I am really losing my patience with this “No Photos!” rule that seems to be growing almost as rapidly as the “No Overnight Parking” signs in Walmart. What is it about advertising a famous landmark, structure, exhibit, and then posting the entrance with “No Photographs Allowed!” What is the reason behind this, do you reckon? ? Do personal amateur photos posted on social media such as Instagram, Facebook, or personal blogs eat into the profits of the exhibit? In fact, the opposite has been proven. Is it an attempt to control traffic flow, so smartphone photographers are not tempted to stand in the aisles while focusing, editing, tagging, and uploading their latest status? Is there fear of damage being done from swinging selfie-sticks? Or is it just a way to sell more postcards?
And then I must ask myself, why is not being able to take photographs of a destination such a big deal? Why won’t a cheap postcard or “web photo” suffice in preserving my memory? Because for me, my photography, while amateur, is deeply personal. When I take a photo, I often will study the subject matter, considering what I believe to be the best angle. I consider the aspect, focal point, etc. etc. Therefore, once I have taken the photo, I can remember all aspects of the process, right down to where I was standing. I capture not only the image, but the memory. It’s not just visual, but also visceral.
I planned a stop in Coimbra for one reason, and one reason only. I love libraries, especially antique or historic libraries. And Coimbra University has one of the most famous old world libraries in the world, the Joanina Library, or Biblioteca Joanina.
The University itself is the oldest in Portugal, its origins traced back to the 13th century. It is responsible for Coimbra earning its nickname, “A cidade dos estudantes,” or “The city of the students.” Originally founded in Lisbon in 1290, the University was relocated several times until it was permanently established in Coimbra in 1537. Sitting atop the highest hill in the city, the University dominates the upper city section overlooking the Mondego River or the Rio Mondego. It was inducted into the UNESCO World Heritage in 2013.
Within the grounds of the University are many historic buildings, the most famous of which is the Joanina Library which I have come to see. Named after King João V, who sponsored its construction between 1717 and 1728, the tour brouchure advertises “a remarkable central hall decorated with elaborate ceiling frescoes and huge rosewood, ebony and jacaranda tables. Towering gilt chinoiserie shelves.” I booked a tour of the University with plenty of advance to insure access to the library, the only reason for my visit. The Baroque library is understandably the highlight of the tour. I paid extra for a guided tour with the promise of spending more time inside this historic structure. I was prepared to be “wowed.” So imagine my disappointment when I showed up to check in for my tour, and our stern, authorative tour guide told our group we would be required to put our cameras away once we entered the most significant building along the 20 euro tour!
The library is indeed stunning. Breathtaking. Even the name sounds beautiful. I wish I could remember it in greater detail, but fact is, I was so pissed off at not being able to take a few photos that I can hardly remember what I saw. Still, it is legendary, complete with its own colony of resident bats that live in the stacks and eat the Library Beetle larvae and silverfish that feed on the paper and glue of the leather-bound tomes dating back to the 16th century.
On an end note, in doing research to jog my memory and keep my facts straight for the purpose of this post, I learned that the historic Joanina Library was used as inspiration in the latest movie version of “Beauty and the Beast.” Perhaps a better way to protect the heritage and history of monuments such as this, as well as other monuments and destinations that have recently been closed due to over-tourism is for movie makers and music videographers to “do your own original work” when creating sets for production. Or don’t disclose, let alone publicize the inspiration behind the location. Rather than restricting the layman tourist from capturing a few vacation photos, stop calling out the locations as your “inspiration” in the making films, music videos, and travel listicles. If individual tourists are being forbidden from taking photos, then so should Disney.
I make it a policy never to post “web photos” on my blog. If you see it here, it’s because I took it with my own naked eye. But if you want to see the interior of the Joanina Library, the reason that compelled me to make a stop in Coimbra, there are plenty of photos on the internet to be googled for the taking.