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The Gymnasium

The ruins of the ancient Gymnasium of Delphi are found between the Castalia fountain and the shrine of Athena. In antiquity the Gymnasium was a pretty big block of buildings consisting of the gymnasium, the palaestra and baths. It was constructed in the 4th century b.C. Ever since it underwent several modifications; during the Roman period it was rebuilt and baths with hot water supply were added. When constructed the gymnasium served for the training of the athletes, mainly track and field; the training of the athletes of wrestling, boxing and pankration took place at the palaestra. During the Hellenistic period the place was used for intellectual and cultural events, as lectures by famous orators, philosophers and poets.

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The complex of buildings was extended on two levels: the upper terrace was occupied by the “xystos”, a roofed gallery some seven meters wide and 178 meters long (the length of a “pythic stadium”). The xystos served for the training of the athletes in case of bad weather. Recent excavations on the site have brought to light the entire length of the construction. Originally the xystos was made of porous stone in Doric style. Later on the Romans replaced the colonnade of the façade by a new one made of marble, in Ionic style. Along the xystos there was the “prodromida”, an open track for the training of the trackmen.

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The lower terrace housed the palaestra, a square yard surrounded by colonnades with separate rooms. Thanks to the surviving inscriptions in the rooms we know exactly their use; they served as ball court, changing room, wrestling pit, and possibly there was also a sanctuary dedicated to Hermes or Hercules. Training took place in the yard. On the west of the palaestra the visitor can see the remains of a circular pool ten meters in diameter and some two metres deep, a characteristic ancient Greek bath. Several faucets situated behind the pool brought water from the spring of Castalia to fill ten stone made basins which served for the baths of the athletes. In circa 10 b.C., the Romans added the hot baths, still visible at the west of the ancient bath.

During the Byzantine period a monastery was constructed on the place of the Gymnasium. The Catholicon of the monastery was demolished in 1898 during the excavations of the site, in order to uncover the ancient palaestra. It is also said that when Byron visited Delphi in early 19th century, he had incised his name on a Doric column which had served as building material for the monastery.
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