Ancient Playground was created in 1973 and designed by Richard Dattner, who designed several other playgrounds in Central Park. Dattner was inspired by the Met’s Egyptian collection, specifically the Temple of Dendur, and designed the playground to evoke an ancient city. The playground features pyramids, an obelisk, and a sundial—plus a sandbox, swings, and water features.
Ancient Playground was one of several playgrounds in Central Park that were rebuilt during the 1960s and 1970s in the adventure style. Adventure-style playgrounds—an alternative to playgrounds with traditional equipment—typically include interconnected play features that encourage exploration and imaginative play. The Park’s other adventure-style playgrounds are the East 72nd Street Playground, Heckscher Playground, Tarr Family Playground, Adventure Playground, and Billy Johnson Playground.
At the entrance to the playground are the Osborn Gates, ornamental bronze gates by the artist Paul Manship that depict scenes from Aesop’s Fables.
Unlike most urban playgrounds, which are often completely re-envisioned to reflect new ideas about play and design standards, the Central Park Conservancy has carefully rebuilt the adventure-style playgrounds to preserve their original intent and unique forms, while upgrading their infrastructure and adding new features. Ancient Playground was rebuilt in 2009.
Central Park has 21 playgrounds that are unique in design and character. Most of them were built in the 1930s as part of a system of playgrounds located along the Park perimeter. The Central Park Conservancy regularly updates these spaces to include new equipment and infrastructure that reflect changing ideas about children’s play and safety and accessibility standards. Since 2011, the Conservancy has been working to rebuild or renovate all the Park’s playgrounds, with the goal of bringing each of them up to the same standard of excellence at the same time and focusing on making them feel more connected to the Park’s landscapes and experiences.