Remains of the first gymnasium ever in Egypt were discovered in Fayoum by the hands of a German-Egyptian archaeological mission from the German Archaeological Institute (DAI), announced the Ministry of Antiquities on Sunday.
The gymnasium goes back to the Hellenistic era and was detected in Watfa, an archeological site located 5 km east of Qasr Qaroun in northwestern Fayoum.
Ayman Ashmawi, head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Sector, described the discovered gymnasium, stating that it consists of a main building, where a large meeting hall decorated with statues, a dining hall, and a courtyard exist. There is also a 200-metre track that is believed to have hosted races.
As Ashmawi stated in a press release, a garden surrounds the building, “completing an ideal layout of a centre of Greek learning.”
Watfa is the site of the ancient village Philoteris, founded by King Ptolemy II in the 3rd century BCE and named after his second sister, Philotera.
The mission’s head, Cornelia Römer, added that the gymnasium was founded by rich people who lived during that era and wanted their private gymnasium to be more similar to their Greek roots in design and aspect.
“There, the young men of the Greek-speaking upper class were trained in sports, learned to read and write, and enjoyed philosophical discussions,” the statement read.
Römer also added that all of the Hellenistic cities across the world have the same design of their gymnasia. “The gymnasia in the Egyptian countryside were built after their pattern; although much smaller, the gymnasion of Watfa clearly shows the impact of Greek life in Egypt, not only in Alexandria, but also in the countryside,” she explained.
Alexander the Great, she pointed out, had made Egypt part of the Hellenistic world, and thousands of Greek-speaking settlers flocked to the land on the Nile, attracted by the new Ptolemaic empire, which promised prosperity and peace.
The German Archaeological Institute has been conducting surveys and excavation work at the site since 2010, yet this building is the first to be discovered at the site so far.