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Archaeologists discover Roman library beneath church in Germany

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The structure used to host an estimated 20,000 scrolls and was defined as a “spectacular” find.

In 2017, a team of archaeologists digging near the Antoniter church, a Protestant church in the center of Cologne, Germany, came across a puzzling discovery. Beneath the foundations of the church were Roman wallsCologne (then called Colonia) was founded by the Romans in 50 ADwith a series of niches measuring about 31 inches by 20 inches.

Initially, archaeologists thought that the niches used to host statues. But soon enough it became evident that they must have served some other purpose.

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Hi-Flyfoto | Roman-Germanic Museum Of Cologne | Handout
In 2017, archaeologists discovered a Roman-era structure with mysterious niches near a Protestant church in Cologne, Germany.

“It took us some time to match up the parallelwe could see the niches were too small to bear statues inside,” Dr Dirk Schmitz, an archaeologist at the Roman-Germanic Museum of Cologne told The Guardian.

After more research, Schmitz and his team noticed how the niches were similar to those found in Roman-era libraries such as the 117 structure discovered in Ephesus, Turkey. They concluded that the niches served as “cupboards for scrolls” and that the building used to be a library containing an estimated 20,000 scrolls.

EPHESUS CELSUS LIBRARY FACADE
Benh LIEU SONG | Wikipedia | CC by SA 3.0
The niches are similar to those found in the Roman-era library discovered in Ephesus, Turkey.

According to the area excavated so far, the library used to measure 65 feet by 30 feet and was probably two stories talla monumental building for Roman times. Its location, right in the center of the city, provided further evidence about the nature of the building.

“It is in the middle of Cologne, in the marketplace, or forum: the public space in the city center,” Schmitz told The Guardian. “It is built of very strong materials, and such buildings, because they are so huge, were public.”

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Hi-Flyfoto | Roman-Germanic Museum Of Cologne | Handout
Archaeologists unearthed a Roman-era library in the heart of Cologne, Germany.

Roman-era libraries are rare finds for archaeologists, making this an important discovery. As Schmitz explained, it is probable that Roman towns had libraries but they are not usually part of excavations’ findings, partly because there is no distinctive sign that can identify a building as a library. But what made a difference this time was the presence of niches in the walls.

“If we had just found the foundations, we wouldn’t have known it was a library,” Schmitz added. “It was because it had walls, with the niches, that we could tell.”

 

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