One thing that I truly miss about living in England is visiting the public library. When I lived in York I would visit every couple of weeks after teaching English to international students, and while away an hour or so browsing the fiction aisles. Thousand of stories waiting to be read, countless worlds to be swept away in. York Central Library was warm, comforting and familiar. Heaven for bookworms like me.
Just as my Spanish is finally reaching a level where I feel ready to browse and borrow books from the public library in Valencia, we are in the middle of a pandemic. From what I understand from the website, this means that you have to request in advance to borrow books; therefore, no browsing. (I am not quite sure how browsing books in a library is so much more ‘dangerous’ than browsing and trying on clothes in a shop. It’s probably best not to get started on the ridiculous inconsistencies of pandemic norms….)
But anyway, I decided I’d visit the Bilblioteca Publica de Valencia and see what I could see. The grounds on Guillem del Castro are lovely, next to the MUVIM museum. There are various Roman columns standing around, mixed in with the ever-present palm trees. There’s a tiny Eighteenth Century chapel in the grounds, plus an imposing, Gothic gateway.
Apparently, the building in which the library is currently housed started out as a hospital to care for poor patients with mental health problems, known as The Hospital for the Poor Innocents. It was funded by Valencian merchants and was said to be the first asylum in Europe. In 1493 the hospital was extended and became The General Hospital of Valencia. This included the part you can now enter, which was constructed in the shape of a Greek Cross. It has two floors, one which was originally used for female patients and the other for male patients. Unfortunately, the hospital had to be rebuilt after a fire in 1547, so the Gothic portal is the only original part of the hospital complex remaining.
The interior of the library is impressive: columns line the transepts and at the central point is a domed ceiling. Unfortunately, all the books and other items are taped off. However, I snuck a few cheeky photos and dreamed of the days we’ll be able to browse and borrow the books freely.
If you haven’t been to this library, even the grounds are well worth a visit. A little bit of history right in the bustling centre of Valencia. And to tie in with my reference to York Central Library: this is located in the city centre, next to Museum Gardens. And right beside the library, at the entrance to Museum Gardens, is the remains of the undercroft from St Leonard’s Hospital. This is believed to have been the largest medieval hospital in the North of England. So you see, visit a library and get a page of real-life history, for free!