The Celsus library in Ephesus is probably one of the most photographed historical structures of Turkey. It belongs to the ancient city located on the Aegean coast, near the holiday resort of Kusadasi and the working town of Selcuk.
One of my interests, while I learn about my adopted country is the history of Turkey, so naturally, I have a huge amount of respect for the excavated ruins and their magnificent architecture. However to write from the heart and extensively about the ancient city of Ephesus would take a book so I have singled out the Celsus library for a post of its own.
On my first and second visit, the Celsus library in Ephesus delighted me but it was not until my third visit that I strongly felt appreciation for the facade, architecture and historical importance. I suspect this is because over the last 2 years, I have written many articles about Ephesus, therefore had to do an extensive amount of research in the process. This background knowledge enhanced my visit and I recommend that anyone who plans to visit Ephesus without the services of a knowledgeable guide should get themselves a good book first or use one of the audio guides sold at the entrance.
When was the Celsus library in Ephesus built?
Explaining the history of the Celsus library is straight forward. It was built in 135 AD by Gaius Julius Aquila who wanted to honour his father, at that time a general governor for the province of Asia and aptly called Celsus, hence the name of the library.
Therefore it stands to reason that the family was rich and able to carry out such intricate building projects. At the same time as honouring his father, I suspect that some of the motive might also be to boast, because at one time, the library could hold up to 12,000 scrolls making it the third largest library of the ancient world.
Statues of the Celsus Library
Visitors walk up nine steps to the front facade, where niches in the wall held four statues. Unfortunately the ones we see today are not the originals because they are in the Ephesus museum of Vienna but their purpose was to represent wisdom, knowledge, virtue and judgment.
Maybe qualities that Gaius felt his father possessed because he also had his white marble sarcophagus, measuring 2.5 metres buried underneath the library. Adorned with the sculptures of Medusa, Nike and Eros, I think my guidebook was out of date since it said visitors could walk through a long corridor to reach it but I have never found access to any such place.
Exploring the Celsus library of Ephesus is quick and easy. The interior hall is nothing like the grandeur of the front façade. It is a small but impressive structure and ultimately one of the most important architectural structures belonging to the ancient city.