The Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana (National Library of St. Mark) is one of Italy’s largest libraries and the most important one in Venice. It is subject to the authority of the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism
The foundation of a public library in Venice was strongly advocated by the fourteenth-century poet Francesco Petrarch, though he did not live to see his dream come true. In May of 1468, cardinal Bessarion donated to the Republic of Venice what was to be the first core of the library created “ad communem hominum utilitatem” (“for the common benefit of men”). Bessarion’s gift comprised 746 codices, 482 of them in Greek and 246 in Latin. Upon his death, they were followed by his bequest of another 250 precious manuscripts.
The collection grew over the ensuing decades and centuries thanks to many other gifts and bequests, plus the absorption of other Venetian libraries. A large part of the library’s manuscripts had been brought to Venice by refugees who fled Byzantium after that city fell to the Ottoman Turks, in 1453. As a result, Venice was for many years Europe’s most important center for studies of the Greek classics. One of the great humanists whom the city attracted was the printer and scholar Aldus Manutius.
In the sixteenth century, the library was finally housed in a new building designed by architect Jacopo Sansovino.
In the early seventeenth century, Venice enacted a new law that required all printers working in the Republic to consign to the Marciana Library a copy of every new publication they brought out. Thanks to this rule, the Marciana came to be acknowledged as the Republic’s institutional library. In 1811 the library was moved to new quarters in the Palazzo Ducale (the Doge’s palace). In 1924 it returned to its original location, which it still occupies today.
The Marciana Library specializes in classical philology and Venetian history.
It hosts one of the world’s outstanding collections of Greek, Latin and Oriental manuscripts: they include:
- 622,804 printed books
- 2,887 incunabula
- 13.113 manuscripts
- 24.069 books printed in the 16th century