The Ten Books on Architecture, 5.11

Vitruvius  translated by Joseph Gwilt

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Of the Palæstra

11Though not used by the people of Italy, it seems proper that I should explain the form of the palæstra, and describe the mode in which it was constructed by the Greeks. The square or oblong peristylia of palestræ, have a walk round them which the Greeks call δίαυλος, two stadia in circuit: three of the sides are single porticos: the fourth, which is that on the south side, is to be double, so that when showers fall in windy weather, the drops may not drive into the inner part of it.

2In the three porticos are large recesses (exedræ) with seats therein, whereon the philosophers, rhetoricians, and others who delight in study, may sit and dispute. In the double portico the following provision is to be made: the ephebeum is to be in the middle, which is in truth nothing more than a large exedra with seats, and longer by one third than its width, on the right is the coriceum, immediately adjoining which is the conisterium, near which, in the angle of the portico, is the cold bath, which the Greeks call λουτρόν. On the left of the ephebeum is the elæothesium, adjoining that is the frigidarium, whence a passage leads to the propigneum in the angle of the portico. Near, but more inward, on the side of the frigidarium, is placed the vaulted sudatory, whose length is double its width; on one side of this is the laconicum, constructed as before described: on the other side is the hot bath.

3The peristylia of the palæstra are to be carefully set out as above mentioned. Exteriorly three porticos are constructed, one through which those who come out of the palæstra pass; and stadial ones on the right and left, of which, that towards the north is double, and of considerable width. The other is single, and so formed that as well on the side next the wall, as on that where the columns stand, there are margins for paths of not less than ten feet, the centre part is sunk one foot and a half from the path, to which there is an ascent of two steps; the sunken part is not to be less thantwelve feet in width. Thus, those who in their clothing walk round the paths, will not be incommoded by the anointed wrestlers who are practising.

4This species of portico is called xystus (ξυστὸς) by the Greeks; for the wrestlers exercise in covered stadia in the winter time. Xysti ought, between the two porticos, to have groves or plantations, with walks between the trees and seat of cemented work. On the sides of the xystus and double portico are open walks which the Greeks call περιδρόμιδες, but with us they are termed xysti, on which the athletæ exercise themselves, when the weather is fine, in the winter. Behind the xystus the stadium is set out, of such dimensions that a great number of people may commodiously behold the contending wrestlers. I have now given rules for the proper distribution of such buildings as are within the walls.

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