The National Library is one of many Neoclassical buildings that were erected in Athens after the city had become capital of the newly created Greek state. It was designed by the Danish architect Theophil Hansen.
The National Library of Greece was built at the end of the nineteenth century, as the last of the Neoclassical trilogy of Athens, a group of three Neoclassical buildings which also includes the Academy and the University. The building was designed by Theophil Hansen, a Danish architect who had studied classical architecture in Vienna and Athens. He had also previously worked on the University – together with his older brother Christian, as well as on the Zappeion and the Academy of Athens.
Construction of the National Library started in 1887 and was completed fifteen years later. Theophil Hansen died in 1891 and would never see the building completed. Funds for the construction were provided by the Vallianos brothers, three wealthy Greek expatriates who lived in Russia.
The National Library was designed as a Doric temple flanked by two wings and built almost entirely with Pentelic marble. The design of the Doric temple was based on that of the propylaea on the Acropolis. It is devoid of any sculptural ornamentation; even the tympanum is left undecorated.
Two wide winding staircases lead to the entrance of the temple. The statue standing between the staircases shows one of the benefactors of the library, the merchant Panaghis Athanassiou Vallianos.
The building houses a large collection of books, maps, newspapers and manuscripts in Greek and other languages. Most interesting is the collection of Greek manuscripts, some of which are more than 1400 years old.
Since the nineteenth century building no longer complies with the standards of a modern library, there are plans to move the collection to a more modern facility.