BnF Richelieu reopens its doors to the public after extensive renovation work

The Richelieu site of the BnF, cradle of the National Library, fully reopens its doors on Saturday, September 17 on the occasion of Heritage Days, after a second phase of work that will last twelve years in total . We have discovered a place more airy, clearer, where we can circulate more easily and more directed to the general public, with a beautiful museum and a public reading room placed in famous Oval room.

Three hundred years after the installation in the place of the former King’s Library and which received all the publications distributed in France by legal deposit, the buildings of the former National Library opened their doors.

BnF Richelieu: the new staircase (September 11, 2022) (THIERRY LE FOUILLE / SIPA)

The BN became the National Library of France (BnF) in 1995 and established a new site, the François Mitterrand site, on the banks of the Seine in the 13th arrondissement in 1998. Since then, the Richelieu site has been reserved for the manuscripts departments, prints and photographs, coins, antique medals, performing arts and music, maps and plans.

The area is quite dusty, the traffic between the buildings added to each other over the centuries is complicated. It was decided to renovate and redesign it completely.

“We completely redesigned the interior layout”, explains the architect entrusted with the high works, Bruno Gaudin. That was it “to deepen our missions”assures the president of the BnF, Laurence Engel: the preservation of the architectural heritage, the research assistance, the conservation of the collections, and finally a democratic mission that consists in expanding the public of the establishment.

BnF Richelieu: the Oval Room (September 12, 2022) (FRANCOIS MORI/ AP / SIPA)

You enter at 5 rue Vivienne (the other entrance on rue de Richelieu is reserved for groups) through the beautiful garden designed by Gilles Clément. The species planted there are related to the book: paper mulberry, paper birch, Chinese palm. A large, bright and airy hall welcomes the public. It is perfectly designed, overlooking a bookstore and a cafe. The monumental staircase that was there was removed and replaced by a lighter steel and aluminum volute structure, designed by the architect.

From the hall, there is direct access through a large glass door to the monumental “Oval room” (43 m by 32 m), now open to all (free entry). The wooden tables and shelves arranged around the perimeter have been preserved, along with contemporary furniture. It wants to meet all audiences, with in particular 9,000 comics in free access, as well as dictionaries and encyclopedias and historical works in the library. Not to mention interactive screens. “Thought at the beginning of the Third Republic to be a public reading room, it can only be today”said Laurence Engel, the president of BnF.

Louis XIV's room at BnF Richelieu (September 12, 2022) (FRANCOIS MORI / AP/ SIPA)

Although exhibition rooms have existed since Louis XV in the “Royal Library”, this is a real small museum (paying) in seven rooms that opens its doors in the area. The Richelieu site preserves 22 million items and documents from Antiquity to the present day. 900 will be exhibited there, with a planned rotation.
The Hall of Columns presents objects from Antiquity, including a stele with cuneiform inscriptions from Mesopotamia. In the Precious Cabinet, we can see the treasure of Berthouville, made up of about a hundred goldsmith’s items, the emerald pendant of Catherine de Medici or large cameos from the time of Louis XIV.

The Luynes room displays collections of vases, coins and jewelry from the Duke of the same name, some of which were donated to the library in the 19th century. The Barthélémy room, which was in disrepair before the restoration, retains its beautiful woodwork. Coins and medals are displayed there. The Louis XIV salon, furnished in the middle of the 18th century to house the royal collection of coins and carved stones, has been completely renovated. It remains closed to the public but from the open doors you can admire the furniture and wall decorations painted by François Boucher or Carle Van Loo.

The Mazarin gallery at BnF Richelieu (September 12, 2022) (FRANCOIS MORI / AP / SIPA)

The Mazarine gallery, 45 m high, one of the jewels of the site with a painted baroque ceiling of 280 m2, shows pieces from the Middle Ages to the present day: the throne of King Dagobert, manuscripts from the period of the Carolingian, the psalter of Saint Louis, a Gütenberg Bible, a 16th century terrestrial globe, the first to bear the name America, a map of Paris from 1789 published before the Revolution… Gertrude Käsebier , an engraving by Matisse…

Some reading rooms (also renovated) remain reserved for authorized researchers, and a very large part of the building, occupied by reserves, is closed to the public. But the new glass doors designed by the architects allow you to see some of them from the outside. And then, in the rooms of the museum, the windows are opened in the Oval room, which brings clarity and perspective. Finally, the architect Bruno Gaudin envisioned a glass passage that allows circulation between the different parts of the building. It is all lighting and circulation, in a building made up of levels, in recesses, that have been redesigned.

The Richelieu site reopens with a weekend of festivities, September 17 and 18: the visit will be led by actors, musicians and authors. And it will inaugurate new temporary exhibitions with Molière, from September 27, 2022 to January 15, 2023.

National Library of France, Richelieu site
5, rue Vivienne, 75002 Paris

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