Few things enchant me more than libraries. I’ve often thought I’d like to sleep over in one, especially in a delightfully dusty, old library. Sneak in around closing time, say, then hide until everyone is gone and stay overnight. Only me and possibly a ghost or two. If I were a ghost with some waiting to do, a library would be a pretty cool place to hang out.

But it doesn’t have to be ancient for me to appreciate it. The Old Library at Dublin’s Trinity University (from 1592), Manchester‘s stunning John Ryland’s library (1899), the über cool Bibliotheka Alexandrina (2002) in Egypt; I love them all. (Sadly, the Ancient Library of Alexandria was destroyed; one of the great tragedies of history. Whodunnit? There’s a surplus of suspects. Chances are, it happened during the Roman Era. We can’t be sure when, or which emperor was responsible for such a travesty – could’ve been Julius Caesar in 48 BCE, or perhaps Diocletian (dude from Split, remember?) in 297 CE. All we can be sure of is that it was once there, and now it is not. Not very satisfying.)

Pannonhalma Abbey library

But once again I digress, this time even before I’ve started. The lovely library in the photo here is very much still in existence, and you can find it a short distance from the Hungarian city of Györ – in Pannonhalma Archabbey.

Finished in the early 1800s, this library has about 360,000 books in its collection – top to bottom on two floors. And just like the Book of Kells is showcased at Trinity library, here at Pannonhalma, you’ll find the oldest document in Hungarian still in existence: the abbey’s charter, from 1055. I love the blue Ionic columns, 36 of them, as well as the shiny marble dance floor. Well, it isn’t a dance floor really, but I like to think of it as one. Books, dancing… that’s a winning combo in my book.

There’s more to Pannonhalma than the library, of course. This is the first Benedictine Monastery in Hungary, founded over 1000 years ago. You’ll see an impressive early 14th century Gothic basilica and a crypt. Then there’s an equally impressive gate, the ornate Portages Speciosa, and 19th century tower, a refectory, chapels, a boarding school and monks’ chambers – all in a quaint ensemble of architectural styles that work well together. Also, a botanical garden surrounds it. All in all, it’s a lovely spot for a look and a stroll.

From the inscription:

The monastery of the Benedictine Order at Pannonhalma, founded in 996 and gently dominating the Pannonian landscape in western Hungary, had a major role in the diffusion of Christianity in medieval Central Europe.

Pannonhalma makes a nice day trip from Budapest (about 130 km away), or a worthwhile little detour on the way to/from Vienna.  If you arrive by train or car, you’ll spot the abbey on a hilltop in the distance. That hilltop is where a gang of monks decided to settle 1,023 years ago. ‘OK by me,’ said then king Stephen, so on they went converting locals, as monks do – and start the country’s first school. Except for a bit back and forth during the Ottoman occupation, monks have lived here ever since, even in the Communist years. Today, it serves as a boarding school still, with about 50 monks, mostly teachers, living on site. For its 1000th anniversary in 1996, the monastery was wholly renovated.

Now, what’s a monastery without a winery? At Pannonhalma, you can take a guided tour through the Archabbey Winery, and in summer, you can sample the goodies at the taster terrace overlooking lavender fields. If you get a bit carried away with all the lovely liquid grapes, nearby Pannonhalma village has a few guesthouses.

There you are. Have a good trip! Or as they say in the local lingo:

Jó utazás!

World at a Glance is a series of short articles here on Sophie’s World, most often with just one photo, portraying curious, evocative, happy, sad, wondrous or unexpected encounters.


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Millenary Benedictine Abbey of Pannonhalma and its Natural Environment is a World Heritage site. Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world.