Archeologists had discovered the walls of a Roman-era structure last year, which they initially thought was the ruins of a public assembly hall. However, they found that the tiny wall niches were far too small to hold statues.
It made them think twice: what if the assembly hall is actually the country's oldest known library?
When A Public Assembly Place Turns Out To Be A Library
"It took us some time to match up the parallels — we could see the niches were too small to bear statues inside," according to Dirk Schmitz, from the Roman-Germanic Museum of Cologne, as The Guardian reports. "They are very particular to libraries — you can see the same ones in the library at Ephesus."
It is unclear just how many scrolls the library is believed to have held, but experts say it would have been quite huge, and Schmitz says 20,000. The actual building would have been slightly smaller than the library at Ephesus, which was erected in 117 AD.
It was quite fortunate that the niches were intact when archeologists discovered the walls, according to Schmitz. Had they unearthed only the foundations, they would not have been able to tell that it was a library. He adds that there could be a lot more libraries in Roman towns just waiting to be excavated.
An Ancient Public Library In Cologne
Evidence shows that the library in question was used by the public, according to Schmitz. For one, it stood right in the middle of Cologne, either in the marketplace or forum: the public space of the city center. What's more, it's built with strong materials — and such buildings, because of their massive size, were public places.
It was built sometime between 150 and 200 CE, says Martin Oehlen of German news outlet Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger. The city of Cologne was founded about a century earlier in 50 CE. It served as the capital of the Germania Inferior province and housed some of Rome's influential imperial governors. Cologne soon became a center for trade and manufacturing.
The library was discovered while conducting construction work on a Protestant church in Cologne's city center, according to Oehlen. It will be integrated into the new building's underground garage, with two planned parking spaces instead of displaying the structure's walls and three niches.