The World’s Oldest Bookstore: Livraria Bertrand, Lisbon, Portugal

Posted on
Jan 3, 2018
 

Lisbon is full of bookstores. They are everywhere, tucked into odd-shaped nooks so that they almost blend in with the facades. Some were ancient, and so resembled museum exhibits that I simply stared at them from afar, not realizing that we could actually go inside.

This was my initial reaction to Livraria Bertrand – the oldest operating bookshop in the world, established in 1732. I looked at it from a distance, through glass, and thought “how remarkable”, the way one would any other work of art. You marvel at it, but you do not touch. You certainly don’t step inside. But Rand was not limited by such strange hangups, and seeing that he was able to walk in without being yelled at by some unseen authority figure, I quickly rushed in after him.

Plus he’s super cute and his eyes are like, CRAZY twinkly.

The Bertrand smells faintly of old wood and vanilla. Sloping archways connect room after room after room. The inner rooms look modern and recently renovated, but every now and then there is a pillar, or an exposed stone, or a strangely uneven piece of floor to remind you that when this shop opened, humans thought our solar system ended at Saturn.

Pedro Faure – one of many French booksellers who began arriving in Portugal in the early 18th century – opened the shop in 1732, but it was destroyed in the earthquake of 1755 (which decimated much of the city). The shop was reopened not long afterward in its current location, and has remained in operation ever since, hosting poets, philosophers, Nobel prize nominees, artists, and, of course, writers.

It was enough to wander through and simply breathe it in. It was as quiet as church, and for a lapsed Catholic like myself it offered even more of a religious experience that any of the cathedrals we visited. If there is a God, she is here, in the pages of a really good book.

I’ve always enjoyed novels that are love letters to books themselves (Like Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore  or The Borrower, which are both delightful reads), and Lisbon feels like the city equivalent of that – an entire town made of tiny shops piled high with dusty tomes. In this respect, Livraria Bertrand is not unique – it is one of many, many bookstores. But it is the oldest, and there is a sort of ancient magic in its walls. You feel like you might round a corner and find yourself someplace wondrous. And then you realize – that was true the second you stepped in the door.

Leave a Comment

More from The Blog

On Instagram @theeverywhereist

  • I didn't do nearly all that I set out to do today. But I had a lovely dinner thanks to this man and some excellent out of town guests. So perhaps the measure of a day isn't always about that damn checklist. (Maybe. Ask me again tomorrow when all the stress hits me. 🤔😅)
  • You can't expect things to look *exactly* like the picture in the cookbook. But sometimes they do anyway. #alisonroman #diningincookbook #diningin #cocoabananabread #instadesserts #baking
  • Here it is, folks. The paperback edition of my book is out today. The hardcover came out more than two years ago, so it's wonderful to know that this story of mine still has life and is, gasp, still selling copies. Don't miss the book that Lauren Graham called "the travel companion you'll be happy you brought along" and that some guy on Twitter said was "immature and stupid." It's available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indiebound. #bookstagram #summerreading #bookworms
  • This lady. ❤️❤️❤️ So proud of her.
  • HAPPY LAUNCH DAY!! I really want to curl up in bed with this amazing novel today, but I can't - for an amazing reason. Because I'm going to be at the Lake Forest Park location of Third Place Books tonight, discussing it with the author, my dear friend @andreadunlop. Lady, I'm so proud of you. ❤️ ❤️❤️ #bookstagram #summerreading
  • Baking in an AirBnB is always an adventure. I didn't have a measuring cup for the flour so I eyeballed it, and had to use a wine bottle as a rolling pin to make these handpies. Not my best work, but @demeritt and @randderuiter seemed cool with the results, so I'm going to accept that sometimes good enough is, well, enough. 🥧🍴
  • "I hit the jackpot." That's how I once heard Michael J. Fox describe his marriage years ago, and it stayed with me. I've never found a better way of describing our relationship than that. Bells ring. Lights flash. Coins spill everywhere. Now, where's my complimentary breakfast?
  • Someone sent Rand socks with his face all over them, and he's really bothered by this but I'm gonna rock the hell out of them.
  • I told him to stop looking at the camera.
  • Eating junk food on the ferry with this guy right before dinner is kind of the dream.

All Over The Place

Buy my book and I promise I'll never ask you for anything again.

BE AWESOME. BUY IT.