Livraria Lello has been a bookshop of the present since 1906. Today, it carries more than a century of heritage with its architecture and the bookselling knowledge that take part in the visitors experience visiting Livraria Lello.
The origins of Livraria Lello take us back to 1881, when the brothers José and António Lello opened in Porto an establishment dedicated to the commerce and edition of books. José Lello, a man of culture, reading enthusiast, book and music lover, dreamed of becoming a bookseller, which came true in 1881. Several years later, his brother, António Lello, also came into this bookseller business.
At this time Lello brothers move the business to Rua do Almada, unaware that the building that would take its name until the next millennium was only a few blocks away.
It’s only in 1894 that José Lello buys Chardron Bookshop with all its exclusive archive. Chardron Bookshop had already made its name in the hands of the French Ernesto Chardron, having published the first editions of iconic works such as those of Eça de Queirós or Camilo Castelo Branco.
On the January 13th of 1906 is inaugurated the Livraria Lello’s building as we know it today, shaped by the magnificent vision of engineer Francisco Xavier Esteves. The inauguration takes place in an environment full of significant political figures, artists, respected bourgeois and city merchants, among which stand out the writer Guerra Junqueiro, the director of O Comércio, Bento Carqueja, the writer Júlio Brandão and Aurélio Paz dos Reis, the pioneer of cinema in Portugal.
A remarkable growth in Oporto tourism during the last years increased, consequently, Livraria Lello’s tourism, this growth led to a new business model of the bookshop visits with the introduction of vouchers, which value can be deductible in books. However, this new business model didn’t deviate Livraria Lello from its true essence: a bookshop of the world in Oporto, open to every literature enthusiasts.
In 2016 and 2017, Livraria Lello embraced the challenge of the building’s refurbishment with the purpose of protecting the bookshop’s heritage, renovating its interior and restoring the façade and stained glass.
Livraria Lello’s building was built in 1906, by the engineer Xavier Esteves. He had a particular taste for literature, and that affinity with letters was marked by the construction of one of the most emblematic bookshops in the world.It is well-known the colourful neogothic façade with the famous paintings of José Bielman that symbolize Art and Science.
Combining the eclectic style and the Art Noveau style, in the interior of Livraria Lello there are representations of José Lello and António Lello.Throughout the room, there are the busts of some of the most important Portuguese writers, such as Eça de Queirós, Camilo Castelo Branco or Teófilo Braga.
Inside Livraria Lello, there is also the iconic crimson staircase.
“Thou who walked the room, shall then see a staircase which is a piece of surprising allure, for its apparent lightness which masks the audacity of its design. One feels the urge to climb it yet fears one’s weight may make it crumble.” (in Catálogo 1930 of Livraria Lello).
From the interior of the bookshop, it’s impossible to miss the majestic ceiling. This ceiling may deceive who appreciates it, for what it seems carved wood, is in fact painted plaster, a technique that was also used in the ornaments of the stairs.
In the first floor, the architectural details stand out: the Art Déco details on the walls and the columns that rise for the lower floor.
On the impressive stained glass, a glass structure 8 meters long and 3.5 meters wide, one can read the expression “Decus in Labore”, which recalls the golden rule of this house that applies to everyone who enters it.
LIVRARIA LELLO TODAY
From 1906 until the present day,Livraria Lello has been recognised internationally as one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world.
Visited everyday by thousands of people from around the world, Livraria Lello’s cultural heritage is in constant and perfect synchrony with its time, being more alive, more inhabited and more dynamic than ever.
Focused on its mission of giving more to read to more readers, Livraria Lello seeks to be a meeting point in Oporto and from Oporto, to every literature enthusiast.
A bookshop of encounters between the Book and the Reader would have to express through its space the essence of literature, but also the essence of the city where it grew up – Oporto. By renovating its building, Livraria Lello sought to express the same splendour with which, in 1906, dazzled all the literature enthusiasts.
Concluded the program of rigorous refurbishment in 2017, the new house reveals a façade restored in its original colours, the impressive stained glass that, after being carefully removed of its structure for the first time, received an extensive repair and cleansing, and it also reveals an interior with better conditions and new spaces for optimizing the experience of the visitor.
Livraria Lello now offers new spaces to its visitors. Located in the bookshop’s basement now exists a space dedicated to reflection and cultural intervention, where authors, artists and culture enthusiasts are able to dialogue and produce culture. This place hosts a programme called Living Voices, organizing cultural and artistic events in the fields of literature, theatre, cinema and ideological debate.
One of Livraria Lello’s missions is to create and preserve its collection, which represents a significant investment for the bookshop. Thus, it was created Gemma, a space dedicated to the cult of books. Once inside Gemma, visitors can find Livraria Lello’s vast collection, consisting of important first editions, editions signed by their authors, rare books and recent editions of luxury books.A book is an investment, not only for its content or potential value, but also for the feelings it awakens.Livraria Lello also inaugurated a space dedicated to a young audience, a fantasy world of fairy tales, where the book fairy visits the children to tell them incredible stories.
Today, Livraria Lello, besides being one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world, it is also a cultural fulfilling space, it is the house of encounters between every reader, culture and literature.