Īn Rigillis street, in the centre of Athens, just a few minutes? walk from the Greek Parliament, in the plot south of the Sarogleion Mansion and north of the Athens Conservatory, rescue excavations have revealed building remains of a palaestra, part of the famous Gymnasium of the Lykeion. According to ancient testimonies, Lykeion was an idyllic grove, lying east of the city, outside the Gate of Diochares. The area of Lykeion was delimited to the southwest by the sanctuary of Zeus Olympios or Olympieion and the other sanctuaries on the banks of the River Ilissos, to the south by the Ilissos and to the north by Lycabettus hill and the River Eridanos. The sanctuary of Apollo Lykeios, which pre-existed the gymnasium but has not yet been found, seems to have given its name to the area. Apollo Lykeios must have been worshipped here since time immemorial perhaps as a pastoral god, protector of herds and flocks from the wolves (Gr. lykos = wolf).
The palaestra of the Lykeion, where athletes trained in wrestling, boxing and pankration (a combination of wrestling and boxing) has been revealed over an area of 0.25 hectares (50 x 48 m.). A large building with longitudinal axis from north to south, its foundations were laid in the second half of the 4th century BC. The complex was preserved, with repairs, for some seven hundred years, until the early 4th century AD, when it was finally abandoned. However, after the mid 3rd century AD it probably did not function as a palaestra.
The building comprises an inner court (23 x 26 m.) surrounded on its three sides by porticoes 3.5 to 4m. wide, behind which were arranged, with remarkable symmetry, spacious rooms of rectangular plan. The main entrance to the palaestra was possibly in its south side, which has yet to be investigated. In the 1st century AD, at the northern part of the court, a cistern with apsidal narrow sides, in which athletes took a cold bath, was added. In the same period, the baths, which most probably replaced the earlier bath complexes of Classical times, were incorporated with absolute symmetry in the northeast and the northwest part of the palaestra.
The gymnasia played a decisive role in the bodily and spiritual education of young men, interwoven as they were with the concept of gymnastics as a cultural system, promoting the ideal of the complete human personality, harmonious in mind and body (mens sana in corpore sano). Gradually, they evolved into prominent cultural centres. In the 4th century BC the first philosophical schools, in essence the first universities, were founded in the gymnasia: Aristotle established his own philosophical School in 335 BC at Lykeion. and taught there over a period of about twelve years, the most productive period of his life.
The archaeological site of Lykeion is one of the most important places in the history of the human spirit. The monumental intellectual construct of Aristotle and his School summarized coherently all the philosophical and scientific inquiries of the ancient world, and had inestimable influence on the formation of Christian Patristic theology. For eighteen centuries, until the Renaissance, Aristotle was the epitome of human wisdom and the undisputed authority on virtually every discipline.