Athens: the Library of Hadrian

The Library of Hadrian, west façade and propylon © David Gill

Visitors to Athens probably focus on the Agora and Akropolis rather than other equally important remains that can be found in the city. One of the most impressive is the Library of the Emperor Hadrian that lies in the district of Monastaraki, to the east of the Agora and immediately to the north of the Roman forum. The access is from the west, just like the Roman forum.

The Library of Hadrian, west façade © David Gill

The Library dates to AD 132, following Hadrian’s visit to the city. The entire complex measures approximately 125 m long.

The marble for the columns on the propylon were imported from Asia Minor, and those along the front of the building from Karystos on the island of Euboia. The rest of the western façade was made from Pentelic marble.

The Library of Hadrian, south-east exedra © David Gill

Four semi-circular exedra were placed at each end of the north and south walls of the Library.

The Library of Hadrian, east wall © David Gill

The library itself, along with adjacent lecture and reading rooms, was located at the eastern end of the complex. The eastern wall was limestone.

The Library of Hadrian, the Quatrefoil Building © David Gill

The Library was damaged during the Herulian attack on Athens in 267. Perhaps two decades later a new wall was constructed to enclose the area to the north of the Akropolis. This defensive wall incorporated the south wall of the Library; and the Library itself projected north of this new line.

The Quatrefoil Building (or Tetraconch) was constructed in the centre of the Library in the early 5th century AD. This is possibly one of the earliest churches in Athens. The bases for the Hadrianic peristyle, originally consisting of 100 columns made of Phrygian marble, can be seen in the foreground.

The standing columns come from a 7th century church.

The Library of Hadrian from the south-west with the Panathenaic Way in the foreground © David Gill

Author: David Gill

David Gill is an Academic Associate in SISJAC at UEA; Professor of Archaeological Heritage.

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