Lyceum of Aristotle
Where is the Lyceum of Aristotle
Just four minutes’ walk from the Panathenaic Stadium and the Benaki Museum lies the Archaeological Site of the Lyceum of Aristotle. Also known as “The Lyceum”, “The Lyceum of Aristotle”, or “Aristotle’s Lyceum”, it was founded in 334 BC by Aristotle himself.
The school ran for over 800 years until it was closed by the Roman Emperor Justinian I in 529 AD. As well as receiving the teachings of Aristotle, it was a training ground for athletes in wrestling, boxing and pancratium (a combination of wrestling and boxing).
The Lyceum of Aristotle was one of the most influential schools of philosophy and science in ancient Greece and the ancient world. The school was known for its rigorous academic standards and emphasis on logic and reason. It produced some of the most famous thinkers in history, such as Aristotle, Alexander the Great, and Socrates.
The Lyceum was a popular place for philosophical debate long before Aristotle. Notable philosophers such as Prodicus of Ceos, Protagoras, and numerous rhapsodes spoke there. The most famous philosophers who taught at the Lyceum were Isocrates, Plato, and Socrates. In addition to military training and educational pursuits, the Lyceum also served as a meeting place for the Athenian Assembly before Pnyx Hill became the official meeting place in the fifth century BC. Cult practices of various groups were also held at the Lyceum.
The Lyceum was dedicated to the Greek god Apollo Lyceus. It began as a sanctuary for worshipping Lyceus. Still, it later became a public exercise area, with a gymnasium being built nearby. It’s unclear when this worship began or when the Lyceum became a sanctuary.
The Lyceum of Aristotle was a popular gathering place for Athenians outside the city walls. It was used for assemblies, cult practices, and military exercises. The Lyceum had specific structures to accommodate all the activities. The area it was built on had many open spaces with forests. It was bound on the south by the Ilissus river and the north by the Lycabettus Hill. Many roads led to the Lyceum from the city and around the city. The area had increasing buildings constructed between the sixth century BC and the sixth century AD.
The Lyceum of Aristotle has been referenced in numerous ancient works of literature, including stories by Plato, Strabo, and Xenophon. Plato mentions the Lyceum in his book Lysis, telling of Socrates walking down a road from the academy to meet his friends Hippothales and Ktesippos close to the Panops springhouse. Strabo mentions the springhouse in his story and mentions that it is near the Lyceum and the Ilissus river flows from above the Agrai. Lastly, Xenophon says that the Lyceum served as a meeting place for the Athenian troops when the Spartans raided the city.
Aristotle’s school and library
When Athens fell to Macedonian rule in 335 BCE, Aristotle returned from Asia. The great philosopher began teaching regularly at the Lyceum, where he founded an official school. In addition to morning lessons, Aristotle often lectured on the grounds for the public. His lectures were eventually compiled and circulated as manuscripts among students. Those who followed and believed in Aristotle’s doctrine came to be known as the Peripatetics, named after his habit of walking as he taught.
Before returning to Athens, Aristotle had been the tutor of Alexander of Macedonia, who went on to become the great conqueror Alexander the Great. Aristotle’s teaching style focused on collaborative research, an approach he established through his work in natural history and his systematic collection of philosophical texts. His students were assigned historical or scientific research projects as part of their studies. The school was also student-run, with students electing a new student administrator to work with the school leadership every ten days. This allowed all students to participate in the school’s running.
Alexander the Great was not only one of the most successful military commanders in history but also a keen patron of the sciences. He collected plant and animal specimens from his conquests for Aristotle to study, leading to the development of the first zoo and botanical garden. It is thought that he also donated considerable sums of money to the Lyceum. However, when politics turned against Macedonian rule in 322 BCE, Aristotle was forced to flee Athens with his family.
The Lyceum after Aristotle
As the head of the Lyceum of Aristotle, Theophrastus continued Aristotle’s focus on observation, collaborative research and documentation of philosophical history. He also made his contributions to the library, most notably as the first organizer of botany. Though he was not a citizen of Athens, he managed to buy land near the main gym of the Lyceum as well as several buildings for the library and additional workspace in 315 BC.
Theophrastus continued his work while teaching and demonstrated his devotion to learning and education by leaving the land of the Lyceum to his friends to continue their work in philosophy in the non-private tradition of the school upon his death.
The school was closed for a year in 306BC when all foreign philosophers were required to leave Athens. It seems to have gone into decline from about 300 BC and to have more or less disintegrated sometime after 225 BC when its last particular scholar, Lyco of Troas, died and left the Lyceum not to one man but to all his colleagues. The Lyceum fell with the rest of Athens in 86 BC. However, this event is still interesting to study today.
Aristotle’s Lyceum today
A 1996 excavation to clear space for Athens’ new Museum of Modern Art uncovered the remains of the Lyceum of Aristotle. Descriptions from ancient heirs hint at the location of the grounds speculated to be somewhere just outside the eastern boundary of ancient Athens, near the rivers Ilissos and Eridanos, and close to Lycabettus Hill. The excavation site is located in downtown Athens, by the junction of Rigillis and Vasilissis Sofias Streets, next to the Athens War Museum and the National Conservatory of Athens.
The first excavations of the ancient Lyceum revealed a gymnasium and wrestling area, but further work has uncovered the majority of the buildings that are believed to have withstood the erosion caused by nearby architecture. The buildings are those of the original Lyceum, as their foundations lie on bedrock, and there are no other strata below.
Upon realizing the magnitude of the discovery, contingency plans were made for a nearby construction of an Art Museum so that it could be combined with a Lyceum outdoor museum and give visitors easy access to both. There are plans for canopies to be placed over the Lyceum remains, and the area was opened to the public in 2009.
- Take a walk around the very same paths and walkways that Aristotle, Plat, and Alexander the Great did.
- See one of the schoolrooms used to teach
- Take an “overview” photo of the entire school complex
Winter Season – November 1st to March 31st
Monday to Sunday 09:00 – 17:00
Summer Season – April 1st to October 31st
Monday to Sunday 09:00 – 17:00
January 1st, March 25th, May 1st, Easter Sunday, December 25th and 26th
The archaeological site of the Lyceum of Aristotle is accessible for visitors in wheelchairs (with the help of an attendant) through the main entrance on P. Mela square.
Tactile floor plans and brochures in Braille in Greek and English are available to visually impaired visitors.
Popular skip-the-line tickets for the Lyceum of Aristotle
The first ticket: "Athens: Acropolis and 6 Archaeological Sites Combo Ticket" will provide you with skip-the-ticket-line entry to the Acropolis, Ancient Agora, Roman Agora, Temple of Zeus, Aristotle's School (Lyceum of Aristotle), Hadrian's Library, and Kerameikos Ancient Cemetery.