The Play is Still the Thing
The Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus sits on the Peloponnesus peninsula and is dedicated to Asclepius, who the Greeks described as the "God of Medicine." A son of Apollo, legend believes he was given the healing gift after his mother died during his birth.
From the 4th century BC, Epidauros became widely known as the celebrated healing center in the ancient world. With temples, hospitals and treatments that included licks from snakes, people from as far away as Rome came to seek help. This brought considerable financial prosperity, and enabled an ambitious building program including the construction of monumental structures. One such project, the Epidaurus Theater, is now a UNESCO Heritage Site.
One of Greece's most important ancient sites, the near-perfectly preserved amphitheatre built 2,500 years ago still hosts Greek dramas. The theater holds nearly 15,000 spectators – and every seat is filled during the annual Hellenic Festival, a major cultural event in the town. Its legendary acoustics still amaze visitors. It's true – if you drop a matchstick in the center of the original stage, people sitting in the top tier of seats (row 55) can hear it.
This prosperity enabled Epidaurus to construct civic monuments too: The ceremonial Hestiatoreion (a banquet hall), bath complex and a palaestra, which is a Greek wrestling school.
Alongside the Temple of Asclepius you can see the remains of the abaton (name for an inaccessible place), where patients slept in the hope of receiving a visit from the healing God who would miraculously cure them in their dreams.
One of the best-preserved structures is the tholos, a round building with conical roof) that once contained a snake-filled labyrinth through which the mentally ill had to crawl through in the dark. (As if they weren't suffering enough.)
Between the theatre and the sanctuary you'll find a museum filled with an array of ancient surgical tools, intricately carved reliefs and stone inscriptions detailing some of the miraculous cures that allegedly took place at this sacred site.
The best way to get to Epidaurus is via the rail station in nearby Nafplion and a Eurail Greece Pass. This station can be reached from Athens in around 2 ½ hours via the new station in the city of Corinth. There are frequent buses to bring you from Nafplion town square to Epidaurus itself, taking about 45 minutes. Look for service for Theater Asklipiio to get to the ancient site.
Come to Epidaurus – see the theater, see the sanctuary, and imagine what life was like way back in the 4th century. When, while sleeping, the Gods could provide a magic salve for whatever ailed you.
Contributed by: Eric, Specialty Desk Agent, loves to frequent European events on visits with family in wonderful Kassel and Dortmund.