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Cathedrals of Knowledge - The Library of Bartolomé March

Aren’t we all intrigued by the stories of the Marches, Rockerfellers, and Onassises of this world? Exceptional men who start modestly and finish on a throne? Few personalities are more colorful than Juan March, father of Bartolomé, who began his brilliant career as a smuggler of tobacco from Morocco and went on to become the wealthiest man in Spain through his partly illegitimate businesses, sometimes involving bribery, and his political influence. He founded a bank in 1926, befriended Franco during the Spanish Civil War, and we are very grateful to him for working closely with the Allies to prevent Spain from joining the Axis during World War II. After the war, he created political parties, newspapers and, of most interest to us, the March Foundation. It is located in a beautiful hotel particulier in Madrid and supports the fine arts, music and the social sciences.

His son Bartolomé March, born with a silver spoon in his mouth, started collecting precious books and manuscripts at a young age. He is the eponym of the library, in which are housed his own collections of rare books. Bartolomé also purchased 18th century furniture and a fantastic and eclectic collection of art, from Murillo to Bacon.

The family owns and operates a few other museums in Spain and works closely with universities there. They now reside between Madrid, Majorca, and (of course) Gstaad. Their collections are reportedly worth over a billion dollars.

In order to shelter his valuable holdings, Bartolomé March added a wing to his mansion which was originally built in the 1920s and is located in one of the most elegant districts of Madrid. It has a large garden and is decorated in an eclectic Empire style. The visual effect of the interior is accented by the play of colors of various wood species including ebony and oak. The steel and bronze of the railings, banisters, and light fixtures hanging on beautiful chains are the “jewelry” of the room. The library is a large rectangular double height room with shelving on two levels. On the main floor of the library the books are stored, as they were in libraries of the 16th and 17th centuries, on shelves placed perpendicular to the perimeter walls. At the center of the room, an eighteenth century globe is displayed. There is a beautiful wood spiral staircase that accesses the stacks on the upper level.

Inside the The Library of Bartolomé March in Madrid

The interior was designed by the Parisian firm Jansen, one of the most prestigious and successful decorating firms of the 20th century. They worked with many royal families and also redesigned parts of the White House during the Kennedy administration. Their work here can be compared to that of their contemporaries, Emilio Terry and Carlos de Beistegui.

Wooden staircase at The Library of Bartolomé March


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