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1. a large room or hall equipped with bars, weights, ropes, etc., for games or physical training
2. (in various European countries) a secondary school that prepares pupils for university
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


In Greek and Roman architecture, a large open court for exercise, surrounded by colonnades and rooms for massages and lectures.
Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture Copyright © 2012, 2002, 1998 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a secondary general educational institution.

The term gymnasium was borrowed from ancient Athens. The first school to be called a Gymnasium was a secondary school opened in Strassburg in 1538. From the 16th century to the 18th, Gymnasiums were established in many cities throughout Germany. In the 19th century secondary schools for boys in Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece, Denmark, Serbia, and the German cantons of Switzerland were called Gymnasiums.

With the development of capitalism in different countries there arose a demand for educational institutions in which the students would acquire practical, useful knowledge, and the protest against the classicism of the Gymnasiums gained strength. This resulted in the establishment of the Realschule. Later, in the mid-19th century, alongside the classical Gymnasium there arose the Realgymnasium, which did not provide instruction in Greek. In the classical Gymnasium of the late 19th and early 20th centuries emphasis on the teaching of classical languages decreased somewhat, but this type of Gymnasium remained the preeminent secondary school.

In Russia the first Gymnasiums were founded in St. Petersburg (the Academic Gymnasium, 1726), in Moscow under the auspices of the university (in 1755), and in Kazan (1758), but they did not have a uniform curriculum. Of particular significance in the history of the Gymnasium was the introduction in 1804 of the Statute of Educational Institutions Under the Jurisdiction of Universities, under which young people were accepted to the Gymnasium upon graduating from district schools without taking examinations and regardless of social class. The Gymnasium had a four-year course of study. Under the Statute of 1828 class limitations were reintroduced—the Gymnasium was open only to the children of nobility and civil servants—philosophy, political economy, and law were excluded from the curriculum as “freethinking sciences,” Greek and religious instruction were introduced, a barracks discipline was established and corporal punishment widely used, and surveillance of students was increased. In 1852, three kinds of Gymnasiums were officially established: (1) those offering natural history and jurisprudence beginning in the fifth grade, with Latin added to the curriculum of students preparing for entrance to the universities (students preparing for the civil service were not required to study Latin); (2) those offering jurisprudence, for students training for the civil service; and (3) those offering an extensive program in Latin and Greek.

The Statute of Gymnasiums and Progymnasiums of 1864 established several different types of Gymnasiums: (1) classical, with Greek and Latin and with a few hours assigned for the study of the natural sciences and physics, (2) classical, with Latin, and (3) Realgymnasiums, without classical languages and with extensive training in natural science and physics. Progymnasiums were also established. In the 1860’s women’s Gymnasiums began to be organized.

In the 1860’s the upsurge of the social-pedagogical movement led to a more intense conflict over the role of the Gymnasium. The revolutionary democrats sharply opposed the “classical nightmare” and the formal character of Gymnasium education, although they recognized the positive significance of genuine humanism and classicism. They demanded that the Gymnasium impart knowledge that would have practical significance and that would be necessary above all for the development of Russian culture and economy. The apparent nature of the link between the concepts of humanism and classicism was exposed by K. D. Ushinskii. He believed that classicism, as it existed in the Russian Gymnasium, contradicted genuine humanism and that there was no basis for exaggerating the importance of classical languages either in the history of human culture or in the development of the student’s ability to think. In 1871 the Statute of Gymnasiums and Progymnasiums of the Ministry of National Education was promulgated, according to which the only kind of Gymnasium recognized was the seven-grade classical Gymnasium with an eight-year course of study (the seventh grade was divided into two years) and with instruction in Latin and Greek (allotted 41 percent of classroom time).

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, under the influence of the growing social movement in Russia and of the development of industry, the Ministry of Education made a number of attempts to reform the classical Gymnasium and adapt it to the demands of life. In 1914 a new curriculum was adopted which attested to a considerable weakening of classicism and formalism and to a strengthening of practical knowledge.

Those who graduated from the Gymnasium with a gold or silver medal were admitted to the university first and without taking examinations. The others were also admitted without examinations, but only applicants with the best certificates were selected. On Jan. 1, 1913, there were 434 Gymnasiums and Progymnasiums in Russia with 142,935 students. After the October Révolution the Gymnasium as a type of educational institution was abolished.


Aleshintsev, I. A. Istoriia gimnazicheskogo obrazovaniia v Rossii (XVIII i XIX v.). St. Petersburg, 1912.
Ganelin, Sh. I. Ocherki po istorii srednei shkoly v Rossii vtoroi poloviny XIX v., 2nd ed. Moscow, 1954.
Smirnov, V. Z. Reforma nachal’noi i srednei shkoly v 60-kh godakh XIX v. Moscow, 1954.
Das Schulwesen sozialistischer Länder in Europa. Berlin, 1962.




a state educational institution in ancient Greece and also in the Hellenic East. The time of its appearance has not been precisely established. In Athens the gymnasium was at its peak in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.

Originally intended for physical exercise, the gymnasium became a unique center for social intercourse and intellectual and physical exercise for youth. Noble wealthy Athenian youths of 16-18 years of age entered the gymnasium after the palaestra. While continuing to study gymnastics, they also studied politics, philosophy, and literature under the guidance of philosophers. The most famous gymnasiums were the Academia, where Plato conversed with his students, and the Lyceum, founded by Aristotle.



a building for athletic training and competition (track-and-field events, gymnastics, various games, and other sports). A gymnasium is a requisite building at any educational institute of physical culture and sports. Most gymnasiums have circular (160-250 m) and straight (60-120 m) running tracks; areas for broad jumping, high jumping, pole vaulting, and shot-putting; volleyball and basketball courts; various measuring devices and scoreboards; locker rooms; and, sometimes, spectator accommodations. Gymnasiums are widely used in the United States, the USSR, the Federal Republic of Germany, the German Democratic Republic, France, and other countries. In the USSR the best-known gymnasiums are in Leningrad (the former Mikhailovskii Gymnasium), Moscow (Znamenskii Brothers Gymnasium, Gymnasium of the Central Institute of Physical Culture, Young Pioneers Stadium Gymnasium), Donetsk, Voroshilovgrad, and Sverdlovsk.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. A large room or building devoted to physical education or indoor games. In addition to the playing floor, the building form usually contains staff offices, locker and shower rooms, and spectator facilities.
2. In continental Europe, a secondary school which prepares students for university.
3. In Greek and Roman architecture, a large open court for exercise, surrounded by colonnades and rooms for massage, lectures, etc.; a palaestra, ephebeion.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.