First Public Library in Latin America Is in Mexico
You will be in awe to know that the first public library in Latin America is in the famous Mexican state of Puebla. This extraordinary Mexican library is home to unique records dating back centuries ago—some are even kept from the public!
Let’s explore the fascinating history and collections this library keeps.
The First Public Library in Latin America
In 1646, members of the clergy in Puebla, Mexico donated over 5,000 books in honor of bishop Juan de Palafox y Mendoza to the Tridentine—Orthodox-Roman Catholic—schools. This was the foundation of Biblioteca Palafoxiana, the first public library in Latin America. They established it in Colegio de San Juan, setting up the first shelves until 1773 by the order of bishop Francisco Fabian y Fuero.
Recently working as a regular library for investigators, it became a museum in 1981 when the Mexican government declared this Mexican distinctive library a National Historical Monument (Monumento Histórico Nacional).
On your next visit to Mexico, you can visit the first public library in Latin America—among dozens of exceptional tourist places—in the state of Puebla.
Puebla used to hold most of the libraries of religious orders, which made the clergy settle a magnificent library in this historical place. The appointment of Juan de Palafox as bishop of Puebla and viceroy of Nueva España also had an influence on this decision.
Later on, the differences between Juan de Palafox and the Jesuit order turned into a life-threatening situation for the bishop, and forced him to seek refuge in San José Chiapa to eventually return to Spain.
The clergy recognized Juan de Palafox’s efforts to ensure the population had access to education. Unable to forget his mission, they stayed true to bishop Palafox’s will and founded this Mexican library under the condition that everyone would have access to it.
Wonders of Puebla
UNESCO declared the astonishing southcentral state of Puebla as Cultural Heritage of Humanity for its artistic townscape that once held the prehispanic cities of Cantona and Cholula. This state also has over 300 churches.
As if the town didn’t have enough captivating history, it also was where Mexico defeated the French during the Battle of Puebla. We now refer to it as Cinco de Mayo.
In addition to Biblioteca Palafoxiana, tourists can enjoy visiting the International Museum of Baroque Art (Museo Internacional del Barroco) and the Forts of Loreto and Guadalupe.
If you are an explorer by heart, Cuetzalan will impress you with its stunning waterfalls, grottos, and mountains.
Luckily for you, whenever you find yourself in Mexico City, you can take a two-hour road trip and visit Puebla for the day!
A Setback, Earthquake of 1999
By 1999, Biblioteca Palafoxiana had weak lower levels, and this all worsened when the fatal earthquake struck, which caused over 15 deaths.
The library’s weakest levels suffered even more harm, the vaults and walls cracked, and the rain contributed to an almost tragic deterioration.
The World Monuments Fund helped restore the project by reinforcing the main structure and improving the interiors. They also anchored the bookcases to the walls to avoid them from putting weight onto one another.
The Virgin of Trapana altar, the sculpture of Juan de Palafox, and the main door needed to be repaired as they were an essential part of the library’s history.
The first public library in Latin America eventually reopened when it was in better condition in 2003, going through a renovation of the tile floor in 2008.
The historical Mexican library received UNESCO’s recognition as a Universal Treasure, and they also became part of the Memory of the World Register (Memoria del Mundo)—such a title remains unparalleled in America.
Biblioteca Palafoxiana uniquely portrays a European influence, especially from Nueva España. Although, it also combines Spain’s baroque with an indigenous take on such art style.
Collections To Explore
Up to 45,000 volumes build up the library’s antique fund, including nine incunabula. The oldest book dates back to 1475.
The first two floors mainly contain religious books written in Latin dating back to 1773. The third floor includes antique works in French, Spanish, and English that date back to 1850.
Mexican prints, over 5,348 manuscripts, 800 loose prints, 500 engravings—and more—assemble an exclusive collection that investigators, historians, and History enthusiasts must visit!
Here are the most relevant titles within this library’s walls.
- La ciudad de Dios de San Agustín (1475)
- Crónica de Nuremberg de Antón Koberger (1493)
- De Humani Corporis Fábrica de Andreas Vesalio (1543)
Biblioteca Palafoxiana welcomes all family members, as its Sala Lúdica is especially dedicated to kids so they can spark their interest in History and antique books.
The norms of security are rather strict, but this room is still open to the public since they inaugurated it in 2003.
Through workshops and a closer exhibit, visitors can approach the historical patrimony this marvelous library holds in the interactive room.
As if you were not intrigued enough, there is also a section of forbidden books in the library!
In the heart of Puebla, the first public library in Latin America is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. You can choose between exploring it on your own or having someone guide you along to have a special experience and avoid missing out on the greatest treasures within the library!
Check out the entrance pricing and plan a visit right away!
|Public||Price in MXN||Price in USD|
|Children under 12, students, teachers, and people with disabilities||20||0.99|
Prepare for Mexico
Visiting magic towns in Latin America is an experience we all deserve to live at least once! Make sure you are ready for your trip to Mexico by signing up for a free class and polish your fluency in Spanish with a one-on-one class.
Our native Spanish speakers will guide you so you become fluent in the native language of beautiful Latin America! Don’t miss out on visiting the first public library in Latin America and add this experience to your most notable memories!
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