Reconstruction of the Strahov Library 2009–2010

Between 2009 and 2010, a highly demanding reconstruction of the Philosophical Hall of the Strahov Library took place. This renovation was part of a larger set of reconstruction works, which included repairing the roofs above the library halls and other adjacent areas. The reconstruction took place while the library was fully operational. The project aimed to revitalize the library hall, preserve it for future generations, and install new technologies.

Philosophical Hall after renovation
The appearance of the Philosophical Hall after its renovation in 2010.

The project to reconstruct the Strahov Library

Project Number CZ0161, is carried out with the support of the Financial Mechanism of the EEA/Norway.

Implementer: Royal Canonry of Premonstratensians at Strahov
Partner: National Archives of the Czech Republic
Total eligible costs: 1,873,430 EUR,
Grant from the Financial Mechanism of the EEA/Norway: 1,592,415 EUR
Project implementation: 02/2009 – 12/2010

The aim of the presented project is the restoration of cultural heritage with transnational significance - the Strahov Library, which is part of the Strahov Monastery complex dating back to the 12th century. The project aims to restore the Philosophical Hall - the restoration of library furniture, the restoration of ceiling paintings, and the coffered floor located in the Strahov Library. The hall, with a floor plan of 32 x 10 meters and a height of 14 meters, housing over 60,000 volumes, will undergo restoration following initial technological surveys, including the removal of inappropriate repaints and modifications from the 1950s.

The project "Reconstruction of the Strahov Library. Restoration of the Philosophical Hall" is part of the overall project "Reconstruction of the Strahov Library". It temporally follows the project to repair the roofs over both halls (note: Philosophical and Theological Hall) of the Strahov Library, partially funded from own resources and grants from the City of Prague. Further projects are planned for the future, including the renovation of other interiors (besides the Philosophical Hall), the construction of a new vault room, the reconstruction of repositories, the construction of new repositories, a new entrance to the library, a public study room, a new fire suppression system (gas extinguishing), an elevator, and facilities for social purposes.

Restoration of the Philosophical Hall – Ceiling paintings

The ceiling painting appears to be in relatively good condition from a casual perspective. Only during detailed surveys from the library gallery and scaffolding is the current condition of the monument visible. The surface of the painting is covered with a thin grayish layer of dirt, which optically diminishes the colorfulness of the work. Maulbertsch's painting is light and airy in its outer appearance and is not in glaring colors, as evidenced by previous and current probes into surface dirt. Many interventions from a repair in the first half of the 20th century are evident in many places. The color layer is overlaid with local repaints copying the original (sky) and darkened retouches. Inappropriate repaints are also evident on the red draperies. Imperfect reconstruction of the painting is particularly noticeable in the central part of the west wall, where there was probably a repair due to water leakage and where earthy pigments have powdered. In these places, there is also a large vertical static crack.

The condition of the ceiling painting before the reconstruction began.
Restoration of the Philosophical Hall – Hall Equipment (Floor, Bookcases)

Around the entire hall, at a height of approximately 8 meters, there is an exposed gallery accessible by two spiral wooden staircases (already reconstructed). All walls and spaces between windows are lined with bookcases reaching up to the gallery; above the gallery, there is another row of bookcases (approximately 4 meters high) reaching up to the vault with the fresco. The hall has 8 sets of doors – two entrance doors, one to the storage room, one set is bricked up, two lead to the staircases to the gallery (previously covered with bookcases), and the last pair of doors lead from the gallery to the storage room. Additionally, there are 6 tall windows in the lower part and 7 above the gallery. The window and door niches are lined with paneling and richly decorated with profiled gilded strips and gilded carvings. The entire gallery structure and individual bookcases are adorned with gilded carvings in the form of pedestals and capitals of pilasters, leaf garlands with ribbons, parts of figures, etc. The gallery balustrade is adorned with large gilded vases. The lower part of the bookcases is equipped with double-door cabinets. The floor of the Philosophical Hall is covered with square parquet panels. At the ends of the hall, above the gallery, there are large gilded statues of angels.

The reconstruction is taking place during regular visitor hours. We thank the visitors for contributing to this renovation by purchasing tickets, which will be completed by the end of this year.

History of the Philosophical Hall

In the last quarter of the 18th century, Abbot Václav Mayer decided to construct new library spaces to accommodate the numerous additions to the library's collection. For this purpose, he had the Philosophical Hall built on the site of the original granary. This hall was designed by Jan Ignác Palliardi, a naturalized Italian architect. The façade was completed in 1783, and the interior made of walnut wood was transported from the dissolved Premonstratensian monastery in Louka near Znojmo. The dimensions of the future hall were adapted to the size of the bookshelves. The interior was installed between 1794 and 1797 by its original author, Jan Lahofer from Tasovice, and modified into an early Neoclassical style. The astonishing dimensions of the hall (length 32m, width 10m, and height 14m) are accentuated by the monumental ceiling fresco created by the Viennese painter Franz Anton Maulbertsch.

On August 8, 1793, the abbot began negotiations with F.A. Maulbertsch, whose frescoes he had seen in Louka, where Maulbertsch painted the ceiling of the library with the fresco "Spiritual Evolution of Mankind" from 1776-1778. The fundamental idea was to depict how philosophy and science, along with religion, evolved from the beginning of the world until finally reaching Christianity. As a guarantee of this quest, Divine Providence is placed in the center of the fresco, surrounded by virtues and vices. The development of humanity begins with its dawn, which is associated with Old Testament motifs. In the center of the scene are tablets with the Ten Commandments and Moses, behind whom stands the Ark of the Covenant. Among others depicted are Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, Solomon, and David. On the left side, we follow the development of Greek civilization from mythical times through the era of Alexander the Great to philosophers such as Socrates, Diogenes, and Democritus. On the right side, the development of sciences is portrayed (e.g., Asclepius, Pythagoras, Socrates in prison). The inscription "Wenceslaus Secundus, hic primus" indicates that the founder of the hall, Václav Mayer, was the second abbot named Václav, but the first in the library. A group of defeated sophists is depicted as a reference to the French encyclopedists. However, their Encyclopedia is stored in the hall among the first volumes, indicating the liberal atmosphere at Strahov. On the opposite side, we primarily see New Testament motifs – Saint Paul's speech at the altar of the unknown god on the Areopagus in Athens. In the right corner stands the Czech patron saint, St. Wenceslaus, holding a banner with the St. Wenceslaus eagle. The elderly woman to his right is his grandmother, St. Ludmila. Below them, among the four Church Fathers Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine, and Gregory, stands also St. Methodius, who Christianized Great Moravia, and the second Prague bishop, St. Adalbert. Lastly, in the row with an enlightened face and an abbatial staff in hand, the founder of the hall, Abbot Václav Mayer, looks into the hall. To his right kneel two other Czech patrons, St. John of Nepomuk and St. Norbert, the founder of the Premonstratensian Order. At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the library became renowned in the European cultural environment. Numerous visits by prominent figures were recorded since 1792 in the oldest visitors' book. Initially, access to the library, which was ruled by the cloister, was only sporadically granted to women. One of the first was Lady Emma Hamilton, who visited the library in 1800 with her husband, the British archaeologist and statesman Sir William Hamilton, and her lover, the victor of Trafalgar, Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson. Another significant woman who visited the library on June 17, 1812, was the Austrian princess and Napoleon Bonaparte's wife, Marie Louise. In the fall of the same year, in addition to other books, she sent the Strahov Library a four-volume work on the first museum in the Louvre. Allegedly, when this exclusive publication was completed, Napoleon ordered the entire edition to be destroyed and kept only three or four complete sets. He feared that his reputation would be damaged because the origin of the entire series of exhibits, mainly looted in Italy, was mentioned in the work. The book donation was stored in a rebuilt tall cabinet dominating the other furniture in the hall. A bust of the Strahov librarian and archivist, Prior Cyril Straka, who contributed significantly not only to cataloging work but also to making library and archival materials accessible to the public, especially in the first quarter of the 20th century, is located in the hall. He was also one of the best experts in Czech bookbinding. It was he who named the library halls according to the traditional division of studies into the Philosophical and Theological Halls. In addition to philosophy, which originally encompassed all sciences, one can find works in other fields taught at universities, such as astronomy, mathematics, history, philology, and more. The total number of volumes in this hall exceeds 33,000 pieces.

Progress of the Reconstruction

The restoration of the Philosophical Hall is being carried out by the GEMA ART GROUP a.s. based on the results of the tender. The reconstruction started on July 7, 2009. In the first phase, preparatory work, dismantling of the parquet floor, and relocation of books from the hall were carried out.

July 2009: Furniture was removed from the hall, books were partially relocated, and inventory and measurement of the parquet floor were conducted. The floor consists of 556 parquet squares (more than ten thousand individual pieces of wood in total), secured on a layer of sawdust on the lower wooden floor. Parquet squares will be dismantled and restored by conservators.

August 2009: The remaining books were removed from the hall, and scaffolding was erected for easier access for restorers to the cabinets. The parquet floor was dismantled. Inventory and detailed examination of the cabinets continued.

September 2009: Parquet squares were sorted into four groups according to the degree of damage. A sample of parquet from each of the four groups underwent a cleaning and restoration test, followed by full-scale restoration. Scaffolding was installed throughout the hall. A restoration survey of the furniture (e.g., historical wooden cabinets) was conducted, and examination of the parquet floor and ceiling fresco began.

October 2009: Removable decorative elements were partially dismantled from the cabinets, and restorers started removing layers of old varnishes. Examination of the ceiling fresco continued, focusing on recent overpainting, old water damage, and cracks in the vault.

November and December 2009: Removal of old varnishes and paints from the library cabinets continued. Removable elements requiring further repairs (lower cabinet doors, bookshelves, gallery railings where the floor will be replaced) were dismantled. The ceiling fresco was cleaned of dust and dirt, and loose parts of fillers from cracks, which will be treated anew, were removed.

January to March 2010: After cleaning the library cabinets, the interiors of niches for books were repainted blue in the same shade as before but with a more durable composition. Restoration of non-removable decorative elements began, and the final surface treatment of the cabinets was approved. Cracks in the ceiling fresco were filled.

April and May 2010: Restoration of the ceiling fresco was completed, and scaffolding covering it was removed. Although restoration work on the cabinets continued, the restored fresco is now visible to regular library visitors.

June and July 2010: Final surface treatments of the cornice and paneling in door and window niches are underway. Restoration work on historical library cabinets and parquet flooring continues. In July, goldsmith works are also being carried out on several historical elements (e.g., paneling in window niches, cornice, and gallery railings, bookshelves). Restoration work on wooden angel sculptures (life-size) is ongoing in restoration workshops.

August and September 2010: Surface treatment of cabinets (except for removable elements, whose gilding is still ongoing) and doors and panels is completed. At the beginning of September, book relocation back to the hall began. New lighting was installed and tested. Scaffolding is gradually dismantled, and the gallery floor is installed.

October and November 2010: Books were relocated back to the hall, gilding of cabinets and removable elements was completed, and they were reattached to their original positions. In the final phase of the reconstruction, the parquet floor was reinstalled.

After the ceremonial opening on December 9, 2010, the library was reopened to the public.


The Czech version of this page provides press releases regarding the progress of the reconstruction; however, they are available only in the Czech language.