Epidaurus Theater Greece - the festival, theatre & miraculous cures!
Epidaurus theater is one of the most important ancient sites in Greece, with an almost perfectly preserved amphitheatre built 2,500 years ago and still hosting Greek dramas today. The World Heritage listed site is located at the eastern end of the Peloponnese, 62 kilometres south of the Corinthian Canal. Visitors flock here by the coachload on day trips from Athens and when performances are held in the theatre during the annual Hellenic Festival Epidaurus becomes one of the major cultural venues in Greece.
According to Greek mythology Epidaurus was the birthplace of Asclepius, the god of healing and son of Apollo. The site later became one of the most important centres of healing in the ancient world and by the 4th century BC the sick were travelling from far and wide to seek medical and mystical cures at the sanctuary dedicated to Asclepius.
The ruins of Epidaurus include the foundations of the Temple of Asclepius, a sanctuary of Egyptian gods, a sports stadium, odeon and bath complex. But without doubt the major attraction is the wonderful theatre, with its legendary acoustics which amaze and delight 21 st century audiences. If you drop a matchstick in the centre of the original beaten earth stage it can be heard by people sitting in the highest of the 55 tiers. The awe-inspiring acoustics are down to the mathematical precision with which the14,000-seat theatre was constructed in the 4th century BC. It was used for music and poetry contests and theatrical performances.
The theatre is one of the best preserved structures from Classical Greece, having lain hidden and protected beneath layers of earth for centuries. Excavations began in 1881 and since 1954 ancient Greek dramas have been staged at the theatre which draws huge crowds for the annual festival, held in July and August. Tickets can be bought either at the site or at the Athens Festival box office in Stadiou, the main street connecting Omonia and Syntagma squares in the capital. You can purchase a ticket that includes transport to and from Athens (a 2.5 hour bus ride north east of Epidaurus).
The rest of the site requires a little research and imagination to be fully appreciated. Alongside the Temple of Asclepius you can see the remains of the "abaton" where patients slept in the hope of receiving a visitation from the healing god who would weave a diagnosis and a miraculous cure into their dreams.
One of the best preserved structures, besides the theatre, is the bee-hive shaped "tholos" that once contained a snake-ridden labyrinth through which the mentally ill had to crawl in darkness. It seems the idea was to shock them into good health!
Between the theatre and the sanctuary ruins there's a museum where you can see an array of ancient surgical tools, some intricately carved reliefs from the tholos and stone inscriptions detailing miraculous cures that allegedly took place at the sacred site.