A mission led by German and Egyptian archaeologists has uncovered the remains of an ancient gymnasium believed to be from the Hellenistic era (around 2,300 years ago), Egypt’s ministry of antiquities says. It is located in Watfa, southwest of Egypt’s capital, Cairo.
The find suggests that the main building consisted of a large meeting hall, a dining hall and a courtyard with a 200-meter long racetrack next to it. The building is believed to have been surrounded by “generous gardens” giving it “an ideal layout of a center of Greek learning.”
Watfa is the site of a 3rd century village founded by King Ptolemy II. Archaeologists have been carrying out “surveys and excavations” in the area since 2010.
The gymnasium shows the influence of the Greeks on design, culture and lifestyle across ancient Egypt, says Cornelia Römer, the mission lead. Typically founded by the rich who wanted their villages modeled after the Greeks’, the gymnasiums also served as learning hubs for rich Greek-speaking young men who trained in sports and also learned to read and write. Egypt began its immersion into Greek culture after Alexander the Great’s conquest as it welcomed thousands of new settlers into the prosperous Ptolemaic empire.
While the gymnasium is the first discovery of its kind in Egypt, previous evidence, including “inscriptions and papyri,” had already suggested the existence of the gymnasiums of the Ptolemaic period, the ministry says. It’s also the latest major archaeological find in the North African nation as, in August, a mission in southern Egypt, turned up Ptolemaic tombs in a 2000-year old cemetery.