Palaestra at Olympia
The palaestra at Olympia is an ancient edifice in Olympia, Greece, part of the gymnasium at the sanctuary. It is a sixty-six metre by sixty-six metre, or 4345 metre square building that dates to the end of the 3rd or beginning of the 2nd century BC.
It is thought to be a building in ancient Greece that was devoted to the training of wrestlers and other athletes.
The palaestra is oriented precisely to the cardinal points and is very symmetrical in plan. Like all palaestra, the palaestra at Olympia is centered on a large courtyard covered with sand for use as a boxing or wrestling surface. Along all four sides of the palaestra are rooms that opened onto the porticoes.
The building is entered through the south side through two separate doorways, each with Corinthian columns distyle in antis, thus immediately establishing symmetry within the plan of the structure. The doorways open into bench-lined vestibules leading to anterooms that open directly onto the southern portico. Between the two anterooms is a long, shallow hall lined with benches and faced with Ionic columns. This room is identified as the apodyterion, or undressing room, a space that would need to be close to the main entrance and have room for athletes and friends to meet.
Directly across from the apodyterion, along the north side of the palaestra is the ephebion, or clubroom. This large, colonnaded hall is deeper than the apodyterion but does not run the entire length of the courtyard. The entire north side of the palaestra has deep rooms, a feature mentioned by Vitruvius, which offered shelter from the sun. Also in the north side of the building is a doorway that leads directly into the rest of the adjoining gymnasium space. The room in the northeast corner of the palaestra is identified as a bathroom. The brick-lined, 4 meter square and 1.38 meter deep tank found here is dated to the Roman period, however.
An unusual feature of the palaestra is the 24.20 by 5.44 meter strip of concrete pavement on the north side of courtyard, which is formed with alternate bands of ribbed and smooth tiles arranged to create continuous ridges stretching the length of the pavement. This was probably a sort of bowling alley, as suggested by a similar pavement found at Pompeii with heavy stone balls on it.
It is not possible to say for what most of the other rooms lining the porticoes were used. Since Olympia had no resident population, the palaestra and gymnasium would not have included spaces for lectures or intellectual discourse and would have been used primarily by competitors in the sanctuary games. The stone benches found in six of rooms would certainly have been used by athletes and spectators rather than by intellectuals. The unidentified rooms of the palaestra would have included rooms such as the elaiothesion or oil store, the konisterion or dusting-room, rooms for storing athletic apparatus, and a few sphairisteria, which were rooms or open courts for ball play.