The Malatestiana Library in Cesena
Estimated reading time: 2 minutes
Among the many UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Emilia-Romagna, there is a truly magical place mostly hidden by the tourists’ sight: the Malatestiana Library in Cesena, which has kept, for over 600 years, the culture and the knowledge of men.
Due to its great contribution to the conservation of ancient manuscripts and the memory of humanity, in September 2008 the Library was included in the UNESCO Registry of the World, a registry that collects and protects archives and historical documents worldwide.
The history of Malatestiana Library and of its construction is long and has its roots in ancient times. Chronicles tell us about the mid-fifteenth century AD the local Franciscan friars had no more room to collect the huge archive of manuscripts stored in their small library, and asked Domenico Malatesta, Lord of Cesena, to help them in the construction of a new structure.
Domenico Malatesta willingly accepted the Franciscans friars proposal and entrusted Matteo Nuti, a disciple of the great Leon Battista Alberti, with the task of planning and directing the construction works.
Within seven years (from 1447 to 1454) the library was finished and the Franciscan friars finally had a space to store and continue to copy their precious codes.
At that time the press was not practiced as today and the only places where books could be copied, read and handed down were the monastic libraries, where the friars “duplicated” them with care and patience, combined with a superfine art of thumbnail.
It can be said that the monastic libraries carried out the function of physically transmitting to posterity the ancient classical texts: Greek philosophy, Latin literature, the Roman legal codes, in short, all the culture that today we call “classical” is now available thanks to the work of conservation and copying of libraries such as the Malatestiana.
Of course, thanks to its long history the library stores also many curiosities, like the smallest book in the world readable without a magnifying glass, measuring 15 × 9 mm, on which is printed a letter by Galileo Galilei to Cristina di Lorena, along with some curious Garibaldi memorabilia.
While visiting the ancient Sala dei Nuti, its three naves and its structure will remind you of a church or a Roman basilica; so do not expect luxuriant buildings or display of Renaissance riches: remember that we are in a place designed for the humble and industrious Franciscan friars!
All this does not mean that the library does not seem interesting: if you succeed only for a moment to squint and let yourself be pervaded by the unreal silence that surrounds it, you will be able to hear, and perhaps even see, the friars with their bent reads, copying books and creating beautiful miniatures.
Stop one moment to admire the atmosphere and the soft shadows of the colonnade of Malatestiana Library, you will be able to perceive the immense work of translation, cataloging, and storage of human knowledge.