In the heart of Athens, between the Agora and the Acropolis, philhellene Roman Emperor Hadrian 132 A.D. built, in an area of 10,000 sq m, the renowned complex of the Library that contained -in addition to the three stories housing books - reading rooms, teaching rooms, porticoes for philosophical walks, gardens and a pond for recreation. The Emperor’s goal was to create a place of academic study worthy of the reputation of Ancient Athens in Letters and Science.
The Library of Hadrian was an impressive construction of extraordinary richness, as historian Pausanias attests, who extols its "hundred columns of phrygian marble", its "gold cornices" and its "alabaster statues". Unfortunately, of all this cultural treasure nothing was found following the great catastrophes and ravages over time.
The rectangular building measured 122 m x 82 m, which followed a typical Roman Forum architectural style, with only one entrance featuring a Propylon of Corinthian order, a high surrounding wall with protruding niches at its long sides, an inner courtyard surrounded by columns and a decorative oblong basin, 58 meters (191 ft.) long by 13 meters (43 ft.) wide, in the middle, surrounded by a garden.
The portico, or stoa, in the East side was divided into several rooms and had two stories. The great hall of the ground floor opened on the courtyard by a bay with four columns. This is where the library (bibliotheke) was, 26 m. (83 ft.) long by 14 m. (38 ft.) wide, with the Podium at the foot of walls to a man's height, and two rows of niches which were used for cases of the rolls of papyrus "books", as also seen in the Library of Pergamon. Adjoining halls were used as reading rooms, and the corners served as lecture halls.
The principal facade with the entrance, from the side of what is now called Monastiraki Square from Areos Street, formed a portico of 12 meters (39 ft.) wide with four Corinthian columns in projection on the two lateral sides, of which only the half exists, known as Stoa of Hadrian. Each side was adorned with seven monolithic columns in smooth shaft with marble from Karystos and Corinthian capitals of Pentelic marble. These columns rest on particular socles and are crowned by a horizontal entablature (the horizontal superstructure in classical and neoclassical buildings that rests on the columns and consists of architrave, frieze and cornice) with projections. In the South and North ends the lateral walls of the great rectangle advance and form two projecting antae, ornamented with pilasters. All this was part of a Propylaeon.
The library was seriously damaged by the Herulian invasion of 267 and repaired by the prefect Herculius in 407-412 AD. During Byzantine times, three churches were built within the courtyard, the remains of which are preserved: a tetraconch (5th c. AD), a three-aisle basilica (7th c. AD), and a simple cathedral (12th c. AD), which was the first cathedral of the city, known as Megali Panaghia. One more church, named Aghios Assomatos, was built against the north facade, but it is not preserved.
For a page with Basic Architectural Terminology, including terms used in the description of the ancient Greek temples, click here!
In the vicinity of Hadrian's Library, we will recommend 360 Degrees Hotel on Monastiraki Square, featuring a roof bar-restaurant with superb panoramic views of the city and the Acropolis. It offers modern accommodation with free WiFi and easy access to archaeological sites and city attractions. All accommodation types at the 360 Degrees feature neutral colors with industrial-design details. Each has a TV and a seating area. Featuring a shower, the private bathroom also comes with a hairdryer and bathrobes. Some units offer side Acropolis views.
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The Founders of the Western World: A History of Greece and Rome
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