Hidden beauties of Greece

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Epidaurus (Epidavros).

Home of the most important medical sanctuary of ancient Greece (the Asklepiion) and the best-preserved ancient theater. Epidavros, celebrated as the birthplace of Asklepios, son of Appllo, the god of healing and the center of his cult, was an important Panhellenic sanctuary in antiquity. Considerable archaeological activity is currently taking place here, especially in the areas west of the Odeion and south of the Tholos.

We’ll begin from the theater, which holds 14,000, was built in the 4th century BC and is a superb example of a classical theater (to tell at a glance what kind of theater you’re in, look at the orchestra, the circular or semicircular area between the seats and the stage; the classical theater has a full circle [5th-4th cent.], the Hellenistic theater [3rd-2nd cent.] has about a third of the orchestra covered by the stage, and the Roman theater has a semicircular orchestra). The theater is the most perfect and best preserved of the ancient theaters and if you stand where the actors would have stood and drop a pebble, you can hear it on the top row. The theater is nowadays used for staging ancient Greek drama shows. From the end of June through September ancient dramas are performed here during the the summer for the Epidavros Festival.

On a hillside within the sanctuary, lies the theatre of Epidaurus built in around 3rd c. BC by Polykleitos the Younger. It is the best preserved of all the ancient theatres in Greece, with capacity of 14.000 seats and possesses incomparable acoustics.

This is one of the very few theaters that retains its original circular "Orchestra" and it is a rear aesthetic sight. During Roman occupation of Greece, most theater "Orchestras" were changed from a circle to a semicircle but luckily The Theater at Epidaurus escaped intact. The view, aesthetics, and acoustics of the theater are breathtaking, as is the feeling I got when I sat on the ancient limestone stone seat--high up--and thought of all the ancients that might have shared this seat with me. The theater is still in use today with frequent plays, concerts, and festivals.

For centuries the monument remained covered, until 1881 where excavations started under the direction of P.Kavvadias. Large-scale works were undertaken from 1954 to 1963 for the reconstruction of the destroyed sections and partial restoration of the monument. In summer the theatre becomes alive, it presents theatrical performances of great ancient Greek dramatists as Aeschylus, Sophocles, Aristophanes and others.

Next we’ll visit the little museum. The anteroom has a case of ancient medical instruments, and the main room has many casts of sculptures, plans and diagrams of the site, and parts of the Temple of Asklepios and the circular Tholos. The museum was built in 1905 and houses some of the artifacts found on the site including statues and pottery and reconstructions of the pediments of the ancient Asklepios and parts of the temple. There is even a showcase of medical instruments found on the site and inscriptions of the accounts of miraculous cures.

Finally we’ll visit the site of the sanctuary. Again we find that a place of magical or religious significance was used for cult purposes far back into prehistory. During the Archaic period Apollo seems to have been the chief god here, but by the 4th century BC. Asklepios, the god of medicine and healing, had taken over the cult, and Epidavros became the Mayo clinic of antiquity. Patients, especially those suffering from chronic physical or emotional ailments, came here to be cured; then as now, they waited an indeterminate length of time to be seen by the priest-physicians, then went to the dormitory (Avaton) to sleep and dream; a diagnosis was made by dream interpretation, and the treatment prescribed. Usually this involved diet, exercise, and hydrotherapy, methods, which required the patient to stay on at Epidavros during the cure and insured a high standard of living for the priests and local entrepreneurs. This is why the site is full of baths, lodgings and dwellings for priests, a tholos building, temples, stoas, a gymnasium and a stadium and even the theater itself might be regarded as a functional equivalent to the magazines in a doctor’s office today. The sanctuary was also the venue of the pan-hellenic Asklepieia games, held every four years (usually 9 days after the Isthmian Games), at which in addition to athletic feats poetry and music contests also took place. In 87 B.C. the Roman dictator Sulla looted the Asklepieion in Epidauros, and in 67 B.C. pirates plundered it. The sanctuary was favored under the Romans, but its pagan character faded with the rise of Christianity. In the 5th century A.D. Epidavros became known as center for Christian healing.

The sanctuary of Asclepios at Epidaurus is a spiritual place worth traveling around the world to visit! In fact the ancient Greeks did just that in order to pay tribute to their spiritual entities in the face of Asclepios, and to ask the gods for remedies for their physical ailments. It was a healing center as well as a cultural center in ancient times with a healing spring and was one of the major healing centers of the ancient world. The ancient site is fairly extensive with ruins of several temples, a stadium and buildings from ancient Greek and Roman periods most famous of which is the ancient Theater of Epidaurus.

The Sanctuary of Asklepeios, dedicated to the healer god Asklepeios, was formed mainly during the 3rd and 4th BC, and used to serve as a healing centre as well as a religious centre. There are many architectural monuments in the area such as the Temple of Apollo Maleata (where the faithful washed their hands and made their first sacrifice), the Tholon (a place of worship), the Avaton (where patients would spend the night seeing visions of Asklepeios in their dreams and thus become cured). Outside the enclosure stood the dwellings of the priests, the doctors, a gymnasium, baths etc.

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