The Great Theatre of Epidaurus

Asclepius Sanctuary
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In a canyon, in 340 BC, an Argos architect Polykleitos the Younger, built, according to Pausanias, the theatre of Epidaurus.

Among all the ancient theatres, Epidaurus theatre is the most beautiful and best preserved. Destined for the fun of the patients of Asklipieio, it had a capacity of 13,000 spectators. It was divided into two parts: A 21-rows of seats part, aimed for the citizens and a 34-rows of seats part aimed for the priests and rulers. The superb acoustics as well as the very well preserved construction, contributed to the creation of Epidaurus Festival S.A., an institution that contributed to the cultural revival of the theatre. Great actors have acted at such as Alexis Minotis, Thanos Kotsopoulos, Anna Synodinou, Thanasis Vengos and the famous Greek soprano Maria Kallas.

The myth about the birth of Asklepios at Epidaurus is attributed to Hesiodos. Before him, it was believed that Asclepius was the son of Apollo and Coronis of Thessaly and Hermes stole Asclepius fetus, while it was going to burn. According to the first myth Asclepius was born in Epidaurus and was the son Apollo and Arsinoe, daughter of the king of the Messinian. At Epidaurus, this version became quite common due to the reputation of the shrine. Asclepius was worshiped as a hero at the beginning and not as a god and his cult had many heroic figures. This is evidenced by the older ruins, which are dominated by the labyrinth, an underground building, the centre of which was reachable, only by passing through all its corridors. The labyrinth was used for the sacrifices made to God. But just from the construction, we conclude that the sacrifices were secret, identical with those that were for the dead. So Asclepius was considered to be mortal and not God. His cult was by always accompanied by the serpent. The heroic element which characterized the worship of Asclepius, over time, became a religion and filled the city with splendid Asclepius monuments in the early fourth century. Among these, magnificent temple was constructed, where the God Asclepius statue (made of gold and ivory) was placed.

The Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus was the most famous of all Asclipia of ancient Greece, because of the many serious cases that were cured there. In that place sick people and seekers arrived from all over Greece and the Mediterranean basin. It covered a large area providing facilites such as hostels, gymnasium and, of course, a theatre for its acoustic. The wonderful natural environment of the region appeared to be very importance for the treatment of patients. The tranquillity of nature, the soft and clean lines of the surrounding mountains, the lush vegetation and the abundant water sources were, especially for patients with mental illness, the perfect medicine resulting in better health with the help of their priests.

Excavations and buildings
The excavations at Epidaurus were executed by P. Kavadias and lasted from 1881 until his death. The excavations were undertaken by the Archaeological Society. Important role in the course of the excavations was the selfless offer of the residents of Lygourio, who, apart from their help, offered their land located near the archaeological site. The first area that the visitor faces upon reaching the archaeological site is the entrance. The entrance, which construction dates back to the Mycenaean times, consisted of two galleries with 6 columns each, built in Ionian and Corinthian type. The second building is the temple of Asclepius, which construction lasted for 5 years. It was a Doric temple where Asclepius statue was hosted. The statue was made by Thrasymedes from Paros Island. Behind the temple there was the dome, which was the most famous building of the sanctuary. Other buildings were the house of priests, the temples to Artemis, the temple of Apollo and finally the theatre.