The Theatre of Epidauros is one of the marvels of ancient Greece. Its position in the hills of the Argolid, surrounded by pine trees and oleanders, and its well preserved state make it a highlight of any visit to Greece.
You’ll find many ancient sites in the Mediterranean which make you wonder how the people of those days built them – without the use of computers! When you first see the theatre, its size is the main thing which hits you.
But it wasn’t drama which was the inspiration for the site of Epidauros. Its original purpose was a place of healing, based on the cult of Asklepios. It began in the 6C BC, reaching its zenith in the 4C BC. The theatre was added in the 4C BC by the Argive architect Polykleitos the Younger.
More than just a theatre
The cult of Asklepios, although it may have remained a local cult for centuries, really took off at the end of the 5C BC. As the fame of the site (and perhaps its reputation – did ancient ‘doctors’ actually made a difference to their patients?) spread, people began to come from far and wide looking for cures.
Epidauros was developed during the 4C and 3C BC. Structures were added, including a gymnasium, demonstrating the importance the Greeks gave to maintaining strength and fitness. There was a sanctuary to Asklepios which contained an enclosure where the sacred snakes were kept.
Asklepios also had a temple dedicated to him. It was a small temple in the Doric style. One corner of it has been rebuilt, mostly modern work with a few of the original pieces used. The temple was designed by the architect Theodotos in the 4C BC. A statue made of gold and ivory of Asklepios once stood inside the temple. He was seated on a throne with his left hand placed on the head of a snake.
The Tholos, or round temple was built in the 4C BC by the architect Polykleitos the Younger, who also built the theatre. It was designed as a mausoleum for Asklepios. The temple was unusual in that the outer colonnade was built in the Doric style, while the inner used the Corinthian style. At the center of the temple was a maze, but its purpose or significance has never been agreed upon. However, see 2020 Update.
To the north of the tholos you can see the foundations of the Abaton, or portico. This was the dormitory where the sick and infirm slept, hoping that Asklepios would appear to them in dreams and heal them. Part of this has also been rebuilt.
To the west of the main area is the stadium. This was built in the 5C BC, and used the natural contours of the ground. The start and finishing lines are still to be seen. Although the stadium had some stone seats, these were only for important dignitaries. Ordinary folk had to stand.
It’s worth while visiting this, even though the main finds are now displayed in the museum in Athens. There is also a partially reconstructed tholos, which gives a very good idea of how it would have looked.
In 2015 about 5 million Euro will be spent to upgrade the site and add a herb garden with healing plants as well as information about local agricultural products with healing properties.
You’ll find travel suggestions and map details on the Epidaurus map page.
You will find a personalised photo journal–with videos–at Epidavros 2019