Ephesus, fourth largest city of the Roman Empire has magnificent Roman structures that still
preserves its glory after two thousand year. One of these spectacular buildings is the Library
of Celsus that is counted as one of the biggest libraries of the ancient times.
Rome transitioned from a republic to an empire in 27 BC and continuously expanded its
territories from Italy to North Africa. Modern day Greece, France, southern Germany and
Turkey were also added to the empire’s vast land.
Modern Turkey is full of well-organized Greco-Roman cities all around the country. Not only
Ephesus, but also some other ancient cities in modern Turkey such as Zeugma, Pergamum,
Smyrna, Aphrodisias, Side, Aspendos, Pergamum, Miletos are fine examples that reflect the
splendor of the Roman Empire.
The Library of Celsus in Ephesus is not only the most striking building in the city but also one
of the landmarks of Turkey, too. Taking photographs is a nightmare as everyone wants a
picture in front it. Visitors are enchanted by the fine marble work of the ornamented facade
as it shines brightly under the baking Aegean Sun.
The library is located at the very heart of the city, attached to the monumental Gate of
Mazeus and Mithridates that opens to Commercial Agora.
What interesting about this building is it is not only a library but a mousoleum as well, as it
consists the tomb of Gaius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus who had been consul in 92 AD and
who was the governor of the province of Asia in 115. After his death, his son, Consul Gaius
Julius Aquila had the library built in his father’s honour as we read from the inscription on
the building’s front staircase. The library was completed in 135 AD and Celsus’ body was put
in a white marble sarcophagus which was placed in crypt beneath the building. When you
enter the main hall, you will see an apse right in front of you and beneath the apse one can
see the burial room that contain the sarcophagus.
Two storied facade is intensely ornated with 16 columns arranged in pairs. Columns at the
center of the façade are shorter than the others which is an optical illusion giving the
impression of greater in size. A staircase with 9 steps lead to the facade of the Library. Lace-
like marble work of the façade’s ceiling can be seen after climbing the stair-case that take
you to the interior. The columns were richly decorated with the motifs of vegetation and
mythological figures: Bellerophon riding Pegasus, the couple of Eros and Psyche darting from
acanthus leaves and the scenes of the life of Apollo and Dionysus.
Besides, four female statues placed in the façade’s niches are also remarkable. They
represent abstract concepts and under the statues are Greek inscriptions giving information
about the character’s of them. From left to the right are Sofia (Wisdom’), Arete (‘Virtue’),
Ennoia (‘Insight’) and Episteme (‘Knowledge’). They are personifications of the virtues of
Celsus but also of the virtues the life of high Roman officials should have had.