New Roman library to open in Cologne

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A nice archaeological discovery in the heart of the beautiful Cologne:

The remains of the oldest public library in Germany, a building erected almost two millennia ago that may have housed up to 20,000 scrolls, have been discovered in the middle of Cologne.

 

The walls were first uncovered in 2017, during an excavation on the grounds of a Protestant church in the centre of the city. Archaeologists knew they were of Roman origins, with Cologne being one of Germany’s oldest cities, founded by the Romans in 50 AD under the name Colonia. But the discovery of niches in the walls, measuring approximately 80cm by 50cm, was, initially, mystifying.

 

“It took us some time to match up the parallels – we could see the niches were too small to bear statues inside. But what they are are kind of cupboards for the scrolls,” said Dr Dirk Schmitz from the Roman-Germanic Museum of Cologne. “They are very particular to libraries – you can see the same ones in the library at Ephesus.”

 

It is not clear how many scrolls the library would have held, but it would have been “quite huge – maybe 20,000”, said Schmitz. The building would have been slightly smaller than the famed library at Ephesus, which was built in 117 AD. He described the discovery as “really incredible – a spectacular find”.

OK, so it’s not exactly new, but it will be open soon – though the reports vary as to some crucial details:

The walls will be preserved, with the three niches to be viewable by the public in the cellar of the Protestant church community centre, which is currently being built.

Or:

The library will be integrated into the new building’s underground garage, with two would-be parking spaces instead displaying the ancient structure’s walls and three parchment niches.

Gosh, I hope the former; I’d rather not think of BMWs and VWs in a drive-through ancient library.

Very little remains of Cologne’s Roman origins. Tourists have a choice of visiting the old Praetorium, the Roman Tower, or the Roman-German Museum next door to the stunning Cologne Cathedral. Truth be told, little of the historical Cologne remains at all, thanks to the Allied bombing during the Second World War. The Cathedral has miraculously escaped destruction (according to some stories because bomber pilots used it as a useful marker to orient themselves, but considering how inaccurate aerial bombing used to be during the war I doubt the saving of the Cathedral was quite that intentional) and many others have been reconstructed, but when you look at the post-apocalyptic cityscape of Cologne in 1945 you can only be amazed at the human drive to persevere and preserve.

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I wandered the street of Cologne almost a year ago, and thought I haven’t gotten as far as the Roman library site (I would were I touring Cologne’s best shopping strip), but I can very much recommend it if you’re passing through Rhineland. To paraphrase king Henry talking about Paris, Cologne is worth a mass, or rather specifically worth it just for the Cathedral, which is spectacularly monumental and spectacularly beautiful.

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(Photo: Arthur Chrenkoff. You can see the Roman-German Museum to the right) There are several other churches, some of them older than the Cathedral, as well as the old Town Hall. The Rhine flows slowly and majestically through the city and you can enjoy some terrible coffee and slightly less terrible traditional German pub cuisine in one of the number of establishments along the riverside park. If you are, like me, a fan of railway stations, Cologne’s giant one, just conveniently next door to the Cathedral, is also a must – or a necessity, if again like me you arrive by train. Last but not least, Cologne will stay in my memory as one of the few places which still have a giant store with new and second-hand CDs, which allowed me stock up on some obscure German popular music. It shouldn’t really surprise me that in a city where the Cathedral survived the war, compact discs also continue to survive.

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