Holding over 9 million volumes within its stacks and archives, Brazil’s extensive National Library (Biblioteca Nacional) is the largest library in Latin America and remains one of the first institutions established during Rio’s reign as imperial capital of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarves. Founded in 1810 and relocated to its current handsome Greek Revival-style setting in 1910, the library has maintained an archive of the country’s most important publications, periodicals, photographs, films, and music through the present—its collection of Brazilian popular music is unmatched, with over 200,000 pieces, from samba to sertanejo (a genre from the dry backlands of the northeast akin to American country music).
The library is open for public use and wows visitors with its elegant red-carpeted staircase and eclectic interior flourishes. One of the most valuable holdings inside is the late-19th century photography collection of Empress Theresa Christina Maria, Naples-born wife of Brazil’s second emperor, Pedro II, which was recognized by UNESCO for its historical significance and given to the library after her death by Pedro on the condition that the collection would be named for her. Despite moving the national capital to Brasília in 1960, a branch of the National Library didn’t open there until 2006.