In a city of historical buildings, the Prunksaal (State Hall) of the Austrian National Library might just be the single-most impressive room in all of Vienna.
- Extraordinary main hall of the early 18th-century court library
- Almost as many frescoes as books. Almost.
- Numerous literary treasures on display
- Fully renovated in 2022
- Often includes a special exhibition:
- Of Gardens and People (Mar 30 – Nov 5, 2023)
- See also:
- Included in the Vienna Pass
- Recent special exhibitions in the Prunksaal
- The Hofburg
- The Literature Museum
- Baroque Vienna
Inside the state hall
(© Österreichische Nationalbibliothek/Hloch)
The National Library’s State Hall (Prunksaal) is a “library room” in the same way the Mona Lisa is a “painting”.
The building dates back to the early 18th century, when Emperor Charles VI decided he needed somewhere more suitable to put his books.
Not for Charles a quick shelf from IKEA.
Instead, the Emperor got architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach (he of, for example, Schönbrunn Palace fame), to design a rather splendid court library. This included the Prunksaal, which reaches almost 80m in length and over 14m in width, with a domed ceiling towering almost 20m overhead.
What does it look like?
Well, I’ve seen people walk through the entrance doors and audibly gasp in astonishment.
The hall does, indeed, have bookcases: huge, tall, Potteresque wooden ones guarded by giant mobile ladders.
It has columns, too: marble and wooden supports topped with golden scrollwork.
And statues: a who’s who of the earlier Habsburgs, with Charles VI himself at the room’s centre in a pose styled after Hercules, leader of the Muses.
And giant globes: two pairs of 17th-century celestial and earthly globes by the Franciscan friar, Vincenzo Coronelli. (For more like these, be sure to visit the Globe Museum.)
And, last but not least, it has ceiling frescoes.
Lots of ceiling frescoes.
The State Hall is a rich feast of frescoes that draw your eye up and around in unadulterated wonder. One of the painters (Daniel Gran) also created similar works for the remarkable Baroque Annakirche church.
This is not a library where you need to put out signs asking people to be quiet. It demands awestruck silence. Besides, who would ever wish to disturb the peace of the books in such a magnificent hall?
(© Österreichische Nationalbibliothek/Hloch)
Ah, the books
Those dark bookcases heave with giant leather-bound tomes. The kind you expect to be full of ancient philosophy, tales of dragons, and spells to cure your warts.
Unfortunately (but understandably), you can’t get close to the books. But glass display cabinets present rarities from the library collection and items relevant to the current Prunksaal exhibition.
(Due to conservation needs, the exhibits in the semi-permanent display are typically copies of library possessions.)
Highlights on my visit included, for example:
- The world-famous Tabula Peutingeriana, the 13th-century parchment copy of a Roman road map
- An extract from the late 14th-century Wenceslas Bible
- An extract from the Vienna Genesis, an early 6th-century illuminated manuscript
- The 9th-century Carolingian sacramentary fragment
You can only begin to imagine what treasures lurk in the library archives. But then, the early library owners did head up a giant empire, which makes sourcing new reading material a little easier.
One item likely on display is always an original, though: the ever-changing special exhibit. On one visit, for example, it was Haydn’s 1797 autograph score for his Gott erhalte composition, better known now as the music of the German national anthem.
Tickets & visitor tips
At the time of writing, a standard adult ticket cost €10, with kids free. The Vienna Pass (see my review) also includes one-time free access to the State Hall.
A few tips:
- It’s one room (albeit a big one), so you don’t need to spend too much time here. However, save a good 30-60 minutes to take it all in and look at any special exhibition that might be on
- All display information comes in both German and English
- A little brochure available at the Prunksaal’s entrance includes a guide map to the statues
- An interactive screen allows you to learn more about the different parts of the ceiling frescoes
- The exhibits all have their own associated text displays
How to get to the Prunksaal
Although the National Library itself has its main entrance in the Neue Burg, access to the Prunksaal is elsewhere in the Hofburg complex.
Pop across to Josefsplatz to enter the state hall. The same square also has the Augustinerkirche, where various Emperors and Empresses married (and Marie Antoinette).
If you’re meandering around the old town in Vienna’s centre (or following my suggested walking route), you’ll likely come across the location anyway.
Subway: a short walk from the stations Herrengasse (U3) and Stephansplatz (U3 and U1)
Tram/bus: take the 1, 2, 71 or D trams around the Ring to the Burgring stop, then walk through the Hofburg. Or take the 1A or 2A bus to Michaelerplatz
Address: Josefsplatz 1, 1010 Vienna | Website