The Lyceum was an extended area in the city’s eastern side, outside the city walls and close to the sources of Eridanus River. This area also contained the shrine of Apollo Lyceus.

It appears that the site of the Lyceum functioned as training grounds for the horsemen and hoplites of the Athenian army, even before Solon’s time. The Lyceum’s gymnasium, established to serve as a place of physical exercise for youths, also functioned as an area for social interaction and discussions between the youths and the scholars and philosophers who frequented it.

Following the Battle of Chaeronea and the ascendancy of Macedon over southern Greece, Aristotle returned to Athens and following the example of his teacher he established in 335 BC his own school of philosophy. He chose to establish his school in the grounds of the Lyceum. Thus, Aristotle’s school was incorporated to this bustling educational centre. The Peripatetic school, as Aristotle’s institution came to be called, was a major scientific centre in antiquity. At the Peripatos’ acme, when Theophrastus was teaching there, the school was said to have 2000 students. The school’s library is also mentioned as the most important private library in antiquity.

The question of the school’s precise location, which concerned archaeological research for years, was resolved after a rescue excavation conducted in 1996 by the Third Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities. More specifically, the foundations of the northern section of a large building (it extends over an area of 2.5 acres) came to light, and these have been identified as the Palaestra that belonged to the Lyceum’s gymnasium. This structure comprises a rectangular courtyard, framed by stoae. With the unearthing of the Palaestra we can for the first time identify the site of the Lyceum’s famous gymnasium that is directly connected with the Peripatetic school of philosophy.

Author: Eutychia Lygouri-Tolia
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