The Oldest Bookstore in the World

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A few days ago I visited the oldest bookstore in the world. It’s called Bertrand. It’s in Lisbon, on Rua Garrett in the Chiado neighborhood. It opened in 1732.

At the oldest bookstore in the world, I bought a UK paperback edition of Mrs. Dalloway, because the book I was planning to read while in Portugal–Jerusalem by Gonçalo M. Tavares, which is translated from Portuguese–turned out to be too depressing for a vacation. I’ll read it when I get home. Mrs. Dalloway, on the other hand, is one of those classics I had never gotten around to. In case you’re wondering, it’s magnificent.

But I want to tell you about the oldest bookstore in the world. In order to do that, first I need to tell you about Lisbon’s soccer team. One of Lisbon’s soccer teams, anyway; the city has two. After visiting the oldest bookstore in the world I went to a soccer match between the Lisbon team Benfica and a smaller Portuguese team. Benfica fans are inordinately proud of the fact that their team has never been relegated. This is a term I was unfamiliar with. It means that in all the years it has existed–since 1904–Benfica has never performed so poorly that it could be ejected from Portugal’s premier league and “relegated” to one of the lower leagues. This is a rare feat. And it struck me as a strange thing for soccer fans to be proud of. Benfica is not a flashy team, but it is currently enjoying a 111-year-old success streak.

Which brings us to the oldest bookstore in the world. What impresses me about Bertrand is not that it’s old and dusty and stacked high with nostalgia (even though plenty of people fetishize that kind of woebegone authenticity in books). It’s easy be old; just wait a while. Bertrand, on the other hand, is thriving. It has been thriving since 1732. The same shelves that tempted me to purchase Mrs. Dalloway tempted other readers to purchase different books in the year 1814, and in 1955, and in 1746, and every year in between. Bertrand is not a relic; it’s a business. A very good business. A very good business that is currently enjoying a 283-year-old success streak.

The oldest bookstore in the world is a stunning reminder that good books are still as indispensable today as they have been for centuries.

– Brian Hurley


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