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Statue of Asklepios in the museum of EpidavrosThe sanctuary of Asklepios

In the hinterland of Epidavros, on a site enjoying a mild climate and plenty of water from healing springs, the Epidaurians founded the sanctuary of Asklepios, the most brilliant center of healing in the world.

The worship of gods of healing in Epidavros goes back to the prehistoric period. In the Mycenaean period, the hero-doctor Malos (or Maleatas) was worshiped on a peak of Mount Kynortion. After 1000 BC, Apollo displaced the prehistoric deity and assumed his name. Apollo Maleatas continued to be worshipped in his sanctuary even after the foundation of the Asklepieion until the end of the ancient world. His cult evolved into that of Asklepios, culminating in the 6th century BC with the foundation of his major sanctuary of healing.

The sanctuary of AsklepiosThe prestige and reputation acquired by Asklepios as the major god of healing led to great economic prosperity for his sanctuary which made it possible to implement a large building program in the 4th and 3rd century BC to house his cult in monumental buildings.

The peripteral Doric temple of Asklepios, erected between 380 and 375 BC, was the work of the architect Theodotos. The pedimental sculptures were carved by Timotheos while the statue of Asklepios was the work of the Thrasymedes of Paros.

The tholos was built next to the temple in 360-330 BC. This circular peristyle building was the centre of the chthonic mystery cult of Asklepios and its famous sculptures are attributed to the architect and sculptor Polykleitos who is also considered to be responsible for the theatre at Epidavros, one of the most perfect and the best preserved of the ancient Greek theatres.

To the north of the temple and the tholos is the Abaton or Enkoimeterion, a building in which the sick, having first been purified and having offered sacrifice, were required to go to sleep so that the god could appear to them in a dream to cure them or indicate the treatment they had to follow. The discovery during the excavations of a large number of medical instruments strengthens the idea that practical medical operations were also carried out in the sanctuary.

Map of ancient EpidavrosTemples to other deities (Aphrodite, Artemis and Themis) were built around the sanctuary of Asklepios along with buildings to provide services for the hosts of pilgrims and installations for the athletic and music contests (stadium, palaestra, gymnasium, baths, Odeon and theater).

After three centuries of prosperity, the Asklepieion was dealt a series of major blows. The Roman general Sulla plundered its treasures in 86 BC and a few years later it was ravaged by pirates from Kilikia. The sanctuary enjoyed a second period of prosperity in the 2nd century AD when new buildings were erected and the old ones repaired. In 395 AD, the sanctuary was plundered by the Goths of Alaric and it finally ceased to function when the ancient cults were banned by emperor Theodosius II in 426 Ad.

The ravages of time were completed by two major earthquakes in 522 and 551 AD and the sanctuary remained silent until the excavations conducted by the Archaeological Society (1879-1928) uncovered its ensemble of monuments. Top

The Epidavros museumThe Epidavros museum

The museum was built between 1905 and 1909 by P. Kawadias who excavated the site to house the most important finds. The columns at the entrance are from the Abaton and the inside of the Tholos.

In the first room are the sanationes (inscriptions with accounts of the miracles and cures of Asklepios) and an inscripition containing the hymn to Apollo and Medical instruments from the sanctuaries of Apollo and AsklepiosAsklepios composed by Isyllos, the epic poet from Epidavros (280 BC). There also are inscriptions recording tenders for and the accounts of the building work in the sanctuary. A small showcase contains medical instruments and small finds from the sanctuaries of Apollo and Asklepios.

The second room houses mainly votive sculptures dating from the later years of the cult and casts of works now in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. At the back of the room you’ll see reconstructions of the colonnade of the propylon (entrance).

The third room contains reconstructions of parts of the temple of Asklepios and Hygeia, casts of the sculptural decoration from the pediments of the temple of Asklepios and a temporary display of drawings and photos and to help visitors understand the form of the tholos. Top

The theater of EpidavrosThe theater of Epidavros

The theatre of the sanctuary of Asklepieion of Epidaurus is a perfect example of the achievements and experience of the ancient Greeks on theatre construction. It was already praised in antiquity by Pausanias for its symmetry and beauty.

It has the typical Hellenistic structure with the three basic parts: the cavea (public seating areas), the orchestra and the stage-building. The longest radius of the cavea is 58 meter while the diameter of the orchestra is about 20 meter. The lower of the two diazomata (sections) is divided with 13 stairways into 12 cunei (with 34 rows of benches) and the upper with 23 stairways into 22 cunei (with 21 rows of benches).

Theatre of Epidavros - ReconstructionThe stage-building included a main room with four pillars along the central axis and one square room at each end. The proskenium had a facade with 14 half-columns against pillars. Two ramps on either side led to the stage while monumental double gates stood at the two entrances.

The theatre was built in two stages. During the first, at the end of the 4th century B.C., the orchestra, the lower diazoma and the stage-building (in its pre-Hellenistic phase) were constructed. During the second, at the middle of the 2nd century B.C., the cavea was enlarged at the top, and the stage building was given its late-Hellenistic shape. The theatre was used for musical and poetical contests and theatrical performances. Learn why the Greeks could hear plays from the back row.

For centuries the monument remained covered by thick layers of earth. Systematic excavations started in 1881 under the direction of P. Kavvadias. The cavea was brought to light quite well preserved apart from the tiers at the edges and the retaining walls. On the contrary, the stage was found in ruins levelled to the ground.

At the beginning of the 20th century the gate of the western entrance and the contiguous retaining-wall were restored. Large-scale works were undertaken from 1954 to 1963 for the reconstruction of the destroyed sections and partial restoration of the monument. Top

The little theater of ancient EpidavrosThe little theater of ancient Epidavros

The theatre of the ancient city, on the headland called "Nesi" at Paleia Epidaurus, is quite well-preserved in the shape it acquired during the latter years of its function. Apart from a few rows of seats, the cavea is made of limestone with poros staircases.

Until now, nine cunei with eighteen rows of seats have been excavated which originally could accommodate about 2000 spectators. All the benches and thrones of the theatre carry inscriptions with the names of the donors while implying a direct relationship of the monument with the cult of Dionysos.

From the inscriptions on the monument one can deduct that it was constructed in sections, starting at the middle of the 4th century B.C. and continuing into the Hellenistic period. There may have been an earlier, simpler form of the theatre. During the Roman period, the orchestra became semi-circular with the erection of a stage nearer to the cavea, of which the lower part has survived until now. Benches from the cavea have been used for the construction of the city-wall, situated on the top of the second hill of the headland.

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    The sanctuary of Asklepios
    The Epidaurus museum
    The Epidaurus theater
    The little theater of ancient

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