It is a truism that if you dig in Athens, you will strike some ancient site, although no one expected construction for a modern art museum would unearth Aristotle's famed Lyceum. The fact that this was less than five feet under makes you wonder what other marvels lurk below the city's surface.
The ancient Greek philosopher took a perambulatory approach to learning, something that the layout makes clear as you stroll the paths between the ruins of the palestra, baths and reading room. Oddly, for a site bordered by one of the centre's busiest thorough-fares, it is both strangely quiet and wonderfully fragrant with the wild herbs - rosemary, lavender, thyme - planted around a perimeter shaded by pomegranate and other fruit trees that recreate the feeling of the sacred grove in the ancient city's suburbs where the school was located.
School in 335 BC Greece incorporated music and wrestling into youth's basic education. Much time was spent outdoors, with lessons often held while walking, as Aristotle believed this was when he did his best thinking. What's remarkable are the baths. At first, these were simple stalls where youths could rinse the oil and dust from their bodies. Later, they were turned into steam rooms linked by "pipes" under the floor to the hearth in the antechamber. The heart was collected in the clay discs laid as a floor or stacked in the room. Like many spa regiments today, the steam room was followed by a cold plunge in the cistern - a remarkable simple and ingenious system that's preserved at the site.
Even a thorough tour takes less than an hour, but you may want to linger. Tiered wooden stands at the low elevation overlooking the site are a perfect spot to rest, read a book or just take a break from the city's bustle. Do not be surprised if you cannot sit for too long; there is something about this place that gets you strolling...
Address: Rigillis 11 and Vasilissis Sofias, Athens, 106 75
Getting there: Metro to Evangelismos (M3)
Hours: Daily, summertime 8am-8pm & wintertime 8am-3pm
Tip: Continue your stroll in the adjacent gardens of Villa Ilisia, the former mansion of the Duchess of Plaisance that now houses the Byzantine Museum. If you decide to have a coffee look for me, it is my favourite place in my neighbourhood for morning coffee (Covid permitting...)