PORTUGAL | Mafra Palace Library

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Mafra Palace is a monastery and palace in baroque and neoclassical style, built between 1717 and 1755. It’s viewed as one of the national treasures of Portuguese architecture. The library is the real attraction though. This 85-metre-long room was built in the sixteenth-century rococo style, characterised by its asymmetry. The elongated library houses about 36,000 leather-bound books, from the fourteenth to the nineteenth centuries. They are under threat from insects, that view these ancient books as little more than a tasty snack. But the way the Mafra protects her treasures is a little unusual. Where ordinary libraries might fight pests with chemicals or radiation, the Mafra employs a colony of bats! Every night, the animals head out and protect the books. Unfortunately, they do leave some excrement behind, so all the furniture is carefully covered. And the marble floors are scrubbed every day.

Our visit to the palace was special. We didn’t expect to see a monastery and palace together in the same building. The library definitely didn’t disappoint. The beautiful decoration and asymmetry, together with the old books, made for a stunning experience. The collection even contains forbidden books, which only a few high-status people have access to. The bats are nocturnal animals, so (thankfully) we didn’t see them!