Epidaurus, Greek city built for Asclepius

Epidaurus is home to one of the most impressive theatres in Greek antiquity

Epidaurus is the name of an ancient Greek city on the Argolis Peninsula. It was famous for the nearby sanctuary of Asclepius, son of Apollo and demigod of medicine. These days the city is best known for its splendidly preserved theatre which is still used for performances.

The city enjoyed a period of growth from the end of the 5th century BC to the end of the Roman period. The amazing theatre is still intact and lies on a hill in a valley close to the modern archaeological museum.

Splendid buildings

The theatre dates from the 4th century BC and the impressive auditorium was designed to hold up to 14,000 spectators. The circular performance area used by the actors and players was known as the orchestra and has a diameter of 20 metres. The acoustics of the theatre were so well designed that even today it is possible for a listener in the very top row of the auditorium to hear someone dropping a pin on the ‘stage’. This experiment is frequently tested – and its truth proved – by many of today’s visitors.

The theatre at Epidaurus is also unusual in still retaining the two-story stage building behind the orchestra, which includes a proscenium, backstages and rooms for use by the actors. Behind the theatre lie the extensive ruins of the xenon, a kind of hotel with around 160 rooms on two floors. It was built in the 4th century BC to house the large number of visitors who came to see the sanctuary.

A path leads up to the temple of Aesclepius, which was designed by Tehodotus (380 BC). The materials used in its construction were of the highest quality, such as marble, ivory, gold, exotic species of wood and coloured stones. Another temple stood before it, but this was used as a colonnade where patients could sleep while they were waiting to be healed by the gods.

On the south side are the remains of the Temple of Artemis (330 BC), a small Doric construction inside which is a fine row of Ionic columns.

Reconstruction of the tholos in Epidaurus. Image Wellcome LIbrary, London. http://wellcomeimages.org Defrasse, Alphonse & Lechat, Henry Published: 1895 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Facade of the temple of Aesculapius in Epidaurus Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Reconstruction of the facade of temple of Aesculapius at Epidaurus Watercolour Epidaure, restauration & description des principaux monuments du sanctuaire d’Asclépios Defrasse, Alphonse and Lechat, Henri Published: 1895 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

The Tholos

The most beautiful part of Epidaurus is the tholos, a technical term for a circular building with a domed roof. It was made by Polyclitus who erected a similar structure in Delphi. The tholos in Epidaurus is evidence of one of the most important periods of transition in Greek art in the 4th century BC: the change to rich, elegant decoration and graceful support structures which help to create a luminous beauty.

The museum of Epidaurus

Het Archeologisch museum van Epidaurus is een klein museum vlakbij de ruïnes. Het museum is bekend vanwege de reconstructies van de tempels en columns met inscripties. Het is geopend in 1909 met de bedoeling om de vele vondsten uit de omgeving te herbergen en te laten zien aan het publiek.

Museum Epidaurus. Foto: Angela Monika Arnold, Berlin – https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4364800

The Sanctuary of Asclepius at Epidavros is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

Text                 Harrie Wolters

Translation     Alun Harvey


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