Boekhandel Dominicanen (Polare Maastricht) was voted the most beautiful bookstore in the world in 2008 by the British newspaper The Guardian. Since then, it continues to appear every year as the reader’s favorite bookstore.The impressive book palace opened its Gothic doors in 2007 in the city of Maastricht, in the Netherlands. Its unique location was the site of a former Dominican church, established in 1294.
The religious building was closed when French troops invaded the country in the last decade of the 18th century. The church, fortunately, did not fall into ruin despite being abandoned for more than 200 years. It served many purposes, including a bicycle warehouse until it was restored in 2006 for its current use as a magnificent bookstore.
The Dutch architectural firm MERKX + GIROD was commissioned to renovate the old church. The resulting structure earned them the 2007 Lensvelt Award for Interior Architecture. The restoration work achieved an amalgamation of opposite aesthetics through the preservation of the structure’s original elements, infused with the minimalist style of the interior design.
To complement the renewed vaulted ceilings, decorative frescoes, and ornate arches, the architects chose black steel for shelves and furniture. A separate two-story building, with spectacular views of the church, was built to accommodate the large collection of books.
There is a chic café located in the Apse, highlighted by a huge table in the shape of a cross, where customers can read a magazine or the daily newspapers, while the lists of new arrivals are announced by signs hanging from the tall stone columns. One of the most successful decorative elements is the lighting, which resembles a candle-lit interior.
The Polare group of bookstores, which organizes literary activities such as interviews with writers, book signings, and lectures, currently operates Boekhandel Dominicanen. Those who haven’t had the privilege of visiting this Maastricht landmark can shop online at the bookstore’s website. But the real treat is visiting the old church cum bookstore and wander this timeless space. For many, leafing through those wonderful objects called books, is still the ultimate luxury. ■
PHOTOS: Etienne van Sloun, Maastricht
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