Epidaurus is one of Greece’s most popular tourist destinations. A small city in ancient Greece, it was once the most celebrated healing center of the Classical world. Also lending to the popularity of Epidaurus as a tourist destination is its amazing theater. Widely believed to have built in the fourth century, this ancient performance venue is astonishingly well preserved and is still used to this day. Only helping to make Epidaurus such a popular place to visit is its relative proximity to Athens. You can more specifically find it on the eastern side of the Peloponnese peninsula approximately 80 miles from the Greek capital. Travel time from Athens to Epidaurus is around two hours.
Much of the historical legacy of Epidaurus is tied to mythology. It is said that it was in this ancient town that Asklepios was born. The son of Apollo, Asklepios was also the god of medicine and healing according to ancient Greek religion. Healing temples were built in his honor, with the most famous being the Sanctuary of Epidaurus. This sanctuary was responsible for the role of Epidaurus as a renowned healing center during the Classical period. It also generated income that helped the town finance its various civic monuments, including the large theater. Epidaurus and its sanctuary were primarily significant from the 6th century B.C. to the 2nd century A.D.
Sanctuary of Asklepios
Sanctuary of Asklepios
Dedicated to Asklepios, this ancient healing temple established itself as the most significant center of its kind in Greece during the Classical era. Several buildings made up the overall complex. Among them was the Tholos. Designed by the famous 4 th century B.C. architect, Polykleitos, this structure resembled other round buildings that were built by the same architect at Olympia and Delphi. Scholars aren’t sure of the exact purpose of the Tholos at Epidaurus, though it is commonly considered to have been a pit for sacred serpents. Another structure at the Sanctuary of Asklepios was a hall where patients slept and hoped to have dreams that would help them diagnose their ailments. A natural mineral spring was just one more feature of the ancient healing center. This spring can be found next to the Excavation Museum. The museum, it should be noted, helps Epidaurus visitors make better sense of the Sanctuary of Asklepios. The sanctuary is almost completely in ruins.
Unlike the Sanctuary of Asklepios, the Theater of Epidaurus is remarkably well preserved. Also designed by Polykleitos, it dates back to the fourth century B.C. Originally, it had 34 rows and a bottom tier of 12 blocks. During the Roman period, the Theater of Epidaurus was enlarged. A top tier with 21 rows was added, allowing the venue to accommodate 14,000 people. The Theater of Epidaurus is known for its excellent acoustics and continues to be used to this day for various performances. At Epidaurus, there is a Festival Museum that displays props, costumes and other things that relate to past performances at the theater. It is usually open on days when the theater is set to host a performance and can sometimes be open on other days as well.