Celsus Library

Standing at the heart of Ephesus, the Celsus Library is the crown jewel of the city. Built in a small lot next to the Commercial Agora, the Library was commissioned by Gaius Julius Aquila in 114 BC in honor of his father Celsus, who is buried beneath the building’s foundation. At the time of its completion the Celsus Library was the 3rd largest in the world, behind the libraries of Alexandria and Pergamum, with space for over 12,000 scrolls. Unfortunately, much of the knowledge held in those scrolls was lost when the library burned and was hit by an earthquake in 262 AD. While the facade we marvel at today survived until 4th century, it eventually crumbled after hundreds of years of earthquakes. Fortunately the remains were rediscovered during early excavations of the area in the early 1900s. Then in 1970 the reconstruction of the facade was undertaken by Austrian archaeologists. Visit our Ephesus tours page for some fantastic Itineraries that include trips to this historically rich region of Turkey,

Today the facade stands two stories tall, just as it did in ancient Ephesus, facing east to make the most of the morning light. Lined with Corinthian columns, there are three doors on the first floor and 3 windows on the floor above. Interestingly, the architect employed on optical illusion, making the center doorway larger, in order to make the building itself appear larger. In between these doorways stand four statues, goddesses representing the virtues of Celsus: Sophia, the goddess of wisdom; Episteme, the goddess of knowledge; Ennoia, the goddess of intelligence; and Arete, the goddess of valor. The originals of these statues are currently held in the Ephesus museum of Vienna. 

Not much is left of the inside of the Celsus Library today, most of it having burned in the fires that destroyed the library nearly two millennia ago. However looking through holes still open where the inner walls meet the facade, one can see that there is an open space between an inner wall and outer wall. These double walls were employed to stabilize the temperature within the Library, preventing excessive heat and humidity from damaging the papyrus and parchment scrolls held inside.

The scrolls themselves were held in cabinets situated into the niches along the walls on both the first and second floors. Prior to the fires, a balcony wrapped around the interior of the Library to give access to scrolls on the second floor. In the center niche of the building stood a statue of Athena.

Between the Celsus Library and Marble Road is an auditorium; this was a later addition to the square, built in the 2nd century BC. Here scholars and philosophers would give presentations and lectures in the late afternoon, free for all citizens to attend.

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