This is a project has been initiated in 2019, under the direction of Monika Trümper and Thomas Lappi in cooperation with the Parco Archeologico e Paesaggistico della Valle dei Templi di Agrigento, the British School at Rome, and the Politecnico di Bari. It aims at investigating the gymnasium and a bath building that are both located in the center of the large ancient city. While the temples and sanctuaries of Agrigento have long attracted research interest, the city has only recently come into focus thanks to an impressive program launched by the Parco Archeologico e Paesaggistico della Valle dei Templi di Agrigento (see e.g. Caliò et al. 2017; Caminneci – Parello 2019; Caminneci et al. 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018a, 2018b, 2019a, 2019b, 2020). Our project contributes to this new program and to a better understanding of the ancient city of Agrigento.
STATE OF RESEARCH
The gymnasium in Agrigento is one of the most important, if not the most important gymnasium in Sicily and the western Mediterranean more generally, because of its size, design, and chronology (fig. 1). Parts of a race-track section and a pool, located on either side of a small ravine, have been excavated between the 1950s and 2005 and published in several preliminary reports (Griffo 1963; De Waele 1971; Moretti 1976; Fiorentini 1992, 1993/1994, 1997/1998) and two final reports by Graziella Fiorentini (Fiorentini 2009, 2010). The race-track section originally covered in an east-west direction one insula lot of 35 m width, between two stenopoi (cardines), and over 200 m in north-south direction. It included a stoa/porticus of 7 m width (xystos), an open race-track of about 17 m width (paradromis) subdivided by two facing rows of inscribed seats (45 and 47 m long), a hydraulic complex, an exedra-shaped structure, an altar, and possibly a tribune with seats. The context of the pool section and its extension to the north are unknown.
Fiorentini proposed that the gymnasium was built in the late Hellenistic period when the city saw a major monumentalizing transformation, but this cannot yet be substantiated by evidence. Stratigraphy and inscriptions (fig. 2) suggest that the currently visible remains belong to the Augustan period when the gymnasium was significantly remodeled, if not built (Trümper 2020a). Despite extensive excavation and publications, several questions remain open:
- the extension, design, and most notably the existence and location of a palestra, which is to be expected in a complex with such a sophisticated race-track system;
- idiosyncratic features (water management and unusual features such as the hydraulic complex, the exedra-shaped structure, and the altar);
- urban context (significance in the urban space).
The fact that few gymnasia/palaestrae have been securely identified in the archaeological record of Sicily and other regions of the western Mediterranean and that none of them includes a race-track complex underlines the importance of the complex in Agrigento (Trümper 2018, 2020b). Therefore, it seems particularly worthwhile and important to further explore this building and to answer the above-mentioned questions.
Closely related to the gymnasium, which commonly served for the athletic and intellectual training of male citizens and the grooming and training of the body, are bath buildings, particularly in the Imperial period when lavish baths and gymnasia were even merged (Trümper 2015, 2019). A small bath building dating to the late antique period has recently been identified and excavated by the Parco Archeologico e Paesaggistico della Valle dei Templi di Agrigento in the Quartiere ellenistico-romano. Traces of another small bath building have been identified in a yet unexplored olive grove to the north of the Tempio ellenistico-romano. Two apses, traces of pools, and a channel suggest that this was a bath building. The size and wall technique speak for a late date, comparable to that of the bath building in the Quartiere ellenistico-romano. The building requires further research to better assess its size, design, date, and urban context.
2019: The Freie Universität Berlin began a new research project in October 2019, in cooperation with the above-mentioned partners. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the originally planned fieldwork seasons, particularly in the bath building.
2020: A first campaign served to survey the terrain of both buildings and materials stored in archives. Based on this survey a geophysical survey was carried out in October 2020 in cooperation with Stephen Kay and Elena Pomar from the British School at Rome: the survey covered the area of the gymnasium and the bath building to the north of the Tempio ellenistico-romano, with the aim to reconstruct urban infrastructure in these areas (figs. 4-5). The geophysical survey recorded a series of archaeological features which reveal the presence of structures organized in accordance with the orthogonal city plan. At the same time, a first architectural survey was carried out in cooperation with Antonello Fino from the Politecnico di Bari to include all structures that are currently visible in one plan. A third pillar of the research in 2020 was the identification of documentation and findings, stored in the archive of the Parco Archeologico e Paesaggistico della Valle dei Templi di Agrigento. Until today, no findings of previous excavations have been published to support the chronology of the gymnasium. The findings will be studied for the crucial phases and contexts of the gymnasium to put the chronology on stable grounds.
The campaign was generously funded by the Freie Universität Berlin. The results were published in a preliminary report in the Archäologischer Anzeiger 2022 (Trümper et al. 2022).
2022: Based on the results of the architectural and geophysical surveys, a first excavation campaign was carried out and the architectural survey was continued, from 12 September to 7 October 2022, and in cooperation with Antonello Fino from the Politecnico di Bari. The geophysical survey suggested that a palestra building which is typical of gymnasia in the eastern Mediterranean might have been located in an olive grove to the north of the pool (fig. 5). Four trenches were excavated in this olive grove in a terrain that rises more than 4 m from south to north (fig. 6).
Trench 1 was located in the immediate vicinity of the pool to investigate the connection of the pool complex to the possible palestra building (fig. 7). Two ashlar walls, running parallel in a distance of 0.70 m from each other and roughly from east to west, were found as well as a wall running north-south perpendicular to the ashlar walls. The walls are consistent in orientation, building technique, and material with the previously exposed walls of the gymnasium. A pavement of large stone slabs was revealed in the southwest corner of the trench.
Trench 2 was excavated where the geophysical survey had identified an east-west oriented anomaly (fig. 8). A massive ashlar wall, running east-west, and a perpendicular north-south running wall were revealed. They correspond in orientation, type of construction, and material with the walls from Trench 1. The walls were built without a foundation trench directly on a clay bed. Therefore, their construction date could not be securely determined. The walls subdivided at least three spaces. A sima block found turned-over to the south of the walls suggests that there was a colonnade nearby, probably the peristyle courtyard of the palestra.
Trench 3 was excavated in the area of the hypothetical continuation of the western stenopos and where the geophysical survey had identified the highest concentration of anomalies (figs. 5, 9). The continuation of the stenopos was found, in perfect alignment with the remains to the west of the race-track section and the pool. The newly excavated part of the stenopos is 5.30 m wide and flanked by two parallel running ashlar walls. An ancient channel made of terracotta pipes and reused Punic amphorae was revealed running north-south in the center of the stenopos. A second channel of thin terracotta pipes running from northwest to southeast was dated to the 18th/19th century.
Trench 4 was excavated at the hypothetical crossing of the western stenopos with a plateia (fig. 10). The excavation revealed no built structures. Instead, several alluvial layers sloping from west to east were met. A comparison with similar findings in Agrigento suggests that, in ancient times, there was a course of water in the immediate vicinity to the north, which regularly flooded the area. This trench shows that the orthogonal grid plan of Agrigento was adapted to the topographical conditions.
The excavation provided important evidence for answering the key questions of our project. Several walls were found in trenches 1 and 2 that most likely belonged to the gymnasium and presumably to the hypothetical palestra. The western stenopos continued further north, but its crossing with a plateia has not been found. The area is bordered by relatively steep cliffs in the north and particularly west, which must have had an impact on the course of the street. It has been confirmed by all four trenches that the terrain of the excavation area slopes quite steeply from north to south and less significantly from west to east, which required significant terracing and leveling, particularly for large buildings like a palestra.
The campaign was generously funded by the Ernst-Reuter-Gesellschaft der Freien Universität Berlin, the Freie Universität Berlin, and the Politecnio di Bari. The results were published in a preliminary report in Thiasos 2023 (Trümper et al. 2023)
2023: A second excavation campaign will take place from August 28 to October 7. This is generously funded by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft).
- Chiara Blasetti Fantauzzi, Freie Universität Berlin
- Antonello Fino, Politenico Bari
- Stephen Kay, British School at Rome
- Thomas Lappi, Freie Universität Berlin
- Elena Pomar, British School at Rome
- Paola Santospagnuolo, Freie Universität Berlin
- Monika Trümper, Freie Universität Berlin
This project could not be carried out without the generous permission, support, and cooperation of the Parco Archeologico e Paesaggistico della Valle dei Templi di Agrigento. Particular thanks are owed to Dr. Maria Concetta Parello and Arch. Roberto Sciarratta, direttore del Parco.
Link to Fastionline: https://www.fastionline.org/record_view.php?fst_cd=AIAC_5018
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