Hadrian’s Library in Athens is a prominent structure in the beating heart of Monastiraki. It is one of the most important sites that still exists from the Roman occupation of Southern Greece.
Today, the modern city of Athens has grown around Hadrian’s library. Locals and travellers alike sip Freddo espressos and tuck into mixed grill platters at the tavernas and coffee shops that run along adjacent Pandrossou and Aiolou streets.
It is easy to almost forget the historical significance of the structures that surround them. Hadrian’s Library in Athens is one of several grand structures constructed by the Roman Emperor Hadrian during his time in the Greek capital.
Emperor Hadrian: Athens’ Biggest Admirer
Hadrian (l. 78-138 CE) was the Emperor of Rome (r. 117-138 CE) and is one of only five Roman Emperors that were considered to be “good”. He was a true Grecophile, through and through.
Even growing up in Italy before Hadrian set foot in Athens, he was given the nickname of “Graeculus” meaning “Little Greek”. He is responsible for the completion of several impressive architectural projects in Athens.
Namely, his library, the Hadrianic Aqueduct, Eleusinian Kephissos bridge, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and the Parthenon. His love for Athens was reciprocated by those who lived there.
The Athenians presented him with “Hadrian’s Arch”, recognising him for his contributions to the city.
Hadrian’s Library Athens
Hadrian’s Library is a sprawling 10,000 square meter cultural complex that was built on the instruction of Emperor Hadrian in 132 AD. Tens of thousands of books were stored across an impressive three-story building.
In addition to the library complex itself, Hadrian’s Library Athens also once contained teaching rooms, reading rooms, and rooms where people could listen to music. There were also porticoes, gardens, and a pond so that Scholars and Philosophers could take a walk to unwind and reflect.
Of course, back then, publishing books was a very different process. Most books and journals existed in the form of papyrus scrolls.
They were stored in partitioned wooden cupboards known as “armaria”. The building was 122 meters long by 82 meters wide, thus making it Athens’ largest library.
Once upon a time, this was Athens’ civic centre. Meanwhile, the nearby Roman Agora was the marketplace and the place where locals would go to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats.
Hadrian’s Library Through the Centuries
Unfortunately, the site has not withheld the test of time and the library awaits in ruin. Excavation work began on the site in 1885 and took several decades to complete.
The grand entrance has been partially restored and gives some indication as to what it may have looked like in its heyday. When you enter the archaeological site, you will be able to see the remnants of one of the library walls, some of the seating from one of the lecture rooms, and some small remains of the church buildings that once stood here.
A Little History of Hadrian’s Library
When the Herculians invaded Athens in 267 AD, Hadrian’s Library was largely destroyed. However, it would be repaired and fixed up to its former glory by Herculius between 407 and 412 AD.
During Byzantine times, three churches were built at the site. Fragments of their mosaics and walls can be seen here today.
An early Christian church was constructed in the 5th century. However, this was torn down to make way for a three-aisled basilica that was erected on its ruins in the 7th century.
This too would be destroyed and superseded by the single-aisled church of Megali Panagia in the 11th century. Greeks struggled under Ottoman rule and oppression for centuries and this period saw many of the city’s historic sites transformed, looted, or destroyed.
Over three centuries, the site would become the residence of the Turkish Administrator of Athens, a bustling Turkish marketplace, a fortress, a military barracks, and a prison. One of the most controversial topics of discussion in Greece today is that of Lord Elgin.
This is the British Nobleman who made an agreement with the Sultan for him to take the Parthenon marbles from the Acropolis. During the 18th century, he gifted the Athenians with a clock tower to be displayed at Hadrian’s Library. This, in his mind, made up for taking the Parthenon marbles.
Visiting Hadrian’s Library Athens
It is worth visiting Hadrian’s Library of Athens during your trip to the Greek capital. The site is small, but admission is included with the Athens combination ticket. Information plaques are scattered throughout the complex and provide illustrations to help envisage what the library looked like once upon a time.
The Athens combination ticket includes admission to several key historical attractions in Athens for €30. This includes the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Acropolis and the New Acropolis Museum, the Ancient Agora and its Museum, Kerameikos, and the Archaeological Site of Lykeion. the Roman Agora and Hadrian’s Library.
Children under 5, EU citizens under 25, and senior citizens over 65 are eligible for free/reduced admission. Be prepared to show identification upon entry.
Admission times for Hadrian’s Library Athens vary depending on the season. In summer, the site is open daily from 8.00 am to 08.00 pm.
During the winter, the site closes at 17.00 pm. The last admission is at 16.45 pm.
The site is closed on certain public holidays. These are as per the below.
- 1st January
- 1 May (Labour day)
- Orthodox Easter Sunday
- 25 December
- 26 December
Several Athens historical sites, including Hadrian’s Library, offer free admission on certain days. These are as per the below.
- 6th March (Melinda Mercouri Memorial Day)
- 18 April (International Monuments Day)
- 18 May (International Museums Day)
- The last weekend of September (European Heritage Days)
- 28 October (Oxi Day)
- Every first Sunday from November 1st to March 31st
Points of Interest Close to Hadrian’s Library Athens
Hadrian’s Library sits in close proximity to another of Athens’ most notable Roman sites – the Roman Agora. This ancient marketplace is less than five minutes’ walk away from the library and it was funded by none other than Emperors Julius Caesar and Augustus.
Start your day in Athens by watching the changing of the guards at Syntagma Square. Walk down Ermou Street to Monastiraki square, briefly browse through the stalls of the flea market, and then walk to Hadrian’s Library.
From here, explore the Roman Agora before taking a scenic walk past Areopagus Hill to the Ancient Agora, the Stoa of Attalos, and the Temple of Hephaestus. Grab coffee and brunch at the Underdog (Iraklidon 8) and after dinner, catch a movie at Thision Open Air Cinema (Apostolou Pavlou 7).