The Malatestiana Library in Cesena, now 550 years old, has an extremely long memory. In 2005, Unesco included it in its Memory of the World Programme Register, as a “rare example of a complete and wonderful collection from the 15th century, just before printing became popular in Europe”.
The library opened to the public on August 15, 1454. It was built by the lord of Cesena, Domenico Malatesta, who accommodated the town’s Franciscan monks’ request for more room for the growing number of codexes in their convent. Malatesta entrusted the new ‘studium’ to a pupil of Leon Battista Alberti, architect Matteo Nuti da Fano, who designed the beautiful rectangular plan with three naves surmounted by barrel and groin vaults, which became a model and inspiration for monastic libraries.
With its 17,000 autographs and letters, and 250,000 volumes – including 287 incunables, about 4,000 books from the 1500s (‘cinquecentine’), 1,753 manuscripts from the 16th and 19th century, and even the smallest book in the world that can be read without a magnifying glass: a letter by Galileo Galilei to Christina of Lorreine, printed in 1897 and bound in just 15 x 9 mm – the Malatestiana is a unique humanistic-conventual library, that has preserved both its original architectural structure and its impressive heritage.
Here, Borges’ words appear to be the perfect ‘post-eventum’ prophecy: “the Library will endure: illuminated, solitary, infinite, perfectly motionless, equipped with precious volumes, useless, incorruptible, secret”.