Among My Souvenirs

Stories of the road

Celsus Library

I really don’t think there is anything as magnificent in all the places I have traveled thus far as the remaining façade of the Celsus Library. In its prime, it was the third largest library in the ancient world after Alexandria, Egypt, and Pergamum, Turkey. The library was declared to be one of the most impressive in all the Empire. Its decorative walls filled with quiet little niches held upwards to 12,000 scrolls. The main entrance faces the east so that the cool of the day and the early morning sun made sitting and reading a pleasurable task, a time to converse with friends, discuss the innovations and discoveries of the day. Truly a model for what 2000 years later we would call Barnes and Noble.

It was built in honor of the Roman Senator Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, completed between circa 114–117 A.D. by Celsus' son, Gaius Julius Aquila. At one time Celsus body was enshrined inside the building.

I have been to Ephesus four times now and am still fascinated by its mystery and its majesty. The city of Ephesus was the leading city of the richest region of the Roman empire. With a population of about 250,000, it was the capital of Asia Minor and a prosperous center of commercial trade.

You start the tour above the city, walking down the hill on Curetes Street past shops and villas. Only their shells remain and yet, the hint of their ancient splendor still tantalizes the imagination. Along the way, large sections remain of the sewer and water systems, the entrances to temples, monuments, baths and brothels line the road declaring to even the casual tourist that this was once a city of great wealth and presence in the ancient world.

The street ends at the entrance to the Library. From the library to the great theater is Marble Street. Though thousands, perhaps millions of people have walked its length, it remains intact, though very slippery when wet, its marble glistens in the sun, showing the deep ruts made by the ongoing flow of commerce of its day. Turning south at the theater, you walk Harbor Street lined with statues to impress the arriving traveler of the grandeur of the city and the delights it had to offer.

The city itself was cosmopolitan and multiethnic as well as having a strong Jewish presence there who were granted freedom to practice their religion according to their own traditions. It was here that the Apostle Paul was aided by Pricilla and Aquilla a Jewish-Christian couple from Rome. It was also here that Paul got in trouble with the authorities when he verbally attacked the silversmith guild over the issue of the cult of Artemis and the making of her statues. According to Acts 20:23, Paul was “invited” to leave town over the dispute.

Sadly, over time the harbor silted over making it no longer a functioning port, and the city died a slow protracted death falling into the ruins. Questions remain about the Library's destruction, but most agree that in 262 C.E. there was a massive fire during the invasion of the Goths and only the façade survived until 400 C.E. when a major earthquake left it in total ruins. Between 1970 and 1978, a reconstruction campaign was led by the German archaeologist Volker Michael Strocka (Library of Celsus, n.d.) and he rebuilt the massive exterior entrance that is seen today. Ephesus itself continues to show signs of major archaeological reconstructions as well as the preservation of the Great Theater. Ephesus is truly a must see city!