Strolling through the Library Interiors

"A colossal building was erected in the very center of our northern capital, at the intersection of Sadovaya street and one of the world's most beautiful avenues — Nevsky Prospekt. It is an elegant and majestic structure, like most of the buildings in St. Petersburg...."  

"On the rounded corner there are two columned facades: one overlooks Sadovaya street, and the other — the avenue. The third and the best faces Alexandrinsky Square (now Ostrovsky Square). Nearby is his Majesty's own palace (Anichkov House). On the front is a green square and pavilions of the Royal Arsenal; to the right is the Imperial Alexandrinsky Theatre, with its chariot almost hanging in the air; on the left is the All- Russia's Place of Commerce and Industry — Gostiny Dvor...
This building, in front of which every foreigner involuntarily stops with curiosity, a Russian with gratitude, is the Imperial Public Library..."

Imperial Public Library Guidebook. St. Petersburg, 1852


The Library was intended to be a library-museum, so its rooms were spacious. They housed not only bookcases but also many paintings and sculptures. The images by the artist Pyotr Borel  show what the place actually looked like at that time. The artist was specially invited to draw the Library after the renovation of 1851. His pictures were used to illustrate the Imperial Public Library Guidebook published in 1852. The same guide provides detailed descriptions of the rooms and the collections held in them.

Since then, the interiors of the Library have changed a lot. Some of the rooms cannot be recognized. Where possible, historical pictures of the rooms were found. We compare them with present-day photos, making  “then and now” picture pairs. It is for you to judge how well they capture the spirit of the times.


Main Building (Ground Floor)


Ground Floor


Faust's Study

Rare Books Exhibition Hall


Voltaire Library

Manuscripts Exhibition Hall

Manuscripts Reading Room

Manuscripts Room


Manuscripts Round Room

Manuscript Storage Room


Main Building (First Floor)

First Floor


Universal Reading Room

Prints Room


Korf Room

E-Resources Room

Russian Books Oval Room

Lenin Room


Russian Books Rooms