Until our latest visit, that is. Josefplatz is enclosed on three sides by sections of the Hofburg Palace, and when our attention was drawn to that overlooked door it turned out to be the entrance to the stunning Prunksaal (State Hall), the central structure – the heart – of the Austrian National Library. Here is to be found one of the most beautiful library halls in the world, the biggest Baroque library in Europe. Some say it might just be the single-most impressive room in all of Vienna.

The magnificent State Hall was built in the 18th century as part of the former Court Library, and as a dedicated private wing of the Hofburg imperial residence. Emperor Charles VI (reign 1711-1740) ordered its construction and it was built by Joseph Emanuel Fischer von Erlach according to plans of his father, Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach.

The State Hall is almost 80 metres long and 20 metres high, and crowned by a 30-metre-high oval dome decorated with frescoes by the court painter Daniel Gran. He worked on the frescoes from 1726 to 1730. The one in the cupola depicts the apotheosis, the "deification" of Emperor Charles VI, as well as the allegorical story of the construction of the Court Library.

In the middle we see Charles VI in all his glory, with pyramid and laurel wreath in his hands, while below that is a golden medallion with a portrait of the emperor supported by Apollo and Hercules; beneath that and around the sides are numerous other symbols of the magnificence of the House of Habsburg.

More than 200,000 volumes originating from 1501–1850 are exhibited, among them the comprehensive library of Prince Eugene of Savoy comprising around 15,000 volumes bound in red, blue and yellow Morocco leather, as well as one of the largest collections of Martin Luther's writings from the Reformation Era.

The larger-than-life marble statue in the oval-shaped centre of the State Hall represents Charles VI as "Hercules Musarum". It dates back to 1735 and was allegedly crafted by Imperial Court sculptor Antonio Corradini (1668-1752). With elegant gestures, the emperor invites you to marvel at these treasures, for which dark walnut, stone floors and gold adornments provide the opulent framework, and at the allegorical frescos in the war and peace wings.

The other marble statues depict Austrian and Spanish Habsburgs and were created by the brothers Peter (1660-1714), Paul (1648-1708) and Dominik Strudel (1667-1715).

Four magnificent Venetian globes, each with a diameter of over one metre, provide the finishing touch to this superb centrepiece of the Austrian National Library.

The rich holdings of the Court Library originate from a wide range of different sources: Habsburg collections, purchases from famous libraries, donations, mandatory copies, purchases at book fairs and, since the time of the royal family's Chief Physician, Gerard van Swieten, 1700-1772, systematic purchases of new literature from booksellers.

In addition to its function as a library, the building was designed as a concert hall with excellent acoustics. The library museum suffered catastrophic damage in the 1848 battle for Vienna, with the zoological collection being completely destroyed by cannon fire.

"The Third Man" film was famously shot on location in war-ravaged Vienna in 1948 amid bomb craters and piles of rubble. It is a towering masterpiece of cinema. Harry Lime wasn't killed by a truck: it was a fake death to put the police off the scent. Graham Greene's "The Third Man" is a rather slight novella written purely as a basis for Greene's own screenplay for the film. The Budapest Times cannot say for sure but there does not appear to be a copy of the book among the 200,000-plus volumes.

For further exploration in Vienna:

Literature Museum
The Literature Museum is the first museum that conveys the diversity and polyphony of Austrian literature from the end of the 18th century until the present day.

Globe Museum
Over 250 globes and globe-related instruments such as armillary sphere, planetaria and telluria await you in the Globe Museum. The adjacent study collection possesses the oldest globe within the exhibition.

Papyrus Museum
There are around 300 items for you to discover in the Papyrus Museum: from the oldest papyri in the collection from the middle of the second millennium B.C. to the most recent papers from the Islamic time in the 13th century A.D.

Esperanto Museum
The Esperanto Museum of the Austrian National Library provides you, through a modern museum concept covering 80 m2, the eventful history of Esperanto and also focuses generally on the relationship between humans and language.

House of Austrian History
The republic's first museum of contemporary history: Presented in a modern and insightful way, the new museum invites visitors to the Hofburg to examine and discuss Austria's history.

Austrian National Library (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek) State Hall
Josefsplatz 1, 1010 Wien
Tel.: +43 1 534 10-394
Email: kommunikation@onb.ac.at

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