The Library of Celsus

The library building, which is located on the corner of the West side of Kuretes Street and the southwestern side of the South Gate of the Tetragonal area acquired after the demolition of half of the peristyle house in the South of the center. The library building was discovered during the excavations of 1905-1906. The facadeof the library was restored berween 1970 and 1978 by the Excavations Directorate, reusing the original materials, as well a employing modern materials substituted for the missing pieces according to its original appearance. The marble sarcophagus of Celsus, who died in Rome aged 70 in 114 A.D. when he was the Governor of Asia Minor, was put into the tomb by the southern entrance of the Tetragonos Agora. Before his death, Celsus bequeathed 25.000 dinars and requested the construction of a library and the purchase of new books for the library every year with the interest on the remaining money. There were initially 12.000 books in this library. The library was constructed by Celsus Julius Aquila as a heroon on the tomb of the Roman Senetor Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus in the 1st quarter of the 2nd century A.D., The precise information provided by the inscription on the pedestals on two sides of the stairs indicates that Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, who was probably from Sardis, was the Consul in 92 A.D. and the Proconsul of Asia in 106-107, and information about his public service and social status. Furthermore it is recorded in the recovered inscriptions that, “the library was constructed by son of Celsus and the Consul in 110 A.D. Celsus Julius Aquila, for his father as a heroon”.

The library was entered through the three Gates which were located symmetrical to the axis on the facade with aediculas (small niches) reached by stairs of 9 steps and with statue pedestals on both sides. The indented desing of the two-storied alived- like facade of the library was achieved through the architectural elements overlapping on the upper and lower levels. Being narrower, the lower level had four higher aediculas while the upper level had three wider aediculas. There were single columns carrying detached entablatures on both sides. The Windows on the upper level accord with the entrances on the lower level through the plan of the facade designed by the architacts of the library, a beguiling perspective was created and the audience was mislead into thinking that the stage was wider than it actually was, through giving a curve to the horizontal elements of the building and increasing by a certain proportion the vertical elements of the construction on the central axis. Even though the front of the library was two-storied, the building inside was three-storied. The reading hall behind the facade was constructed following a tetragonal plan and the floor pavements and wall panels were covered by marble plaques of varius colors. There was an apse in the rear wall of the library and there was a statue of the Goddness Athena within this grand niched arch. There was the marble sarcophagus of Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus beneath the apse and the vault was reached through a narrow passage in the North of the library. There were two storeys above the reading hall in the entrance, which was where the boks were kept. The books, rolled scrolls ( generally of papyrus) were kept in the niches in these two floors and were accessed from the galleries. As a result of the severe earthquakes in 262 A.D. the reading hall of the library caught fire and was destroyed and the main hall was not restored. A pool was constructed on the stairs of the library with large scale carved relief plates, and the front of the library provided the magnificent rear wall of this pool during the Late Antique period. The large scale circulars relief plaques on the front of the fountain which were known as the “Plaques of Parth”. These originally formed parts of the monumental altar constructed in honour of Emperor Lucius Verus in the mid-2nd century. Today most of these plaques are in the Museum of Ephesus in Vienna, with the recently discovered pieces exhibited in the Museum of Ephesus in Seljuk. The front of the Library was completely destroyed by an earthquake in the Middle Ages.