Biblioteca Guarneriana Part I: “And if any man wanted above said books”

The commune of San Daniele del Friuli is most famous for one thing- prosciutto.  Ham is a serious business for San Daniele, and from the displays at the Museo del Territorio to a tour of the Prosciutteries to dinner at any one of the many restaurants serving up prosciutto,  San Daniele has a long history, beginning as a Roman settlement, and there is a large body historic structures to be seen.  My favorite location though happens to be in the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, the main town square.

The Biblioteca Guarneriana from the west. And my spouse stretching his legs from the hike up Via Roma to reach it. Courtesy of the author.

That building is the Biblioteca Guarneriana, one of the oldest public libraries in Italy.  On the 10th of October in 1466, Guarnerio d’Artegna dictated his final will, in which he gifted his library of 173 manuscripts to the San Daniele and its people.  An avid intellectual, educated at the University of Padua and the intellectual circles of Rome, Guarnerio began his ecclesiastical career in Friuli in 1435.  He was ordained around 1445 and appointed the second highest civil and religious authority under the Patriarch of Aquileia.  There was a lot going on politically at this time in Italy, and you can read a more detailed biography of Guarnerio here.  Suffice to say, San Daniele became his parish, and thereby the center of the Church of Aquileia.  The collection expanded over the years, most notably with the donations of Guisto Fontanini in 1734.  Though the collection has been sequestered away in times of war, robbed by invading forces and occasionally “borrowed” out of by other collections in Italy, it has always greatly treasured by the community.

At this time the library has over 120,000 volumes.  The various religious and humanist texts from Guarnerio, Fontanini and others include eighty incunabula (books that were printed as opposed to handwritten prior to 1501), a 14th-century Divine Comedy, and the “gem” the 1190’s Byzantine Bible from the Latin Kingdom in Jerusalem.  The archival collection also contains the Municipal Collection, which documents the evolution of the local government through the Acts of the Community ( 1213 to 1797), the Democratic Municipality (1797-1814), and the City (1800-1870).  Even a text entitled “Discourse on the game of football Fiorentino, Del Puro Academic Altered ” from 1580 is to be found in the library.

Looking out from the loggia into the piazza. Courtesy of the author.
The fresco and painted beams inside the loggia. Courtesy of the author.

The collection was housed in the Palazzo Comunale, a 15th century building off the piazza.  The municipal palace- or as we in the US tend to say, town hall- has a loggia was the first part of the structure built in 1415.  In both medieval and Renaissance Italy, loggias and porticos were common.  (Though often used interchangeably, we can differentiate between porticos and loggias on a functional basis.  Porticos describe the covered entrances to buildings, while loggias are not built at the entrance but are simply a sort of outdoor extension of the building.)  Loggias were often built in conjunction with squares, and as seen in treatises on architecture of the time, were viewed as necessary for functional community life.  The shaded walkways provided places for workers to rest in the afternoon, parents and caregivers to bring small children outdoors, and by being raised above the square provided public seating for events and festivals.  The loggia features beautifully carved and painted beams, as well as remnants of the fresco along the top of one wall.

The Bibioteca Guarneriana in 1900, the early 1990s and during renovations in 2011.  Courtesy of the SIRPAC archives, and
The Bibioteca Guarneriana in 1900, the early 1990s and during renovations in 2011. Courtesy of the SIRPAC archives, and


The building’s most recent renovation was completed in 2012 by Claudio Del Mestre and team. For some great renderings of the building, including illustrations of the periods of construction, pop over to archilovers.  The library entrances from the loggia and the study are both part of the renovations, as well as restorations to the plaster work.

Next week we will take a peek inside the library, and I will show you my favorite room- the Fontanini hall.