Opened in 1926 with the 26,000 volume collection of diplomat and bibliophile Joannes Gennadius, the Gennadius Library houses today 140,000 titles of 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. 90,000 research titles freely available in open stacks will offer for the first time the opportunity to registered researchers to explore this unique resource for the history of Greece through the ages.
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.
Joannes Gennadius (1844-1932) formally offered his personal library 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 marble building located on the sloped of Mount Lycabettus, was designed and built by the New York firm of Van Pelt and Thompson, in a remote area of Athens. 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.
Architect Pavlos Mylonas added two wings to provide space for new offices, stacks and exhibitions at the end of the 1960s.
The Gennadeion Today
The Library’s buildings and grounds have been recently refurbished and modernized to better preserve the collections and serve the patrons thanks to several fundraising campaigns co-ordinated by the Overseers of the Gennadius Library. 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.
Lectures, conferences and other public events take place in Cotsen Hall, a modern auditorium named for the chief benefactor Lloyd Cotsen in 2005.
The new Makriyannis Wing to the west of the Library, funded by the European Union and private donors, 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 provide ample public access to the research collection.
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.