When I first came to Rio two years ago, I got taken to “Centro
Cultural Carioca” – a nice live music place downtown. From the window
of CCC I noticed a baroque building that said “Real Gabinete Portuguez
de Leitura” – “Royal Portugues Reading Room”. (The word “Portuguez”
was spelled with a “z” and without a hat over “e”.) Since then I've
been to CCC several times and each time thought I should go by this
square during the day. Last week I finally found myself near by, with
some time to kill, and with a camera. I took some pictures of the
building outside, then peaked inside, just in case.
What I found inside was a large room, 3-4 floors high, with all walls covered with thousands of old books, framed framed by shelfs and banisters of dark wood with gilded details – quite a view. There were tables on the floor with some people reading books, and the quite atmosphere really added to the library feeling. There were signs, however, asking us not to touch the books and there access to second and third level was only for “pessoas autorizadas”. It appears that you can request a book and they would bring it to you (one of the pictures shows a guy climbing a ladder on the 3rd level), but most of the people who were reading had their own books, I think.
I later went to read about the Real Gabinete on the Internet and discovered that the building is newer than I imagined. It is a late 19th century imitation of early 16th century “arquitetura manuelina” (after Portuguese king Manuel I), “characterized by plastic exuberance, naturalism, robustness, dynamic curves and reliance on motives inspired by maritime flora and seafaring of the Age of Discoveries.” It contains 45,000 volumes. There are more details about it on Gabinete’s absolutely unusable website at http://www.realgabinete.com.br/.