In the heart of Athens, between the Agora and the Acropolis, philhellene Roman Emperor Hadrian 132 AD 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 rewards of an early morning walk. Hadrian's Library.
The has been called at times by all possible names, such as Stoa Poikile, Pantheon, or Gymnasium of Hadrian, confused with other ancient buildings known to have had similar considerable proportions. Its identity, however, was established by the 1885 excavations following a great fire that destroyed a considerable number of small shops occupying this quarter of old Athens known at the time as the Old Market. Among those miserable lodgings stood a Tower with a Clock, a "gift" from the thug by the name of Lord Elgin to the city of Athens, in exchange for the looting of the sculptures of Parthenon, now held hostage at the British Museum.
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 m (191 ft) long by 13 m (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 archaeological site of Hadrian's Library as viewed from Agora Square.
The principal facade with the entrance from the side of what is now known as Monastiraki Square from Areos Street, formed a portico of 12 m (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 white marble from Mt. Penteli. 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 Panagia.
One more church, named Agios Assomatos, was built against the north facade, but it is not preserved.