Panoramic view of the Lyceum of Aristotle

The archaeological site of the Lyceum of Aristotle in Athens is one of the most important places in the history of all the western European intellectual culture and it symbolizes the peak of Greek philosophy.

The Lyceum of Aristotle in Athens, or to be precise the gymnasium of the Lyceum, was quite recently discovered in the center of Athens, in 1996. According to ancient accounts, the Lyceum of Aristotle was an idyllic, green suburb, outside the Dioharus Gate near the banks of the River Ilissos. Dioharus was one of the thirteen gates of the classical period when Athens was surrounded by Themistocles’ walls.

Detail of “Plan of Athens, for the Travels of Anacharsis, May 1784” by Jean-Denis Barbié du Bocage (1760-1825), showing the Athens Acropolis (“Citadel”) and the supposed location of the Lyceum, outside the Classical city walls, just to the east of the Diocharis Gate.

The Lyceum area had (probably) taken its name from the Sanctuary of the Lyceum of Apollo, which existed before Aristotle founded the gymnasium but that has not yet been confirmed. But who was Aristotle and what was the Lyceum?

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Who was Aristotle

Head of Aristotle. Pentelic marble. Found near the Southeast Fountain House in the Athenian Agora, in 1894. National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Aristotle is regarded as the first scientist of all time with treatises on physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, rhetoric, poetry, theatre, and music among others. He developed the first complete Western philosophical system. He laid the foundations of empirical methodology, he was one of the first to classify and study species of flora and fauna.

Raphael, School of Athens, 1509-1511, fresco (Stanza della Segnatura, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican) – Plato and Aristotle right in the middle walking

Aristotle believed passionately in the value of education and learning and in the superiority of poetry over history since the former expresses the universal, general and timeless and is, therefore, the quintessence of learning.

Aristotle was above all a great philanthropist. This is evident in his will where he made thoughtful provisions for a large number of friends, and his family. But his great charity is shown in his decrees that none of the slaves who served him should be sold to a new master after his death, but that they should be freed as soon as they come of age.

Greece's History Timeline

Aristotle was born in Ancient Stageira, in Macedonia in 384 BC and when he was 17 years old he was accepted into the Academy of Plato in Athens (367 BC) where he stayed for the next 20 years until Plato’s death in 347 BC.

In 342 BC he became the teacher of the 13th-year-old (Great), Alexander, in Macedonia where he stayed for the next 6 years.

Aristotle teaching Alexander: Engraving by Charles Laplante, a French engraver and illustrator.

Note: Plato’s teacher had been Socrates

Aristotle returned to Athens in 335 BC and founded his own philosophical school, the Lyceum. Alexander sponsored happily the Lyceum so Aristotle was able to build magnificent houses and galleries. Aristotle had the habit to teach while he was walking (Peripatos) so that is why his school was called the Peripatetic School and his students were Peripatetic philosophers.

During the same period, Alexander the Great was conquering the eastern part of the known world at the time. Pytheas the Massaliotis, discovered the western part of Europe, the British islands, Scandinavia, Iceland all the way to the Baltic Sea. Aristotle in Athens managed to conquer and map human knowledge and science in his books. There was a great desire in the spirit of Greeks to reach the limits of the land and of knowledge.

A painting of Great Alexander's death by Carl Theodor von Piloty, Neue Pinakothek Munchen
Death of Alexander the Great, Karl Theodor von Piloty, Neue Pinakothek, Munchen

In 323 BC when Great Alexander died, the Athenians who resented Macedonians accused Aristotle of impiety and he was forced to leave the city. He went to Chalkis, the main town of Evia island to seek refuge but in October 322 B.C. overwhelmed by grief and melancholy, Aristotle died from stomach disease.

The Lyceum school continued to function under a series of leaders until the Roman general Sulla destroyed it during his assault on Athens in 86 BCE.

Suggested Reading on the Lyceum of Aristotle in Athens:

Complete Works of Aristotle, Vol. 1 Bollingen Series Edition

Aristotle for Everybody: Difficult Thought Made Easy 

Professor Sismanidis in front of Aristotle’s Tomb

His ashes were buried in ancient Stagira with honor and glory after the rulers of Chalkis notified the Stagiites that if they want they can receive his ashes and bury them in his homeland. Remarkably, in May 2016, the archaeologist Konstantinos Sismanidis announced that a structure found at Stagira in Halkidiki, near today’s Olympiada, belongs to the tomb of Aristotle.

Where to Stay near Ancient Stagira: Liotopi (B&B, doubles from €103, Booking review 9.7), a beautiful property in a large lush garden, 1 minute far from the beach.

The (few) Remains of the Lyceum of Aristotle

In 1996, while there were ongoing building works for the new Museum of Modern Art in central Athens, the remains of the Lyceum of Aristotle were discovered and in 2014 it was first opened to the public.

Nearby Garden of Byzantine Museum

The archaeological site is located next to the impressive building and gardens of the Byzantine and Christian Museum so the idea was to connect the two sites and make it a public place to stroll (peripatos) just like Aristotle and his students did, so many centuries ago.

Peripatos path in the site

Aristotle’s Lyceum was used not only for philosophical debate but also for gatherings, cult practices, and military exercises. As Lyceum contained many buildings, it is thought that it was covering multiple times the archaeological site you will see today. It is believed that it spanned north possibly to modern  Kolonaki  Square and through the nearby national gardens.

Reproduction of Palaestra

However, on the site, you will see mostly the modest remains of the Palaestra. Palaestra was the training area for athletes in wrestling, boxing, and pankration (a combination of wrestling and boxing).

The Palaestra

Palaestra was a large building with a longitudinal axis from north to south and was preserved, with repairs and additions, for about seven centuries, until the beginning of the 4th century AD, when it was finally abandoned. It consists of an inner courtyard surrounded on three sides by galleries, behind which spacious rectangular rooms were developed symmetrically.

Part of the Baths

You will also see the baths which are part of the Palaestra, one in the eastern part and one in the western part. In one of the rooms, the athletes were anointed with oil, the cone room, where the athletes rolled in the sand, and the boxing room where there were boxing bags for the training of the athletes. In the 1st century AD, a cold bath tank for athletes was constructed on the north side of the courtyard, with its narrow sides arched.

The rooms in Palaestra

The Lyceum had a large and excellently organized Library that served as a model for the establishment of the libraries of Alexandria and Pergamo. In the next 13 years, Aristotle, created the vast majority of his remarkable scientific works, a wonder of works that were admired during his time and today. The Alexandrians estimate that he wrote about 400 books and most of his works are gone.

Me at the Lyceum of Aristotle

I have been on the site twice this year. If you visit the Acropolis or the other sites of Athens, you may think that there is not much left to see. However, the site is well-groomed, a beautiful stroll (peripatos) in flowers and trees, and the idea of the Lyceum and the personality of Aristotle act as a magnet for me.

I often sit on the benches surrounded by Greek herb bushes and I contemplate life. There is also a beautiful black cat on the premises, friendly and sweet, which makes the place even more inviting 🙂

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Entrance Time and Tickets for Aristotle’s Lyceum

If you are visiting Athens for the first time, then you should buy the ‘package’ ticket that gives you access to 7 major sites for the current price of €30 which is valid for 5 days. The sites that you can visit are:

The entrance fee to the Aristotle’s Lyceum is €4 euro per person for the time between April and October and €2 between November and March.

Half Price Entrance (not valid for the combo ticket): All archaeological sites in Greece have a half-price ticket from November 1 to March 31. All sites take both credit cards and cash and offer an official ticket.

Free Entrance: From November to March, admission is totally free in sites on the first Sunday of the month and on the dates March 6th, April 18th, May 18th, the last weekend of September, and October 28th.

Aristotle’s Lyceum Opening Hours 8:00-20:00. For details on the free entrance days, if you would like to purchase the ticket, and info about the days the site is closed, please visit the Official website of the Greek Ministry of Culture.

Where to Stay near the Lyceum of Aristotle

Aristotle's Lyceum near posh Kolonaki area in Athens
Kolonaki square

Kolonaki is a posh area of Athens, surrounded by expensive shops, eclectic restaurants, and galleries. The Alopece City Apartment (self-catering, ideal for 2-4 persons, doubles from €130, Booking 9.5) is a beautifully decorated apartment located on a quiet street in Kolonaki close to the Metro Evaggelismos (2 stops far from Acropolis).

Tips for Visiting Lyceum of Aristotle in Athens

Is Lyceum of Aristotle Accessible?

Yes, it is. There is flat access from the entrance all the way around the site

Is there a WC inside the Lyceum of Aristotle?

No, there isn’t.

Can I drink or eat inside the Agora?

You are not allowed to eat or drink inside any archaeological site in Greece, only water is allowed to carry around. There is no café/restaurant inside the site.

Recommended Guided Tours for Athens

I would highly recommend you book a Guided Tour of the Acropolis of Athens, Ancient Agora and Agora Museum (4 hours) with a local licensed guide (from the Greek Ministry of Culture). It will bring into life how Athens of the 5th century BC was.

If you would like to enjoy a full-day, private guide to all Athens Highlights, (8 hours) then this tour is highly recommended with a Badge of Excellence from Viator.

How to Get to the Lyceum of Aristotle

Map of the Lyceum

Get your interactive map of Lyceum here to get to any of the places mentioned in this post. The Archaeological site of Aristotle’s Lyceum is very close to the metro station of Evaggelismos, one stop away from Syntagma and 2 stops from Acropolis.

Nearby Sites to the Lyceum of Aristotle

  • The Byzantine and Christian Museum
  • The Benaki Museum
  • The National Gardens and the Greek White House(in Rigillis st)

Related Posts: The Ancient Agora of Athens

Did you visit the Lyceum of Aristotle in Athens?

Let me know what you think about visiting the Lyceum of Aristotle in the comments below, I’d love to hear whether I managed to get it onto your bucket list!

Sources

  • Odysseus.culture.gr
  • Encyclopedia Britannica

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