The Library of Hadrian

On the left of Odos Aeolou, at a short distance from the Roman Agora, stands a stretch of wall supported by buttresses. This is part of the east section of the massive walls that formerly enclosed the Stoa and Library of Hadrian, which occupied a vast rectangle measuring 122 m. in length by 82 m. in breadth.

For many years the ruins of these buildings were hidden beneath the sprawling mass of a huge ramshackle bazaar that covered the whole area. It was not until 1885, when a great fire cleansed the area of this agglomeration that the Archaeological Society was able to undertake a partial excavation of the site and to identify the ruins as those of the Stoa and Library of Hadrian.

A large peristyle, consisting of a hundred columns forming four porticoes occupied the central area of the courtyard. On each of the north and south sides of the enclosure were three exedrae (only the central one on the north remains); those in the middle, rectangular, the others near the ends, semi-circular. According to Pausanias’ description of its hundred splendid columns of Phrygian marble (of which nothing remains), its gilded cornices and statues of alabaster, the Library of Hadrian was a sumptuous construction.

In the middle of the peristyle there was originally an ornamental pool rounded at both ends and surrounded by a garden. Later this pool was filled-in and a large square building erected on its eastern half. About the end of the fifth or the beginning of the sixth century a basilica was erected in the interior of the building. This basilica continued in use until late in the eleventh century when it was demolished and replaced by a domed cruciform church consecrated to the Great Panaghia, which survived until the fire of 1885.

The Library proper was built on the east side of the Stoa and was divided into a series of rooms on two storeys. A tetrastyle portico gave access to the large central hall. This was the reading room, round which ran a podium nearly the height of a man. Traces of a large central niche and a double row of four smaller niches on either side, in which the papyrus rolls were kept – a similar arrangement to that found in the Library of Pergamon – can be seen in the east wall of the enclosure. On both sides of the central hall was a vestibule furnished with benches; these vestibules led to two large rooms which were probably used for the custody of archives, as in the contemporary Library of Alexandria. Statues representing personages from the Iliad and the Odyssey, which adorned the reading room, were found during the excavations.

To reach the west facade we re-enter Odos Aeolou, then take the first turning to the left into Odos Pandrosou. This narrow street, which is lined exclusively with small shops displaying a large variety of souvenirs, is in fact a relic of the old Turkish bazaar and was one of the few parts to escape destruction in the conflagration of 1885.

At the end of this street we turn left into Odos Areos. Here are the ruins of the principal facade of the Library. At the center was the entrance, a propylon which consisted of four fluted Corinthian columns standing forward of two antae, approached by six steps. The entrance was flanked on either side by seven unfluted columns with Corinthian capitals and consoles of Pentelic marble. Of this majestic facade nothing remains save vestiges of that part which stood left of the entrance: a portion of the wall, one column and one anta of the propylon, and seven of the fourteen unfluted columns that framed it.