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Athens, Greece

The Gennadius Library

A sprawling collection of books and manuscripts about ancient Greece that would have put their famed libraries to shame. 

In Athens’ upscale Kolonaki neighborhood, nestled at the base of Mt Lykavitos, is a singular library as impressive as the one in Beauty and the Beast - if the Beast was a Greek historian.

Gennadius Library is on the grounds of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, one of 19 foreign archaeological institutions in the city. While it’s sister library across the street, the Blegen, is home to materials regarding the ancient Mediterranean world, the Gennadeion specializes in the post-classical, with over 120,000 items relating to modern Greece and its neighbors. The library has been open to the public since 1926, after Joannes Gennadius donated 26,000 volumes and documents in 1922. Gennadius was the ambassador to London, and a serious bibliophile and collector who saw no lapse in the tradition of Greek cultural greatness between ancient and modern times. He sought to illustrate this cultural continuity by promoting the work of modern Greek writers and artists, not just favoring their ancient predecessors (as Hellenophiles often do). His collection includes original papers from businessman-archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann (of Troy and Mycenae fame), and the writers and Nobel laureates George Seferis and Odysseas Elytis. In addition to literature, the collection includes scrapbooks, watercolors, maps, archaeological reports, travelogues, works of art, and rare books, making it a vast and diverse resource for modern Mediterranean culture and history. 

The collection is non-circulating, and you must apply for a library card. It is also closed stack, which means you won’t be able to browse, but you may request books to peruse in the reading room. The library offers educational programs such as summer courses in Medieval Greek. It also publishes an annual periodical entitled The New Griffon. 

The Gennadeion organizes cultural events such as concerts, lectures, and exhibits, but its most impressive public undertaking may be online - the library has digitized much of its collections. Materials ranging from online exhibitions to complete books are available through their website. Users can browse books by “flipping” the pages - the closest you can get to the real thing if you can’t make it to Athens. While the Gennadeion is a treasure trove best explored in person, the ability to explore its collections remotely makes it a unique resource for professional academics and curious minds all over the world.