Deep in the urban heart of Cologne, Germany, construction work has led to the discovery of the oldest public library on German soil, if not the whole region of western Europe. This truly incredible structure dates back to the time of the Romans and it could have once held over 20,000 scrolls.
A team from the Roman-Germanic Museum of Cologne first unearthed a set of walls during construction work around a Protestant church in 2017. As reported by The Guardian, further digging revealed a walled structure, measuring 20 meters by 9 meters (66 feet by 30 feet), that was once two stories tall.
Researchers then compared the shape, size, and formation to other urban Roman structures and found that it bore strong similarities to the Library of Celsus in the ancient city of Ephesus in present-day Turkey. As a further clue, the walls were made out of limestone and trachyte, a material that’s practically synonymous with the buildings of the Roman Republic.
“It dates from the middle of the second century and is at a minimum the earliest library in Germany, and perhaps in the north-west Roman provinces,” Dr Dirk Schmitz from the Romano-Germanic Museum of Cologne told The Guardian. “Perhaps there are a lot of Roman towns that have libraries, but they haven’t been excavated. If we had just found the foundations, we wouldn’t have known it was a library. It was because it had walls, with the niches, that we could tell.”
As an especially nice touch, The Art Newspaper reports that the site also features an alcove that probably once featured a statue of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, poetry, arts, and strategy.
“There are niches along the inside of the walls which have remained intact,” Schmitz told The Art Newspaper. “They were almost certainly used to store the scrolls.”
Cologne is a West German city with over 2,000 years of history. In 50 CE, the Romans made Cologne, then known as a Colonia, the capital of the Roman province of Germania Inferior in present-day Germany. The city has one of Europe’s oldest universities, established in 1388, as well as one of the oldest and largest Jewish communities in Germany. The Römisch-Germanische Museum itself is home to over 10 million objects that have been unearthed in the city thanks to its rich past.