Hadrian’s Library


The models of the constructions are after the survey and CAD plans by Chrysanthos Kanellopoulos, professor of Archaeology in the University of Athens and were created by Dimitris Tsalkanis for Ancient Athens 3d.
The Nikae above the columns of the west facade are after Dimitris Sourlas, archaeologist in the Ephorate of Antiquities of Athens, 2018.
Nike Acroterion sculptures © 2019 John Goodinson.
We thank the professors of Archaeology of the University of Athens Stylianos Katakis, Dimitrios Plantzos and Georgios Pallis for their participation.
Creator of the roman toga: Anastasis Keramaris.
Hadrian’s Library (ca 132 CE)

Aerial view of the Library from the northwest

he imperial forum termed conventionally the Library was Hadrian’s response to the neighboring forum of Ceasar and Augustus, now known as the “Roman Agora”. It was constructed in around 132 CE and in order for the new compound to be founded, 24 standard house blocks of a Roman city were expropriated and demolished.

It is of rectangular plan, measuring aproximately 119×89 metres. It had an internal enclosure was embellished with a portico of 100 columns, in the form of a garden with a large pool in the centre. In the east part were the halls were the books were and the amphitheaters, while smaller halls served as reading rooms.

In each one of the north and south side there were 3 “exedrae“, niches of semicircular and rectangular shape, which were probably used for lectures.

The ancient writer Pausanias, while visiting Athens, briefly describes the Library as one of the most important buildings of Hadrian in the city:

Ἀδριανὸς δὲ κατεσκευάσατο μὲν καὶ ἄλλα Ἀθηναίοις, ναὸν Ἥρας καὶ Διὸς Πανελληνίου καὶ θεοῖς τοῖς πᾶσιν ἱερὸν κοινόν, τὰ δὲ ἐπιφανέστατα ἑκατόν εἰσι κίονες Φρυγίου λίθου· πεποίηνται δὲ καὶ ταῖς στοαῖς κατὰ τὰ αὐτὰ οἱ τοῖχοι. (Παυσανίου Ελλάδος Περιήγησις – Αττικά, 18.9) [Hadrian constructed more buildings in Athens, like the temple of Hera and Zeus Panhellenios, the common sanctuary of all the gods (Pantheon), but of great importance is the one with the one hundred columns made of phrygian stone (the library). In the same material the stoas and the walls are made.]


The western façade

The one and only entrance to the building was located in its western side.

The façade was embellished with a propylon constructed with four corinthian columns made of pink marble from Phrygia and with columns made of green cipollino rock, quarried and transported from the island of Euboea from imperial property quarries. Upon each column must have stood Nikae and gods statues, sculpted in white marble from the Penteli mountain of Attica.

The western facade of the Library.
View of the Propylon (entrance) of the Library of Hadrian. View of the Propylon (entrance) of the Library.

The Propylon from the south. Next to it are columns made of cipollino marble with statues on top of them.
The western facade of the Library. The western facade of the Library.
The garden and the portico

While entering the building from the Propylon, the visitors found themselves inside a portico, in front of the big rectangular garden.

Unlike the adjacent busy and loud, commercial, forum of Ceasar and Augustus, Hadrian’s forum, adorned with a garden and a 60 meter long pool, would be a quiet and peaceful island within the hustle and bustle of the city.

The enclosure was embellished with a portico of 100 columns made of Phrygian marble (pavonazzetto), pink with blueish veins. The quarries, located in Phrygia -today in Turkey- were imperial property.

The Pantheon, a colossal temple dedicated by Hadrian to the worship of all gods, concealed behind the enclosure of the forum, would be viewed from inside the garden.

Today, the nail holes on the walls reveal the courses of the revetment slabs; these were also made of Phrygian marble. An equally luxurious ceiling would have matched the colorful architecture of the portico.

View from the entrance of the Library. On the far right, behind the Library, the Pantheon is visible. The colossal temple, also built by Hadrian. The north portico. A view of the western side of the portico, with the Library’s entrance..
General view of the portico from the northeast. On the right is the entrance of one exedra.
The entrance of the Library from the interior of the portico. The garden of the Library with the pool. On the background, on the right, one can see the Acropolis hill and the Erechtheion and on the left the western side of the Pantheon.
A view of the garden. On the right, behind the portico, is the entrance to the Bibliostasion and the door to the amphitheater.
A view of the garden.
The Bibliostasion
In the eastern part of the building, there was a series of rooms. The central and biggest of them is considered to be the “Bibliostasion”; that means the place were the books were kept inside niches with wooden cupboards (armaria). Ιt is debated whether the great eastern hall was the actual library or a hall adorned with statues of the imperial family dedicated to the cult of the emperor. Quite possibly, both functions were housed in the same space.
In his book Description of Attica, 18.9, Pausanias describes the hall of Bibliostasion:
καὶ οἰκήματα ἐνταῦθά ἐστιν ὀρόφῳ τε ἐπιχρύσῳ καὶ ἀλαβάστρῳ λίθῳ, πρὸς δὲ ἀγάλμασι κεκοσμημένα καὶ γραφαῖς· κατάκειται δὲ ἐς αὐτὰ βιβλία (Παυσανίου Ελλάδος Περιήγησις – Αττικά, 18.9) [… and there are rooms there adorned with gilded roofs and with alabaster stone, as well as with statues and paintings. In them are kept books…]


The Bibliostasion. The books were kept in niches with wooden shelves (armaria). In the middle stands the statue of emperor Hadrian.
The entrance to the Bibliostasion from the portico. The entrance to the Bibliostasion from the interior.
  Εσωτερική άποψη του Βιβλιοστασίου. 
View of the Bibliostasion from the top floor. The statue of emperor Hadrian.  The interior of the Bibliostasion.  
The roof of the Bibliostasion. The first raw of the armaria containing the books was set on a high podium.


The amphiteaters

In the northeast and southeast corners of the Library were two similar spaces designed as amphitheaters with marble seats. These amphitheaters do not look like the known lecture rooms (auditoria) of the ancient world. Quite possibly, these rooms were the meeting places (bouleuteria) of the Panhellenion, a league of Greek city-states established by emperor Hadrian.

Unlike all other revetment features in the compound, the wall surfaces of the amphitheaters were solemnly dressed with slabs of pristine white Pentelic marble.


On the left, the door to the northern amphitheater. On the right the entrance to the intermediate halls (probably reading rooms). The interior of the amphitheater.

The interior of the amphitheater. 
The exedrae
The exedrae were tree on each of the north and south sides. They were niches in the wall (two semisercular and one rectangular) and their entrance was embellished with columns, probably of pergamine order.
Each of the exedrae is approximately 10 meters wide. Clear nail holes on the extant masonry indicate that the same courses of Phrygian slabs also ran on the interior surfaces of theexedrae.

The north side of the portico. On the left is the entrance to the rectangular exedra and further down, the entrance to the semicircular.
The central rectangular exedra (“oikos”) of the north side.   The semicircular exedra from the portico.


“Athens remained the stop of my choice; I marveled that its beauty depended so little upon memories, whether my own or those of history; that city seemed new with each new day. I stayed this time with Arrian, by one of the great priestly families of Attica. Their house was only a few steps from the new library with which I had just endowed Athens, and which offered every aid to meditation, or to the repose which must precede it: comfortable chairs and adequate heating for winters which are often so sharp; stairways giving ready access to the galleries where books are kept; a luxury of Phrygian marble, alabaster and gold, quiet and subdued. I felt more and more the need to gather together and conserve our ancient books, and to entrust the making of new copies to conscientious scribes. I warned myself that it would take only a few wars, and the misery that follows them, or a single period of brutality or savagery under a few bad rulers to destroy forever the ideas passed down with the help of these frail objects in fiber and ink. Each man fortunate enough to benefit to some degree from this legacy of culture seemed to me responsible for protecting it and holding it in trust for the human race… “

Memoirs of Hadrian, Marguerite Yourcenar

 For more information on Roman Athens click HERE