The Library of Hadrian is located in central Athens, right across from Monastiraki Square and the Metro station. It was built by Emperor Hadrian between 130 and 132 CE who loved Greek culture and appreciated the achievements of ancient Greek civilization. One of his most impressive works was the Library which is known today as the Library of Hadrian in Athens.
Discover in this post all about Hadrian’s Library, the remaining sites, the significance of the library, and the other important monuments that Hadrian built in Athens.
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The Magnificent Library of Hadrian
Hadrian’s Library Quick Tips:
1. Book your Athens hotel with an Acropolis View
2. Opt for a 3-hour Guided Tour to Ancient Agora and the Roman Sites in Monastiraki and Plaka.
Historical Context of the Library of Hadrian’s
230 meters south of the Library stands Ancient Agora, founded circa 550 BCE by the Athenians. It was the commercial, philosophical, political, and judicial center of Athens for at least 400 years. When historians speak about the birth of Democracy in Athens, Ancient Agora was the place where laws and best practices were discussed, argued, and applied.
170 meters east of the Library stands the Roman Agora, built with funds donated by Julius Ceasar and Augustus in 19 BCE. Roman Agora was an important market and meeting point for Athens, still existing when Hadrian visited Athens, 143 years later.
Hadrian aspired to build a larger and more imposing building to house important literary works and books. He also wanted to create a cultural hub for lectures and host various philosophical schools. Soon after, he built the Library, near the Ancient and Roman Agoras and not far from Acropolis Hill.
*** The Golden Era of Athens, when the Acropolis Temples, Arts, Philosophy, and Democracy were at their peak, was during Pericles’ time, between 461 to 429 BCE. So when Emperor Hadrian first visited Athens from 124 to 125 CE, it was at least 500 years later!
The Architecture of the Library of Hadrian
The Library was a rectangular, monumental building of 119 x 90 meters enclosed by a propylon (an entrance). It had impressive galleries on all four sides, and 100 pillars to support them. The library was constructed with a blend of Greek and Roman architectural styles, reflecting Hadrian’s appreciation for both cultures.
The only entrance was from the western side and was made of Pentelic marble. In the middle stood the propylon with four Corinthian columns made of Phrygian marble.
On each side, to the left and right of the propylon, there were seven Corinthian columns made of Carystian marble (Chipolino), a material sourced from the imperial quarries of Karystos in Evia island.
In the center of the building, in the garden, there was a large water tank.
The garden was surrounded by a colonnade of 100 columns made of Phrygian marble (pavonazzetto), which had a pink hue with cyan veins.
In the eastern part of the Library, there was a series of rooms. The central and largest one was identified as the “Bibliostasio”. Bibliostasio was the area where 17,000 books, scrolls, documents, and papyri were kept inside specially designed niches on the walls.
Tip: Biblio in Greek means book
On each of the northern and southern sides, there were three amphitheaters (two semicircular and one rectangular) that were possibly used for lectures.
Significance of the Library of Hadrian
The Library of Hadrian was a center of learning, attracting scholars, philosophers, and students from across the Roman Empire. It fostered, preserved, and disseminated intellectual exchanges of Greek literature, philosophy, and the arts.
Philosophers like Herodes Atticus and Aristides Quintilianus frequented the library, leaving their mark on the intellectual discourse of the era.
It served as a testament to the Roman Empire’s power and as a model for subsequent Roman libraries, inspiring the establishment of similar institutions throughout the empire.
The Library’s Decline and Rediscovery
Today, the northern part of the Library is preserved in very good condition but the southern one is completely destroyed by the historical repurposing in Athens over the centuries.
The decline of the Library started with the raid of the Heruli in Athens in 267 CE which caused notable damage. The Athenians and the Romans decide that the defensive wall of Athens needs reinforcement so in 277 CE the entire precinct of the Library and the façade became at some point part of the wall.
The library was renovated by Herculius (407-412 CE), the Eparch of the Illyricum, and a statue of him was erected at the building’s entrance. The inscription related to this statue is still visible on the left side of the entrance (Source: worldhistory.org).
A small Christian church was built in the central garden space in the 5th century, which was destroyed in the 6th century and replaced by a large three-aisled basilica.
The Basilica was two-story, and mosaics are preserved, mainly in the staircase areas.
The basilica was destroyed and in its place in the 12th century (Byzantine Era) the church of Megali Panagia was built, part of which is still preserved inside the Library of Hadrian. At around the same period, a second church was built at the entrance of the Library, the Agios Asomatos.
During the Ottoman era of Athens (1456-1833), the Library became the residence of the Turkish Administrator of Athens and the site of two important bazaars. In 1758, right next to the Library, the Ottomans built the Tzisdarakis Mosque which is a museum today.
Although the Ottomans were very superstitious about the ancient Greek monuments, we presume that they used some of the Library’s materials for the mosque.
A tower was built inside the library in 1814 CE to carry a clock given as a gift to Athens by Lord Elgin after he had stripped the Parthenon from its friezes. Finally, in the late 19th century the library was used as an army barracks and then as a prison.
Quite an adventurous and eventful life, as most of the ancient buildings in Greece!
Current State of the Library of Hadrian
In 1885 the Greek state licensed the Greek archaeological company and the archaeologist Koumanoudis to begin excavations. For two years, he excavated the entire site we see today and he demolished the two churches that were there.
That was a pity and today all monuments are preserved no matter what their origin is. But then, times were different and after 400 slaved years by the Ottomans, Athens needed desperately to rediscover its ancient past.
The Hadrian’s Library opened officially to the public in 2004, with the Olympic Games. However, the site, the excavations, the ongoing research, the discoveries, and the renovations are by no means complete today.
The Library of Hadrian FAQ
From 1 April to 31 October, the entrance ticket is €6,00.
From 1 November to 31 March, there is a reduced ticket: €3,00
If you are visiting Athens for the first time, then you should buy the ‘package’ ticket that gives you access to 7 major sites for the current price of €30 which is valid for 5 days. The sites that you can visit are:
- Acropolis Hill and Slopes
- Ancient Agora of Athens and its Museum
- Roman Agora
- Kerameikos, Athens’ Ancient Cemetery
- Hadrian’s Library
- The Lyceum of Aristotle and
- Olympeio (Temple of Olympian Zeus)
Is the Site Accessible?
Yes, it is. The accessible entrance is located on the right side, at Dexippou Street, which is slightly upward, 100 meters from the main entrance.
Can I Drink or Eat inside the Library?
You are not allowed to eat or drink inside any archaeological site in Greece, only water is allowed to carry around.
Do I Need Cash or Credit Cards for the Ticket?
You can pay either with cash or with a credit card at the entrance of the site.
How Much Time do I Need for the Library?
You can see the site in half an hour.
How do we know so many details about the Library?
The Library of Hadrian was famously described by Pausanias, a Greek author, historian, and geographer of the 2nd century CE who journeyed extensively throughout Greece.
Who was Emperor Hadrian?
Hadrian was one of the longest-serving emperors of the Roman Empire, ruling for 21 years (117-138 CE). He spent most of these years traveling to the Roman provinces and learning about the lives of the locals. He was a cultivated admirer of Greek civilization, promoted the arts, and tried to give Athens its lost glamor.
Hadrian visited Athens three times (124/5, 128/9, and 130/132 CE) and during those visits, he was either launching or doing new projects. He also visited Thebes Greece in 125 CE.
His most important works in Athens, besides the Library, are:
- The completion of the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Hadrian’s Arch.
- A large bath complex inside the Temple of Olympian Zeus
- Renovated and added reliefs depicting the life of Dionysus in the Ancient Theater of Dionysus Eleftherius on the south slope of Acropolis Hill.
- The Pantheon, the Temple of All the Gods, a small part of which is preserved in excavations on Hadrian’s Street in Monastiraki.
- The aqueduct at Dexameni in Kolonaki, a highly beneficial project for the city and its inhabitants.
- 1 kilometer east of the entrance of the Sanctuary of Demeter in Eleusis, still stands a limestone bridge in impressively good condition that Hadrian built. It is an excellent example of a Roman bridge built at the time Hadrian was initiated into the Eleusinean mysteries in 125 AD.
Athenians honored him as a god, dedicated streets in his name, and constructed statues that you could see all over Athens. The long road passing in front of Ancient Agora all the way to the Library and into Plaka is called Adrianou St.
The Library of Hadrian’s may not be the most memorable site you will see in Athens. However, if you have the time, I do encourage you to visit the site and appreciate the historical and cultural wealth it represents. Imagine how it used to be and trace all those dramatic changes in its 2000 years of history.
And if you have the €30 combo ticket, entrance is included anyway.
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Did you visit the Library of Hadrian in Athens? Let me know what you think about visiting the Library in the comments, I’d love to hear whether I managed to get it onto your bucket list! Till next time, Evgenia❤️
More Posts on Athens
- Acropolis View Hotels & Apartments in Athens
- Best Athens Beach Hotels (By the Athens Riviera)
- Athens’ Best Monuments
- The Lyceum of Aristotle
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