The Mafra Palace Library is one of Europe’s most important libraries.
It is located in Mafra National Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site 30 minutes from Lisbon. The 18th-century library offers visitors a unique experience that combines elegance, silence, and the mystery of ancient knowledge.
Made in the shape of a cross, the most striking feature of the room is the narrow mezzanine that runs all the way around the library, allowing access to books in the upper shelves.
From the moment you enter this majestic space, you will be captivated by its beauty and history. The lightness lent by the patterned woodwork on the ceiling and the ungilded rococo decorations above the vast collection of rare books casts a spell of solemnity on all who visit.
The library was built in 1790 and contains over 36,000 books, manuscripts, maps and incunabula (books printed before 1501).
It also features a remarkable set of 120 leather-bound volumes from the 16th century that form what is known as “the royal collection”. Many of the rare books in the collection are rumored to have been bound by the monks in the monastery.
With its grand architecture and carefully preserved books dating back hundreds of years, the Mafra Palace Library is truly a sight to behold.
The Mafra Palace Library: The History
The Mafra Library is enchanting for many reasons, but its history stands out as a testament to the grandeur of its creators. Built during a time when Brazil’s gold was flooding into Portugal, the Royal Convent and Palace of Mafra showcases the country’s newfound wealth and the King’s patronage of the arts.
The library, one of the largest and most beautiful in the world, is evidence of the importance of knowledge and learning during that era. The palace was also built to reflect this, with its 1,200 rooms, 156 stairways, and 29 inner yards and courtyards, it is a true marvel of baroque architecture.
Moreover, the palace boasts an incredible 18th-century infirmary which depicts the life of the monks at the time. Most impressively, there are two carillons with 98 bells and six organs in its central basilica, all of which are pieces of unique heritage worldwide.
This monument is a striking example of the wealth and cultural significance of Portugal during the height of its glory days.
The carillon is played every Sunday at 4 pm. The concert is free, and the palace’s main garden is open to the public while the carillon plays.
The six organs are played in concert about 3 or 4 times per year. Check out the municipality’s events page to find out when. Tickets cost 8 Euros per person.
The Mafra Palace Library Bats
The library may be one of the oldest and most impressive in Europe, but it also has a quirky side. Thanks to its colony of bats, this library benefits from a natural pest control system that ensures its ancient books remain in pristine condition.
These bats, which have made their home behind the bookshelves, leave their hiding spot at night to hunt down insects that would otherwise damage the leather-bound spines and yellowed pages of the library’s antique collection.
However, while their nocturnal task is important, it also comes with a unique challenge: the library’s marble floors and furniture are usually covered with droppings each morning.
But even this quirky aspect of the library adds to its charm and allure, offering visitors an unforgettable glimpse into the fascinating world of ancient book conservation.
Library Opening hours
Monday: 9:30 am to 1:00 pm and 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm
Wednesday to Friday: 9:30 am to 1:30 pm and 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm
Closed on Tuesdays, weekends, national holidays and municipal holidays in Mafra.
🔴 Top Tip!! Note that the Mafra National Palace is open weekends, but closes on Tuesdays, so if you’d like to see the library with the rest of the palace choose a day when both are open.
Access to the library’s collection is conditioned and free of charge for researchers, historians, national and foreign students and over 18 years old, and reading is always in person (by appointment).
The Mafra National Palace charges 6 Euros for adults, and children are free up to 12 years of age. They offer a 50% discount to families and people with reduced mobility, and seniors only pay 3 Euros. It is also one of the free monuments for Portuguese residents every Sunday morning, and is included in the Lisboa Card.
The Mafra Palace Library FAQ
Is Mafra Portugal worth visiting?
Yes, Mafra Portugal is definitely worth visiting! Besides being the home of the Mafra National Palace, it also hosts several yearly festivals such as the Festival do Pao and a wonderful local produce fair held once a month. Here you can also visit the Tapada de Mafra, the original royal hunting grounds which has become a protected area for indigenous flora and fauna, and is now used for educational purposes, research and pleasure.
What is Mafra known for?
Mafra, Portugal is known for its baroque Palace of Mafra and the Convent of Mafra, a World Heritage Site. It is also home to tapada de Mafra National Park which features wild boar, foxes and deer, as well as a wide variety of plant life. Additionally, The Royal Town of Mafra is known for its picturesque cobblestone streets and traditional architecture. In 2013 it was named one of the seven wonders cities in Portugal.
Who lived in the Mafra Palace?
The Mafra Palace was built between 1717 and 1755 as a royal palace and monastery by King John V of Portugal. The Royal Family spent many summers hunting and receiving the nobility in the palace until the early 19th century. After that, it served as a military barracks and hospital before being restored to its original purpose as a palace. Today, it is open to visitors from all around the world who can see its stunning Baroque architecture and many historic artifacts located inside.
How old is Mafra?
Mafra is approximately 300 years old. It was established at the same time as the monastery and national palace as a consequence of so many workers arriving in the area to build the monument.
Who built Mafra Palace?
Mafra Palace was built between 1717 and 1755 by King John V of Portugal. He employed Italian architects to construct the palace, as well as thousands of workers from all around Portugal.
How do I get from Lisbon to Mafra?
The best way to get from Lisbon to Mafra is by car. The drive takes approximately 30 minutes and costs 2.60 Euros due to tolls. The fastest route is via the A8 and A21 motorways, which connect the city of Lisbon with Ericeira. Alternatively, you can take a bus from Campo Grande that will take you to Mafra in a little over an hour and costs 8 Euros.
How long to spend in Mafra?
Visiting the Mafra Palace and Convent takes about 1-2 hours. However, the beautiful Jardim do Cerco, right behind the palace is a lovely place to spend an extra hour walking its winding paths and Mafra as well as neighbouring Ericeira are excellent places to have lunch. If you wish to explore more of the area including Tapada de Mafra National Park and visit some local attractions or festivals, then you should plan for at least a few days.
The Mafra Palace Library: The Wrap-Up
The Mafra Palace Library is truly a unique and captivating experience. Its marble floors and beautiful bookshelves complement the vaulted ceilings and ancient statues, creating a breathtakingly stunning atmosphere. With its amazing collection of books from all over the world, the library is sure to captivate anyone who has an appreciation for knowledge and history.