Monday, May 10, 2004

Archeologists Find Fabled Center of Learning in Egypt (L.A. Times via Cronaca)
� The University of Alexandria drew some of the ancient world's most famous scholars.

By Thomas H. Maugh II, Times Staff Writer

A Polish-Egyptian team has unearthed the site of the fabled University of Alexandria, home of Archimedes, Euclid and a host of other scholars from the era when Alexandria dominated the Mediterranean.

The team has found 13 lecture halls, or auditoria, that could have accommodated as many as 5,000 students, said archeologist Zahi Hawass, president of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.

The classrooms are on the eastern edge of a large public square in the Late Antique section of modern Alexandria and are adjacent to a previously discovered theater that is now believed to be part of the university complex, Hawass said.

All 13 auditoria have similar dimensions and internal arrangements, he added. They feature rows of stepped benches running along the walls on three sides of the rooms, sometimes joining at one end to form a "U."

The most conspicuous feature of the rooms, he added, is an elevated seat placed in the middle of the "U," most likely designed for the lecturer.

"It is the first time ever that such a complex of lecture halls has been uncovered on any Greco-Roman site in the whole Mediterranean area," Hawass said, calling it "perhaps the oldest university in the world."

The discovery is "incredibly impressive," said UCLA archeologist Willeke Wendrich. "We knew it existed and was an extremely famous center for learning, but we knew it only from textual accounts�. We never knew the site."


The Septuagint translators, Philo of Alexandria, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen may have sat in these lecture rooms.

UPDATE (11 May): Reader Ellen Birnbaum, a Philo specialist, e-mails:
Thanks for posting the item about the "University of Alexandria." How odd that the excavators would call it this--I've never heard of such a University. They must mean either the gymnasium or the Museum. I'll be interested in how they identify this newly discovered site with one that's mentioned explicitly in the ancient sources!

UPDATE (23 January, 2005): More here.

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