The sanctuary of Epidauros is well-known by the best preserved theatre in Greece. It is situated in mountainous inland, about 7 km away from the ancient town of Epidauros, which, on the other hand, situated by the Salonikos gulf.
The cult activities in this area date back to the geometric period in the form of Apollo Maleatas cult. Maleatas was a local hero and later he was assimilated to Apollo, and eventually became just an epithet of Apollo. The sanctuary is situated on higher up the Kinortion Mountain.
It is not clear how the cult of Asklepios, hero son of Apollo, was introduced to Epidauros. All we know is that it was already an established cult in the earlier part of fifth century BC. Later Epidaurians claimed that Asklepios was born here or he was buried here, but there is no foundation in these claims.
The large scale building projects started in this sanctuary around 370 BC. Before the 4th century BC, there was hardly any large building here.
As Asklepios is a god (he started as hero, but then revered as a god) of medicine and cure, this sanctuary attracted many sick looking for the cure. The cure was usually realised through divine dream. While the patients were sleeping in the precinct, the good appeared in their dream and cured them or revealed the way to cure the illness. The sanctuary, therefore, contained an accommodation building and bathes as well as the alter and temple dedicated to the god and the theatre and stadium where the festival in honour of the god was celebrated.
The Asklepian festival, Asklepieia, seems to be celebrated every four years, after nine days after Isthmia festival dedicated to Poseidon. The Isthmian festival was held in late April, the Asklepieia should have been held either in the end of April or early May. The festival included theatrical shows and athletic activities.
During the Mithridatic War, Sulla looted the sanctuary in 86 BC. and used the collected treasures to pay the expenses to siege Athens that sided with the king of Pontus.
Under the Roman rule, in the later half of the second century AD, an Asia Minor millionaire called Antoninus funded a large scale building project in the sanctuary.
The last known priest of Epidaurus was the Hierophant of 355, Mnaseas. The Christian basilica near the entrance of the sanctuary was considered to be constructed at the end of 4th century, which means it is one of the oldest church in Greece. The cult of Asklepios was probably desolate in this period.
HOW TO GET THERE
If you would like to use public transport, there are buses from Nafplio (ref. Timetable of KTEL Argolis), but most of the visitors seem to use car or organised tours. The site itself is quite far from the inhabited area, but there is a coffee shop just before the site. The nearest town is Ligourio, and towns of Palea Epidauros and Nea Epidauros are more distant.
Full ticket costs €6 in April 2010.
History of Excavation
The excavation of Epidaurus was started in 1881 by Panagiotis (Panagis) Kavvadias and he continued the work for the rest of his life. After the World War II, Ecole Française de Athènes conducted excavations.
According to Greek mythology, Asklepios is a son born between the Sun god Apollo and a human Koronis, daughter of Phlegyas, king of Trikka in Thessary. As Koronis was unfaithful, she was killed either by Artemis, twin sister of Apollo, or by Apollo himself. Apollo, however, took up the still unborn Asklepios from Koronis’s womb and trusted him to Chiron the Centaur. Chiron taught the boy the knowledge of medicine, and he grew up to be a great healer.
As this myth tells us, being born between a god and a human, Asklepios was a hero. He never received official deification as did Hercules. Asklepios was started to be revered as a god in the fifth century BC. He is a new god indeed.
- Nicos Papahatzis, Mycenae, Epidaurus, Tiryns, Nauplion. Athens : Clio, 1978, pp. 128-151.
- R.A. Tomlinson, Epidauros. St. Albans: Granada, 1983.
- Robin Barber, Greece (Blue Guide), London- N.Y. 2001 (Revised reprint of the 6th edition of 1995), pp. 244-248.
- Christopher Mee & Antony Spawforth, Greece (An Oxford Archaeological Guide). Oxford/ OUP, 2001, pp. 205-210.
Sanctuary of Epidauros Index