Celsus Library: One Of The Most Beautiful Ancient Structures In Ephesus

A. Sutherland - AncientPages.com -This library - built in 117 AD - is one of the most beautiful structures in Ephesus. It was a monumental tomb for Gaius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus - the governor of the province of Asia and a great lover of books - from his son Galius Julius Aquila, but Celsus paid for the construction of the library with his own personal wealth.

Celsus Library Ephesus

Resting on a nine-stepped podium 21m in length, the impressive surviving facade is richly decorated with relief carvings and has two stories - each with three pairs of columns capped with Corinthian capitals.

Celsus himself was entombed beneath the ground floor of the library in a lead coffin encased in a decorated marble sarcophagus.

Across the entrance, there was a statue of Athena, the goddess of wisdom.

The library stored more than 12,000 scrolls and it was the third richest library in ancient times after the Alexandra and Pergamum.

Celsus Library in Ephesus

Celsus Library in Ephesus. Photo credits: Jose Luiz/Wikimedia

The scrolls of the manuscripts were kept in cupboards in niches on the walls. There were double walls behind the bookcases to prevent them from the extremes of temperature and humidity.

The facade of the library has two-stories, with Corinthian style columns on the ground floor and three entrances to the building, flanked by four statues set back in niches.

The builders used an optical trick that the columns at the sides of the facade are shorter than those at the center, giving the illusion of the building being greater in size.

Ephesus Celsus Library

Today the statues in the niches of the columns are the copies of the originals. The interior of the library and all its books were destroyed by fire in the devastating earthquake that struck the city in 262.

Only the facade survived. About 400 AD, the library was used for other purposes. The facade was completely destroyed by a later earthquake, probably in the late Byzantine period.

The statues symbolize wisdom (Sophia), knowledge (Episteme), intelligence (Ennoia), and valor (Arete) -  the virtues of Celsus. The library was restored with the aid of the Austrian Archaeological Institute and the originals of the statues were taken to Ephesus Museum in Vienna in 1910.

Written by – A. Sutherland  - AncientPages.com Senior Staff Writer

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