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A palaestra (// or /--/; also (chiefly British) palestra; Greek: παλαίστρα) was any site of an ancient Greek wrestling school. Events requiring little space, such as boxing and wrestling, took place there. Palaestrae functioned both independently and as a part of public gymnasia; a palaestra could exist without a gymnasium, but no gymnasium existed without a palaestra.
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Compare Ancient Greek palaiein - "to wrestle" and palē - "wrestling"
The architecture of the palaestra, although allowing for some variation, followed a distinct, standard plan. The palaestra essentially consisted of a rectangular court surrounded by colonnades with adjoining rooms. These rooms might house a variety of functions: bathing, ball playing, undressing and storage of clothes, seating for socializing, observation, or instruction, and storage of oil, dust or athletic equipment. Good examples of this building type come from two major Greek sites: Olympia and Delphi.
Vitruvius, through his text De architectura, is an important ancient source about this building type and provides many details about what he calls "palaestra, Greek-style". Although the specifics of his descriptions do not always correspond to the architectural evidence, probably because he was writing around 27 BC, his account provides insight into the general design and uses of this type of space. As Vitruvius describes, the palaestra was square or rectangular in shape with colonnades along all four sides creating porticoes. The portico on the northern side of the palaestra was of double depth to protect against the weather. Big halls (exedrae, εξέδρες) were built along the single depth sides of the palaestra with seats for those enjoying intellectual pursuits, and the double depth side was divided into an area for youth activities (ephebeum, εφηβαίο), a punching bag area (coryceum, κωρυκείον), a room for applying powders (conisterium, κονιστἠριον), a room for cold bathing (λουτρόν), and an oil storeroom (elaeothesium, ελαιοθέσιον).
During the Roman Imperial period the palaestra was often combined with, or joined to, a bath.
When the Arabs and the Turkish adopted the tradition of the Roman baths, they did not continue the tradition of the attached palaestra.
- παλαίστρα. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
- Nuttall, P. Austin (1840). A Classical and Archaeological Dictionary of the Manners, Customs, Laws, Institutions, Arts, Etc. of the Celebrated Nations of Antiquity, and of the Middle Ages: To which is Prefixed A Synoptical and Chronological View of Ancient History. Whittaker and Company. p. 358.