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A graceful, protective roof is soon to shelter the ruins of Aristotle’s Lyceum

When ruins found on a block of land on Rigillis Street in 1966 were identified as the Lyceum of Aristotle, it was one of the most important discoveries of recent years. Identifying the Lyceum had been the big question in Athenian topography, and these were the concrete finds excavated. But the ruins of this highly significant building were made of fragile material. No matter what the conservators and archaeological authorities tried to do about harmful rainwater, the problem seemed insurmountable. Luckily, just before the end of 2003, the Supreme Archaeological Council dealt with this outstanding matter by approving the preliminary study for a roof over the ruins of the Lyceum. Work on the roof, which will cost 1.76 million euros, will start in the fall and will be finished in 18 months. A structure of light arches 9 meters high will be covered by sheets with copper on the outside and wood on the inside. With its eight arches, the roof will measure 61 x 61 meters without any obstructive supports in between. The objective of architects Costas Karadimas, head of the design team, and Dimosthenis Svolopoulos of the Restoration of Ancient Monuments Directorate was to avoid building a heavy structure. When the work is completed, visitors to the Rigillis Street site will see a uniform arched surface with a slim profile and proportions that give the impression of a light protective cover suspended over the ruins. The roof will protect the ruins from the rain which does them so much harm, and the site will have natural and artificial lighting. The Lyceum covered an extensive area, running from just before the Diocharous Gates to a place near the springs of Iridanos. On the outskirts of this idyllic area (with its abundant water and greenery), the Lyceum was founded. With Plato’s Academy and Kynossarges, it was one of three important gymnasia in ancient Athens. These were places that male adolescents and men frequented to cultivate their minds and exercise their bodies; there they could listen to the rhetoricians and philosophers of the age. The discovery of the Lyceum by Effi Lygouri was the result of a rescue dig by the Third Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, which lasted about eight months, so that work could start on the Museum of Contemporary Art. The museum was not built, but most of the Lyceum’s palestra was discovered on the site.