The Biblioteca da Ajuda is one of the oldest libraries in Portugal. As a Heritage library it is characterized by the nature and wealth of its funds and its purpose is the conservation, study and publicizing of its documentary collection.
The Library has been located on a separate wing of the Palácio da Ajuda since June 10, 1880. Of the five rooms that make up the oldest area of the Library, the first three are open to the public. These are especially distinguished by their dimensions, the height of the shelves and galleries, and their furniture, as well as the ceilings decorated with frescoes using the “trompe-l'oeil” technique by José Pereira Júnior. There, on display in different display cases, as a small example of the Library's collection, a documentary selection of valuable handwritten and printed species can be found. This includes also a set of pieces and artefacts (18th/19th century) from the former bookbinding workshop of the Royal Library.
The origin of the Biblioteca da Ajuda goes back to the 15th century, as the Royal Library, its old designation. Installed since the 16th century (?) in the western turret of Paço da Ribeira, it was substantially enriched by D. João V, losing subsequently most of its very rich estate in the 1755 earthquake, after which it was reinstalled in houses attached to the wooden Palace (Real Barraca), in Ajuda.
In 1811, following the French invasions, the Library was transferred to Rio de Janeiro, to be close to the Court, forming the initial nucleus of the current National Library. In 1821, the nucleus of manuscripts of the Royal House returned to Portugal, to which were later added the libraries of the Companhia de Jesus (Casa Professa de São Roque and Colégio Santo Antão), as well as those of the Congregation of the Oratory and the Palácio das Necessidades.
Administered directly by the Royal House until the proclamation of the Republic, its librarians were appointed by royal decree. They were often chosen from among the King's secretaries, such as Alexandre Herculano (1839-1877), or they were people he trusted entirely, such as Magalhães Coutinho (1877-1895) and Ramalho Ortigão (1895-1911). After the Proclamation of the Republic, the 1st Director to be appointed was Jordão de Freitas (1918-1936).