There can be no doubt that the Library of Celsus is the iconic symbol of Ephesus. No one who visits the site would honestly give you an accurate accounting of just how many photos of the library their phone holds. It’s a crazy obsession, but when you see it from different angles, you lose all control and start snapping a few more pictures. The number of “other Ephesus photos” on the same phones is minuscule. But come hell or high water, everyone aspires to leave with their version of the perfect photo of the Library of Celsus.
But wait, just out of curiosity, who is this Celsus fellow, anyway? I will admit that it took me two visits to get inquisitive about him, so I am guessing that a lot of people come and go without giving it a second thought. So I will give you a little of the back story so that when you come, you can impress your travel companions with your vast storehouse of knowledge.
The city of Ephesus is believed to have been founded around the second century CE. It was at the center of the trade routes because of its outstanding location on the coast of the Aegean Sea. Even way back then, the first rule of real estate was “location, location, location.” At its zenith, the population reached upwards of 300,000 plus slaves. Many travelers passed through the city gates and it was a very cosmopolitan. Like other cities with that level of sophistication, an impressive public library was essential. It is believed that the library once held as many as 12,000 book scrolls. Ephesus was the fourth largest metropolis of the Roman Empire.
Commissioned by Tiberius Julius Acquila to commemorate his father, Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, the library was to be a tomb as well as memorial. Celsus died at age 70, and his son commissioned the building of the library the same year. It was finished by the son’s heirs, the son having bequeathed a large sum of money to cover the cost of construction and upkeep of the mausoleum/library and also to buy books. A partially broken stone tablet bearing an inscription of dedication found near one of the entries led archaeologists and researchers to the name Celsus. The library was constructed in the second century CE, but it was destroyed by fire around 262 CE, thanks to invaders. It was rebuilt, but fell during an earthquake in the tenth century CE. When the library was excavated in 1904, the sarcophagus of Celsus was found under the library. Celsus was one of the richest businessmen of Ephesus and was a leading political figure. He was well educated in law and military service. He was actually the Roman governor of Asia Minor in the second century.
Ephesus is a treasure trove of history. Our archeologist guide pointed out that only twenty percent of the site has been excavated. It may sound strange, but he said that, frankly, the best method of preservation of the city is to leave it buried. He pointed out that the first archeologists were grave robbers and the first underwater archeologists were sponge divers. I really did take pictures of other landmarks. The theater where Paul addressed the Ephesians is there and seats 25,000. The last house of the Virgin Mary is nearby, though not in Ephesus proper. I will share several photos of these important historical structures and, of course, more photos of the Library of Celsus.