Epidaurus is located on the Peloponnese in mainland Greece, and was famous as a place of healing during ancient Greek and Roman times. Visitors came from afar to visit the Sanctuary of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing. Today most people come to see the theatre of Epidaurus, one of the best-preserved ancient theatres in the world, and still in use during the Hellenic Festival. Epidaurus is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Sanctuary of Asclepius (Asklepieion)
Asclepius was the son of Apollo and Coronis, who died giving birth to Asclepius. Apollo put Asclepius in the care of the centaur Chiron, who raised Asclepius and trained him in the art of medicine. Epidaurus was originally dedicated to Apollo, but by the 4th century BC Epidaurus had become synonymous with Asclepius, and was believed to be his birthplace. The treatments administered here includes diet, herbal medicine, mineral springs and surgery. The green surroundings and pine trees probably didn’t hurt either.
The propylaia was the original entrance to the site, and is a large gateway at the north edge. Some pavement from the Sacred Way that led north is also preserved.
When visitors first arrived, they were placed in the enkoimitirion, a big sleeping hall. There Asclepius himself would appear in their dreams, and give advice on what sort of treatment that would heal them.
In the northwest corner is the tholos, which function is uncertain. It is believed that its concentric circles were used either for sacred rituals by the priests, or as a pit for the holy snakes. To the east of the tolos are the remaining foundations of the Temple of Asclepius.
South of the tolos is the stadium, which still has intact stone benches, and you can also make out a starting line. This is where the athletic part of the Festival of Asclepius was held every four years.
In the south is the katagogeion, a huge guest house for patients and pilgrims, which had 160 guest rooms.
On the eastern side you’ll find the Sanctuary of Egyptian Gods, an indication that Asclepius was modelled after Imhotep, who had a similar position as healing god in Egypt.
The museum has surgical instruments, statues, stone inscriptions and reconstructions of the tholos. The tholos was the most impressive building in Epidaurus after the theatre, and on display are remains of intricately detailed reliefs from the tholos’ ceiling.
This theatre was designed by Polykleitos the Younger in the 4th century BC, and is famous for its wonderful acoustics. Guides love demonstrating this to their tour groups, by dropping a coin or similar on stage, making a sound that can be easily heard in the entire theatre. The seating is made of limestone, which dampens low frequency sounds and reflects high frequency sounds from the stage. During Roman times, 21 rows were added to the original 34 rows, which meant this theatre could take as many as 15,000 people, for example during the Festival of Asclepieia, when drama and athletics were performed at Epidaurus.
The theatre is also one of the best-preserved ancient Greek buildings. Thanks to its relatively remote location, its masonry was never stolen and used for other purposes. The Corinthian pilasters flanking the entrance are restored, however
The Hellenic Festival
Epidaurus Theatre hosts performances every Friday and Saturday, during the Hellenic Festival in July and August. Both ancient Greek dramas as well as modern theatre is performed. You can buy tickets either on site in Epidaurus, or from the Hellenic Festival office in Athens (Panepistimiou 39, Syntagma). During the festival, there are special bus connections from Athens and Nafplio. See http://www.hellenicfestival.gr for more details.
How to get there
There are daily buses to Epidaurus from Nafplio, 30 kilometers away. Buses also go daily between nearby Ligourio and Athens, a two and a half hour trip.