An amazing bookshop in Madeira

I AM ADDICTED to visiting bookshops. In the heart of Madeira’s capital, Funchal, not far from the cathedral in a steep narrow street stands the Livraria Esperança. Founded in 1886, this bookshop is the largest in Portugal, and maybe one of the largest in Europe. It is housed on three storeys of an 18th century Palace. On each floor, there is a veritable warren of rooms, each filled with books and magazines.

The unique feature of this well stocked bookshop is that each book is displayed so that its whole front cover can be seen. This differs from many other bookshops in which most books are shelved so that only their spines can be seen. Many of the books in the Livraria are held between the jaws of clips hanging from pegs on the bookshelves.

Although books are arranged according to subject matter in different rooms, within each of these rooms the books seem to be randomly arranged. For example, a book about Salazar might be hanging between one about Roman archaeology and another about East Timor. I am not sure how the salespeople lay their hands on a particular volume that a customer requires.

More than 99% of the books are in Portuguese. There is a small collection of books in other languages. I do not understand Portuguese sufficiently well to read a serious text in that language. So, sadly I left the wonderful shop without having made a purchase.

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