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The 260th anniversary of opening the Załuski Library
2007-08-14 14:41:20

8th August marked the 260th anniversary of opening the Załuski Library to the public - one of the largest - some even believe to be the largest - libraries of the world in the 18th century. It was founded by two brothers - Bishop Józef Andrzej Załuski and Bishop Andrzej Stanisław Załuski. It was opened to the public on 8th August 1747.It was located in the Daniłowiczowski Palace in Warsaw (the present-day headquarters of ZAiKS).Its collections were privately gathered by the brothers for many years. It included the legacies of king Zygmunt August and Stefan Batory.

In its golden age, the collection covered 400,000 prints and 12,000 manuscripts. It mainly consisted of German, French and Italian pieces. However, specialists believe that the most valuable pieces were the printed and handwritten Polish documents, such as annals and chronicles from the 14th century, the manuscripts of Orzechowski or the correspondence of the Jagiellonians and Wasas as well as fragments of the Sobieski archives.
The library was a centre of science and literature in Poland, it also played an important role in developing contacts with foreign scholars. It was considered to be one of the biggest such institutions in Europe (next to the imperial library in Vienna, the Bavarian library in Munich and the British Library).

"Over about a quarter of a century it played the role of development strategist, organiser, coordinator, symbol and representative of Polish academy" - said historian Dr Jan Kozłowski.

The library possessed numerous books and series, sculptures, canvases, engravings (over 40,000), coins, natural history collections, geographical and mathematical collections as well as an astronomical observatory. It was the organiser of competitions for scientists and writers, it held academic sessions and book auctions. It encouraged book clubs.

One of the first Polish scientific journals was also associated with the library. Over 130 books were published with its support, mainly on the history of literature, Poland and the Church as well as law, genealogy and heraldry.

After the fall of the Kościuszko Uprising, in 1794-1795, on the order of Catherine II, the collections were taken to Sankt Petersburg, where in 1814 they formed the basis of the Imperial Public Library.

After the First World War, part of the collections was returned as a result of the Treaty of Riga and was incorporated into the National Library. However, during the Second World War most of it was destroyed by the Germans, who set fire to it in 1944.

Historical analyses show that the collections of the largest European libraries did not grow to this size until the second decade of the 19th century.


PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland, Katarzyna Czechowicz

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