The sanctuary and the theatre at Epidavros, the birthplace of Asclepius.
A health centre, where brain operations were performed by the priests-doctors.
Apollo had a son, ASCLEPIUS, who was born in Epidavros. God Apollo gave Asclepius to be raised by Chiron, a wise centaur, a creature, part man, part horse, living on the mountain Pelion, above the city of Volos. The centaur had immense knowledge of medicine and healing herbs, and Asclepius grew up to become a highly-skilled physician. His daughter, HYGEIA, the goddess of health, worked with him. Hygeia in Greek means health (hygiene, etc). Asclepius was curing illnesses, Hygeia was preventing them.
It was natural for the ancient Greeks to build a health centre in his birthplace. It soon became the best health centre in antiquity, and wealthy citizens came here for both diagnosis and curing. The first night they arrived here they had to spend it in a particular hall, and the dreams that they had on that night would help in the correct diagnosis. The centre, begun in the 6th c.BC.
When you visit the small museum of the sanctuary and take a look at the surgical instruments they used in ancient times, your mind goes back to the horrors of many illnesses in the past, and you will be surprised that the priests-doctors went as far as doing brain operations.
The health centre and the city of Epidaurus attracted many people and in the 4th c. BC the managers decided to erect a theatre. The acoustics are so perfect that you can hear people whispering on stage even if you are on the back row. Try to see Epidavros either early or late in the day. The theatre’s marvellous acoustics are best enjoyed in near-solitude. Sitting in the most distant seat as your partner stands on the stage, you can practically hear every noise he makes.
Every time that I visit the theatre, I stand in the middle of the stage and perform a simple test of the echo bouncing back to me. The feeling is exceptional, and I wonder how singers like Maria Callas felt when she sang in the theatre and heard that great echo of her great voice. You get the effect of an amplifier in your ears. For me, the simple person that tries to find an explanation, one reason is the local limestone used, and the second must be the corrugated style of the seats. They act like sound traps that bounce the echo back in a 1000th of a second. The strange thing is that they tried this same structure in other theatres as well, but could not get the same effect. This is where the quality of the local limestone comes to play its role. Whatever the explanation may be, Polykleitos, the architect, used techniques that we learnt, only recently.
Today it’s still in use primarily showing ancient Greek comedies and tragedies, like Antigone, Oedipus, Prometheus, The Trojan Women, and reviving some of the greatest plays of antiquity. You can watch performances of ancient Greek comedies and tragedies on weekends from July through September. It is an indescribable feeling to sit on the ancient pews and experience the same feeling as people did over 2,500 years ago. It’s even ok if you don’t understand Greek, it is possible to read a little about the actual play in advance, for instance online, and get good results anyway. The black velvet Greek night and the atmosphere in general help, of course, to the enjoyment and beauty. Imagine a full moon night at the theatre of Epidaurus. Sometimes even English-speaking theatre companies come to perform here.
Tickets must be booked in advance, and the overnight can be arranged in the city of Nafplion.
The local KTEL organizes bus services between Nafplio and Epidavros on the evenings of performance.