The Biblioteca Comunale Classense is the largest and most important public library of  the town of Ravenna and it derives its name from the town of Classe (Classis Ravennas, originally the Roman port), where the Camaldolites had a monastery which was moved to Ravenna – within walking distance from Dante’s Tomb – at the beginning of the 16th century.

In fact, the now monumental library developed from the small collection of books owned by the Camaldolites thanks to the work of many abbots and monks; of these, Pietro Canneti, at the beginning of the 18th century, was the one who most profoundly transformed the monastic library, enriching and organizing the collections, but also commissioning the impressive woodwork and frescoes that still today make the Classense an unmissable library.

The decorations tell the story of the Camaldolite Order, and its religious and cultural ties with the town, celebrating, side by side, patron saints and Ravenna literati. Canneti also commissioned the Aula Magna that with the stuccos of the vaulted ceiling reflecting the woodwork of the carved shelves and of the brackets, is a monument to 18th-century knowledge and architecture. Being originally a monastery, the construction winds through a sequence of cloisters refreshed by grassy grounds and trees and the stables of the monastery were fairly recently converted into a striking exhibition room by Marco Dezzi Bardeschi.
After the abolition of religious orders implemented by Napoleon, the monastery library became the town library and collection of books from other monasteries and orders converged in it.

Today in the Classense there are 650,000 books, of which: 800 incunabula; 8,000 16th-century editions; and 750 manuscripts; 12,000 items of the Collezione Dantesca. The library has also a collection of letters and other personal mementos of Lord Byron that have been passed on to it by Teresa Gamba, the poet’s Ravenna-born mistress.

But the lively library has also conspicuous contemporary literature and children’s sections, including 700 current and 3,000 discontinued periodicals.

Ilona Catani Scarlett

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