The Celsus Library was the third largest library in the ancient world and one of the most spectacular buildings in Ephesus. It was built by the Council Gaius Julius Aquila in the 1st century A.D. as a memorial for his father Julius Celsus Polemeanus. Celsus was a councilman and governor who donated 25,000 dinars for the completion and maintenance of the monumental library before his death. The governor’s marble tomb was kept in a special room beneath the ground floor which could be accessed through a corridor connected to a gate behind the library’s north wall. Thus the library was also a heroon.
The Library had two stories and was accessible through an entry off of Curetes Street. Nine stone steps lead up to the four double columns that supported the building. Large windows above the doors would have let light into the building for reading. The structure was specially designed with a second set of walls around it to keep the humidity and temperature stable.
The main reading area was located on a large single floor with high ceilings. The upper floors circled the reading area and housed the scrolls which would have been kept in cupboards in niches on the walls. The hand-written books were brought to the reading area by officials and handed to readers for use the main reading room only.
The library burned in the 3rd century AD and was restored in the 4th century AD. It was destroyed by an earthquake in the 10th century AD. The library has been restored with the aid of the Austrian Archaeological Institute. Statues said to be the virtues of Celsus were found in the library and taken to Ephesus Museum in Vienna. Replicas of the statues symbolizing wisdom (Sophia), knowledge (Episteme), intelligence (Ennoia) and valor (Arete) can be seen in niches on the walls today.