To get a sense of the number of books affected by the flood, the library provides some numbers, divided by “fondo” or collection. 52,583 books damaged from the Fondo Magliabechiano, 9,527 from the Fondo Palatino, 42,012 from the Miscellanee magliabechiane. Of these, about 40,000 have been restored, but another 20,000 are still to be restored. It is rather common to find books in the catalogue that are indicated as “alluvionati” and thus not in consultation.

There will be tours that will show the restoration lab and talk about methods and status, so be sure to book one of these.

The manuscript collection

Other tours focus on showing visitors some of the highlights of this library’s incredible collection of manuscripts, some of which I have actually been so lucky as to study during my dissertation research. There are illuminated manuscripts from the Renaissance, which are certainly some of the most spectacular, incunaboli or early printed books, early maps, and documents.

The tours in Fall 2013

From October through December, 2013, tours alternate, on various days and times, to the restoration and manuscript areas. Each tour, in Italian only, costs 5 euro, and part of the proceeds go to the library, which is much in need of funds for restoration. My guess is that even if you understand just basic Italian, you’ll find this interesting anyway.

The calendar is:

Restoration lab: Tuesdays at 2:30pm – October 15, 29, November 12, 26, and December 3.

Manuscript room and general library tour on Saturday October 19 at 10:30am, Thursday October 24 a 4:30pm, Thursday October 31 at 4:30pm, Saturday November 9 at 10:30am, Thursday November 14 at 4:30pm, Saturday November 23 at 10:30am, Thursday November 28 at 4:30pm, and Saturday December 7 at 10:30am.

For a complete description in Italian see here. For information and reservations call +39 3492256996 or email

Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze – Piazza dei Cavalleggeri, 1

Sign up to receive future blog posts by email