Opened in 1926 with the 26,000 volume collection of diplomat and bibliophile Joannes Gennadius, the Gennadius Library houses rare books and bindings, research materials, manuscripts, archives, and works of art that illuminate Hellenism, Greece, and neighboring civilizations from antiquity to modern times. Rare maps of the Mediterranean, early editions of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey and a laurel wreath belonging to Lord Byron are just some of the unique items to be found here.
In addition to its role as an internationally renowned library and research institution, the Library is an active participant in the Athenian and international cultural community through its public lectures, seminars, concerts, exhibitions, and publications.
The Gennadius Library, a treasure trove of books, manuscripts, archives, and works of art documenting the heritage of Hellenism since the end of antiquity, is housed in a stately marble building on the slopes of Mount Lycabettus. It was named “Gennadeion” in pious memory of the founder’s father, George Gennadius (1786-1854) but it is equally a memorial to the founder himself, Joannes Gennadius (1844-1932), for the library that he created is a fitting symbol of his whole career. A diplomat, scholar, and bibliophile, he was always motivated first and foremost by a passionate devotion to Greece.
The core of the collection consists of Joannes Gennadius’s 26,000-book personal library, which he formally offered to the American School of Classical Studies at Athens to house and maintain in 1922. The conditions of the deed of gift were that the collection would be housed separately, that it would remain in Greece, and that the Library would be available to the scholars of all nations. The Carnegie Corporation generously undertook to provide the building and the Greek government provided a site adjacent to the American and British Schools.
The building was designed and built by the New York firm of Van Pelt and Thompson. The inscription on the frieze of the facade, ΕΛΛΗΝΕΣ ΚΑΛΟΥΝΤΑΙ ΟΙ ΤΗΣ ΠΑΙΔΕΥΣΕΩΣ ΤΗΣ ΗΜΕΤΕΡΑΣ ΜΕΤΕΧΟΝΤΕΣ (Greeks they are called those who assume our education), is borrowed from Isocrates’ Panegyricus. The formal dedication of the Library by His Excellency and Madam Gennadius took place on April 23, 1926.
The somewhat remote location of the Library in pre-war Athens in the area of the Archaeological Schools meant that access to the collections was possible to 2 - 5 readers per day. At the end of the 1960s, however, the growth of the collection and the number of its patrons made the need for expansion pressing. New offices, stacks and exhibitions were added in two wings that were built behind the colonnade. The expansion was undertaken by the architect Pavlos Mylonas.
The Gennadeion Today
Joannes Gennadius’s collection is the richest private collection of books about Greece. As a collector and bibliophile, Gennadius saw Greece as a continuum from antiquity to the present and the Library he founded still adheres to that vision. His intentions are best described in his own words: “to form a library that represents the creative genius of Greece at all periods, the influence of her arts and sciences upon the western world, and the impression created by her natural beauty upon the traveler.”
Over 90 years after the Gennadeion first opened its gates to the public, its garden is a relief to the suffocating city center and the collections are now numbering over 138,000 volumes and continue to increase rapidly. Now the Library serves almost 40 to 50 readers per day.
New acquisitions expand the subjects collected by Joannes Gennadius, while a major grant by the Niarchos, Mellon and Horace Goldsmith foundations has funded the reclassification of the research collection into the Library of Congress system.
The Library’s buildings and grounds have been recently refurbished to better preserve its collections and serve its patrons. The Overseers of the Gennadius Library have co-ordinated in Greece and the U.S.A. a fundraising campaign to modernize the Library since 1995. Funds were raised for the endowment as well as for the reconstruction of the Library, the acquisition of state-of-the-art technical equipment and the improvement of the services offered.
Climate control, fire protection systems and new underground spaces and reading rooms, equipped with compact stacks, were added in successive building campaigns in 1999, 2005 and 2017.
The East wing, inaugurated in 2005 and refurbished in 2018, houses Special Collections and Archives, including the rare books and works of art of the original collection of Joannes Gennadius as well as other recent acquisitions.
To the east of the Gennadeion a modern auditorium, Cotsen Hall, named for the chief benefactor Lloyd Cotsen, was inaugurated in 2005. Holding 370 people this lecture hall is used for lectures, conferences and other public events.
In 2018 with funds from the European Union and private donors, the completion of the new Makriyannis Wing to the west of the Library provided new reading rooms, offices, a conference room as well as a state-of-the-art exhibition hall. This Hall offers unique opportunities to promote the mission of the Gennadius Library and the American School through temporary exhibitions, while the new reading rooms will allow open access to the research collection (planned for September 2019).
Gennadius Library Directors
1925 – 1931: Gilbert Campbell Scoggin, Librarian
1931 – 1937: Clarence Lowe, Librarian
1937 – 1941: Shirley Howard Weber, Librarian
1941 – 1946: The Gennadius Library remained closed during the war
1946 – 1953: Shirley Howard Weber, Librarian
1953 – 1961: Peter Topping, Librarian
1961 – 1976: Francis R. Walton, Librarian until 1970; change to Director after that date
1976 – 1983: Sophie Papageorgiou, Acting Librarian
1978 – 1979: Angelike Laiou, Samuel H. Kress Professor of Hellenic Studies *
1979 – 1981: Timothy E. Gregory, Samuel H. Kress Professor of Hellenic Studies *
1981 – 1982: John W. Nesbitt, Samuel H. Kress Professor of Hellenic Studies *
1982 – 1983: Beata Panagopoulou, Samuel H. Kress Professor of Hellenic Studies *
1983 – 1986: Beata Panagopoulou, Director
1986 – 1989: George Huxley, Director
1989 – 1992: Donald M. Nicol, Director
1993 – 1995: David Jordan, Director
1996 – 2004: Haris Kalligas, Director
2004 – Present: Maria Georgopoulou, Director
* The Samuel E. Kress Professors of Hellenic Studies were to provide academic leadership to the Gennadius Library by their own research, by guiding the work of younger scholars, by participation in the teaching program of the School and by advising the Librarian on matters of scholarly policy.