A trip to the library has surely never been as interesting as it will be on a visit to the National Library of Valencia. That’s because this biblioteca is also known as the Monastery of San Miguel de los Reyes, a complex erected in the 16th century, and which -- with just one glimpse at the structure -- is far more than just a place for archiving books and documents.
Built by the Duke of Calabria, the once-monastery sits on the site of a former abbey, and before that even a mosque. And what a complex it is, complete with a two-towered Renaissance façade, beyond which you will find a proper church, and two courtyards; one surrounded by arcaded galleries, the other unfinished and gallery-less. The exterior alone is a commanding site, reminiscent of El Escorial Monastery near Madrid.
Until the late 1800s, the building continued as a monastery, but then became a prison, and finally the library you see today. And while it is called a library, it’s not the kind where you can go peruse and even borrow books, but instead a place where important documents are archived, and therefore meant only for researchers.
Though free to enter, the majority of the complex can only be viewed on guided tours, which take place just a few days a week. Note that the monastery is located on the outskirts of town, some 4 kilometers north of the old quarter and is therefore best reached by several bus lines, the tram or taxi.