The Academy (site and function)
The site of the Academy is situated outside the city walls, west of the Dipylon Gate, next to Cephissus River and close to the hillock of Hippios Colonus. The precise site of the Academy has been pinpointed following pre-WWII (1929-1940) excavations conducted by the architect Panagiotis Aristophron. These excavations brought to light almost all of the surviving antiquities in the archaeological site of the Academy.
The name Akademia or Hekademeia is linked to its original owner, the Athenian hero Academus or Hecademus. Tradition connects the first period of the Academy with the Peisistratids, who during the second half of the 6th century BC rendered the area an important religious center of Athens. By the late 5th century, the Academy’s gymnasium, like other gymnasia, was undergoing a transformation, developing apart from an athletic also into an intellectual centre. Sophists and philosophers frequented the facilities of the gymnasia and expounded their ideas to the youths exercising there.
The area of the Academy attained great fame in 387 BC when, having returned from his first visit to Italy Plato established his celebrated school in the area of the gymnasium. This was Antiquity’s first intellectual institution. The school acquired such renown that it became identified with the area’s name. Plato later built his house close to the Hippios Colonus. In 347 BC Plato was buried in the Academy, after 40 years of teaching.
The site of the Academy was burned by Philip V of Macedon in 200 BC and was ravaged by Sulla in 86 BC. This second destruction was probably crippling, because when Cicero visited the Academy in 76 BC the site was in ruins.