The world-famous Admont library is located in the east wing of the abbey building. It is accessed from the Museum on the first floor of the south wing. It is 70 metres long, 14 metres wide and 11 metres high (reaching a maximum height of 12.7 metres in the central cupola), making this room the largest monastic library in the world.
The eighth Wonder of the World ‒ Admont Abbey library
In the past, this hall was sometimes referred to as the ‘eighth Wonder of the World’. The interplay of its vast dimensions, its architectural structure, its book holdings and artistic decoration has taken away the breath of visitors since its creation.
It was formerly (but erroneously) stated in older reference works that its architect was Gotthard Hayberger, a native of the town of Steyr. However, subsequent research showed that it was planned and its construction was supervised by Josef Hueber, an architect born in Vienna who was principally active in Styria. He used the magnificent Imperial Library completed in 1726 (now the Austrian National Library) in Vienna as his model.
Hueber divided the space in Admont into three compartments consisting of a central cupola room in the shape of an elongated oval and two connected wings on either side. Both of the side chambers have three bays, each with an elongated vault ceiling. Hence this extraordinary space is covered by a total of seven cupolas. Its height extends for two storeys and light is provided by 48 windows.
The ceiling of the central cupola room is supported by twelve pillars made of a reddish marble that emphasize the vertical dimension. This room has no gallery to ensure that the attention of the observer is automatically drawn to the fresco of the central cupola that is at the core of the library’s design concept. Its theme is Divine Revelation, represented by a personification of Divine Wisdom. Galleries mounted on brackets follow the walls of the two long side wings. This further underlines the two-storey height but also tends to make the cupolas appear less elevated. The two-storey book cases further accentuate the effect of the spaces. The cases in the corners of these rooms are curved. This structural concept, which seems to anticipate the later Empire style, results in 12 of the potential total of 60 windows being covered. Concealed behind each of the two inner corner cases of the side wings, there are spiral staircases ‒ four in number ‒ that lead up to the library galleries.
The secret doors of Admont library
A homogeneous architectural effect is achieved by using remarkably life-like dummy book spines ‒ faux books ‒ to cover what are not immediately recognisable as doors. Visitors like to call these the ‘secret doors’ of Admont library.
The plans for the library hall at Admont were originally drawn up in 1765 and the construction work was probably completed by 1773. The result was that the internal design of this space differs extensively from that of older book rooms and other monastic libraries built in the 18th century. This is particularly apparent in the case of the colour and lighting schemes. Sufficient brightness is provided by the numerous windows. Instead of being finished in brown tones, as was the case in earlier libraries, the bookcases at Admont are painted in white with delicate gold decorations. While being consistent with Rococo taste this also reflects the concepts of the intellectual outlook of the period: the era of the Enlightenment.
The spirit of the Enlightenment is, of course, also apparent in the choice of books kept in the library, in the artworks and even in the floor of the room. More than 7,000 rhombus-shaped tiles made of white, red and grey marble have been carefully laid to create a repeating geometric pattern throughout the whole library. Depending on their subjective point of view, the observer may see stripes, zig-zag lines, cubes or even three-dimensional step-like structures.