Epidaurus

Epidaurus was a small city (polis) in ancient Greece, on the Argolid Peninsula in the Peloponnese. A sanctuary to Asklepios, the god of medicine and healing, developed as the official cult of the city-state and became an important sacred centre of healing. The prosperity brought by the Asklepieion enabled Epidaurus to construct some of the purest masterpieces of Greek architecture, including the huge theatre that delighted Pausanias for its symmetry and beauty. The site is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Coordinates: 37°35’44.9″N 23°04’46.7″E

Long before the cult of Asklepios was established, the area around Epidaurus was the site of ceremonial healing practices, later associated with the worship of the deity Apollo Maleatas. The sanctuary was located on a low hill on Mount Kynortion, above the later Asklepieion. Asklepios, whom the Epidaurians claimed to be from their city (although the cult began in Thessaly), took precedence from the 6th century BC when the sanctuary was developed into the most important therapeutic centre of the ancient world where ill people went in the hope of being cured. Inscribed slabs recorded that the sick undertook ritual sleep in the sanctuary, during which the god appeared to them in dreams.

Statue of Asklepios found in Epidaurus.

Asklepios, son of Apollo (god of healing, truth, and prophecy) and the mortal princess Koronis, learned medicine and the art of healing from the centaur Chiron. Credited with possessing great healing powers, Asklepios brought prosperity to the sanctuary and reach its peak in the 4th and 3 rd centuries BC when the Epidaurians launched a lavish building programme. The new facilities included healing cults and rituals, a library, temples to Artemis and Asklepios, baths, a stadium, a hospital and a theatre. The sporting and artistic buildings were used in the Asklepieia festival, founded around 400 BC and held every four years to celebrate theatre, sport and music.

The Epidaurian cult was exported throughout the ancient world so that more than 200 new Asklepieia were built, the most notable being in Athens, Kos, Pergamon, and in Rome, all under the patronage of the sanctuary in Epidauros.

Hadrian visited Epidaurus during his first trip to Greece in the year AD 124. His visit had a definite effect upon the sanctuary as the emperor enforced new regulations concerning the appointment of religious ministers and the recurrence of the Asklepieia. Most of the Epidaurian coins minted after Hadrian’s visit had Asklepieia as part of the reverse legend. Hadrian’s visit is attested in at least three inscriptions (IG IV²,1 606, IG IV²,1 607, AE 1974, 611) in which he is called “saviour and benefactor”. The city erected a statue of him in AD 124 and a new era in the local calendar began from this year (IG IV²,1 384).

A portrait-head and a loricated torso have been identified as belonging to a statue of Hadrian.

The sanctuary enjoyed a new flowering in the mid-2nd century AD when Sextus Iulius Maior Antoninus Phytodorus, an aristocrat from Nysa in Asia Minor, funded a rebuilding programme. New gods were also introduced into the sanctuary: Ammon, Sarapis, and Isis, as evidenced by the discoveries of dedicatory inscriptions. In AD 395 the Goths under Alaric raided the sanctuary. Emperor Theodosius II definitively ended the sanctuary’s rites in AD 426, but even after the introduction of Christianity and the silencing of the oracles, Epidaurus was still known as late as the mid 5th century as a Christian healing centre. A five-aisled early Christian basilica was built at the end of the 4th century AD, making it one of the earliest churches known in Greece.

Excavations at the ancient site were first begun in 1881 under the auspices of the Greek Archaeological Society and continue to the present day. Today, the magnificent theatre, renowned for its exceptional acoustics, is still used for performances in an annual traditional theatre festival.

PORTFOLIO

The theatre is one of the best-preserved in Greece. It was celebrated in antiquity for its beauty and harmonious proportions.
The 55 rows of seats of the theatre, taking about 14,000 spectators, rest on a natural slope, except at the north-west end where they are held up by artificial fill.
The elliptical cavea, the entrances to the paradoi, the proskenion, and scene-building and the orchestra in the form of a full circle were built of local limestone in the second half of the 4th century BC.
The remains of the Gymnasium, a square building with an inner peristyled court and porticoes and rooms along the four sides. An odeum was constructed in Roman times on the site of the gymnasium.
The monumental propylon which served as the main entrance of the Gymnasium.

The 181 m long stadium, built ca. 480 BC – 338 BC, it held athletic games every four years at the sanctuary of Asklepios.
The foundations (overgrown) of the Temple of Asklepios.
The oblong Αbaton or Enkoimeterion was the centre stage in the healing process. It was used as a dormitory for those awaiting Asklepios’ advice.
The Stoa of the Abaton (or Enkoimeterion) had 29 Ionic columns on the southern face and 13 inner columns.
A stone balustrade filled the openings between the Ionic columns of the upper level.

The circular foundations of the Tholos, ca. 360 BC – ca. 320 BC. The activities of the cult of the Hero Asklepios took place here. It also may have held Asclepius’ sacred snakes, symbols of rebirth and rejuvenation.
The Roman baths had a therapeutic function.
The Roman baths.
A Hellenistic cistern.
The foundations of a Propylon outside the central Sanctuary of Asklepios.

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One thought on “Epidaurus

  1. Carole,
    Visited Epidaurus many years ago. I am pleased to see the more recent work and would love to go back if ever I could. The repair work on the theater is especially well received. Your work is superb, please keep going!

    Liked by 1 person

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