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Tuesday, November 7, 2017
New Discovery, Fayom: First Hellenistic Gymnasium in Egypt Discovered at Watfa Village in Fayoum
gymnasium was used during the Ptolemaic period for training young
Greek-speaking men in sports, literacy and philosophy. Written By/ Nevine
A part of the gymnasium
German-Egyptian archaeological mission has discovered the first Hellenistic
gymnasium ever found in Egypt, located at Medinat Watfa, in the northwest of
Fayoum Oasis. The mission from the German Archaeological Institute (DAI),
headed by Professor Cornelia Römer, made the discovery as part of its ongoing
excavations at the Watfa site.
is the location of the ancient village Philoteris, founded by king Ptolemy II
in the 3rd century BCE and named after his second sister Philotera. Aymen
Ashmawi, head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities sector at the Ministry of
Antiquities, said that the gymnasium included a large meeting hall, once
adorned with statues, a dining hall and a courtyard in the main building.
is also a racetrack of nearly 200 metres in length, long enough for the typical
stadium-length races of 180 metres. Generous gardens surrounded the building,
completing the ideal layout for a centre of Greek learning.
A part of the gymnasium
explains that gymnasia were privately founded by rich people who wanted their
villages to become even more Greek in aspect. There, she continued, the young
men of the Greek speaking upper-class were trained in sports, learned to read
and write, and to enjoy philosophical discussions.
big cities of the Hellenistic world, like Athens in Greece, Pergamon and
Miletus in Asia Minor, and Pompei in Italy, had such gymnasia. “The gymnasia in
the Egyptian countryside were built after their pattern. Although much smaller,
the gymnasium of Watfa clearly shows the impact of Greek life in Egypt, not
only in Alexandria, but also in the countryside," Römer said.
the Great, she pointed out, had made Egypt part of the Hellenistic world, and
thousands of Greek-speaking settlers flocked to the land by the Nile, attracted
by the new Ptolemaic empire, which promised prosperity and peace.
the Delta and Fayoum in particular, new villages were founded, in which the
indigenous population lived together with the Greek newcomers. Such villages
were equipped not only with Egyptian temples, but also with Greek sanctuaries.
were also public baths, an institution very popular in the Greek world. The
baths soon became places of social encounter in the villages and meeting points
for the Egyptian and Greek-speaking inhabitants.
as places of Greek culture and lifestyle were part of this Hellenistic cultural
setting. Inscriptions and papyri had already witnessed the existence of
gymnasia in the countryside of the Ptolemaic period. They tell of payments for
parts of the main buildings being made by rich inhabitants of the villages, and
of the men who governed the institutions.
Watfa, the first building of this kind in Egypt has now been discovered. Watfa,
ancient Philoteris, was one of the many villages founded under the first
Ptolemies in the middle of the 3rd century BC. In the beginning, it had around
1,200 inhabitants, two thirds of them Egyptians, and one third Greek-speaking
German Archaeological Institute has been conducting surveys and excavations at
Watfa since 2010. One important aspect of the project‘s work is teaching
Egyptian students, in cooperation with a teaching program at Ain Shams
University, supported by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).