Ancient Epidaurus is one of the most popular healing centers in ancient Greece. The great god-physician Asclepius dedicated his life to the healing center and the sick people. But Epidaurus is more than a healing center and includes many magnificent monuments such as the famous theater of Epidaurus with its unique acoustics. The Percy Jackson heroes visit the healing center to brew a magic potion. Explore the site and the archeological museum with your family.
Ancient Epidaurus was once one of the most famous healing centers in Greece. It is located in a peaceful and beautiful place, near the city of Ligourio. The ancient city is located on the Argolis peninsula.
Archeologists discovered this historical treasure dedicated to Asclepius, the god-physician who, according to mythology, discovered the cure for all diseases. In the site, you and your kids will have the opportunity to explore the complex of the Sanctuary of Asclepius and the various cultural and social structures.
In Percy Jackson's Camp Half-Blood, the kids of the god Apollo run the healing center of Epidaurus. It is not surprising that, according to mythology, Asclepius was a child of Apollo. Also, the characters in the book Blood of Olympus visit Epidaurus to brew a potion.
Without further ado, let us dive into the archeological site of Epidaurus and the ruins of its unique monuments, such as the theater of Epidaurus, which is a famous UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ruins of the guest house in ancient Epidaurus - credits: efesenko/depositphotos
Historical Background of Epidaurus
The story of Epidaurus begins in the 16th century BC when the place was dedicated to the healing spirits. But why was Epidaurus the perfect place for healing? It was surrounded by mineral springs and forests and gave the feeling that nature can heal the sick.
The first temple in Epidaurus was built not before the 8th century BC and was dedicated to the local god Apollo Meleatas. Asclepius is considered to be the son of Meleatas. In the 6th century, the sanctuary of Asclepius was built to receive sick people to treat them.
At that time, Asklepieion was the most important healing center in the Mediterranean. People came here not only from Greece but also from Italy and other places in the Mediterranean to be healed.
People worshiped Asclepius, who was the most important deity in Epidaurus, and Epidaurus became famous because of him. In the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, the fame of the healing center was so great that it brought wealth and new buildings to accommodate more and more people.
Accordingly, all the necessary buildings for the Asklepeia were built: Palestra, Stadium, and Theater.
It was not until the 5th century AC that Epidaurus was gradually abandoned when not only religion but also the political system in Greece changed. Many local cultural elements ceased to exist and a new era had already dawned.
Asclepius and Hippokrates
Asclepius and Hippocrates were the most important healers of the ancient world. Asclepius was a deity, a person who in ancient Greece was more akin to mythology, being a son of a god. Asklepieion was not the only healing center in Greece, but it was the richest and most famous.
The healing process was not simple and combined mythology with physical products. The sick spent one night in the Abaton, the place where the sick slept, and during that one night they died, they met Asclepius himself and learned how to cure their illness.
Asclepius also had a famous descendant. The great philosopher and teacher of the great Alexander, Aristotle, was a grandson of Asclepius.
Hippocrates was the 'father of western medicine'. He was the most famous physician of the Asclepeion. The 'Hippocratic theory' said that diseases are caused naturally and not by superstitions and gods. He was the first person to believe that.
Hippocrates is also known for the 'Hippocratic Oath' that doctors take when they graduate from medical school. According to legend, it was the sacred speech that Hippocrates gave to the healing gods, informing them of the duties of physicians in the sanctuary.
Caduceus, a symbol of Asclepius - credits: foottoo/depositphotos
Mythological Background of Ancient Epidaurus
Ancient Epidaurus is closely related to gods, heroes, and other mythological creatures. Let’s explore them.
Asclepius was one of the most important mythological persons in Epidaurus and the son of a god, Apollo Meleatas. His mother was the mortal Koronis. This automatically makes him a demigod. But how is Asclepius related to Epidaurus? His mother, Koronis, was the granddaughter of the king of Epidaurus, Malos. According to mythology, Asclepius was mortal at birth, but when he was possessed with healing powers, he gradually became a god.
But Koronis did not marry the god Apollo Meleatas, but a mortal. When this became known, the god took Asclepius away from Koronis and gave him to the mythical creature centaur Cheiron to raise. Cheiron was the one who taught Asclepius everything he knew about medicine.
Asclepius had all the help he could get to be raised, and together with Cheiron, he had the goddess of wisdom, Athena, at his side. Athena gave Asclepius the blood of Medusa, a mythical creature that had the ability to turn spectators to stone. This action made Zeus very angry and he struck Asclepius with his lightning bolt. This was the end for Asclepius.
Let’s not forget that Asclepius was also worshiped not only in ancient Greece but in the ancient Roman world as well.
The sanctuary was associated not only with Apollo Meleatas and Asclepius but also with the goddess of the hunt, Artemis. The version of Artemis that was worshiped in Epidaurus was Artemis Hecate. Hecate was a chthonic deity who possessed knowledge of poisonous and healing herbs.
The 9 Muses were all daughters of the mighty Zeus. They were goddesses of music, arts, and literature. According to legend, they made music together with the god Apollo. The Muses were worshiped in a small open temple in Epidaurus, which no longer exists.
All these mythological entities were present at the site of Epidaurus and were worshiped by the locals and others who came to this ancient land, not only to heal but to worship them.
What you will see in Epidaurus
The complex of Epidaurus consists of several buildings, all of which have different functions:
Abaton or Katagogio:
In the Abaton sick people sleep as part of the ritual
Loutra and mineral springs:
The place where sick people used to take their bath
Temple of the goddess Artemis Hecate:
Where the chthonic deity of hunting was worshiped
A square building:
Used as a restaurant for the patients
A circular building was used to worship Asclepius and included paintings of the famous painter Pausias
A guest house:
For the patients. It included 160 rooms
The sports facilities of Epidaurus were mostly used in Asclepieia.
Another temple of Askleipius:
It included an ivory statue of Asclepius
Ancient theater of Epidaurus:
Famous for its acoustics
It was a smaller theater
Altar of Asclepius:
Where sacrifices took place to honor Asclepius
These buildings show how important and culturally significant the site of Epidaurus was. There is no question why the Sanctuary of Asclepius is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Famous Ancient Theater of Epidaurus
It is undeniably the best preserved theater in the ancient world and is visited by people from all over the world. The theater of Epidaurus offers the best acoustics and that is why theater performances are still held there today.
However, this was not the only use of the theater. In ancient times, the therapists of Asclepius used the theater and the Odeon as part of the healing process. They believed that in order to heal the body, people should also heal the mind. Therefore, the theater was also used for religious and therapeutic purposes.
It was not until 1938 that the first play was performed in Epidaurus. It was the famous play "Electra" by the ancient writer Sofoklis.
The theater of Epidaurus was built in the 4th century BC by the architect Polykleitos. It has a capacity for more than 13,000 spectators.
Theater of the ancient Epidaurus - credits: psgt_123/depositphotos
The Archaeological Museum of Epidaurus
You can easily find the Archaeological Museum of Epidaurus between the ancient theater and the Temple of Asclepius. You can visit it to get a complete picture of the archaeological site.
The museum opened its doors for the first time in the 20th century, in 1909, to show the world the unique treasures of the sanctuary, which date back to the Archaic and Roman periods. It is in fact one of the oldest museums in the country.
It consists of two long and narrow halls with exhibits from the site of Epidaurus. Some of the exhibits can also be seen outside the museum.
The museum includes architectural pieces such as columns and altars from two temples on the site (Temple of Asclepius and Temple of Artemis). You can also explore the collection of offerings such as sculptures and ceramic objects. Finally, the exhibition of medical equipment is rare and impressive.
Archaeological Museum of Epidaurus - credits: anna.finist/depositphotos
Excavations in Ancient Epidaurus
Panagiotis Kavadias was for many years the leading archaeologist in the excavations of the ancient site of Epidaurus. The excavations began in the 1881 century and lasted for more than 40 years.
The excavations were not an easy task due to the inaccessibility. For this reason, the excavations lasted for many years. Archaeologists and locals joined forces to uncover the archaeological site. The locals even provided their land to the Greek government so that the archaeological service could dig on their land without any problems.
According to P. Kavadias, the Greek Archaeological Society has tried many times to restore the monuments of the archaeological site. Especially due to World War II and later the Greek Civil War, the process was interrupted many times.
Since then, numerous restoration works have been carried out on the buildings and the exhibits, which continue to this day. Archaeologists now have a good overview of how the site was laid out and what role the individual buildings played in ancient times.
In 480 B.C. the Asclepius festivities began. According to the myth, the two sons of Asclepius founded it in honor of their father. The Asklepeia took place every 4 years and included sports and musical races.
The races and festivities lasted 7 days during the summer. We know that they started 9 days after the Isthmia (dedicated to Poseidon in Isthmia).
The sports included pentathlon (running, long jump, discus throw, javelin throw, and wrestling) and chariot races, as in the Olympic Games. There were also music and theatrical competitions.
Ruins of the stadium in ancient Epidaurus - credits: bloodua/depositphotos
The Kid-Friendly Tours at Ancient Epidaurus
Families love visiting Epidaurus all year round. They can take long walks in nature and to the ruins of the ancient sanctuary.
The site is one of the most popular destinations in Greece. It combines the long history and mythology of the place with the natural beauty of an ancient sanctuary. People from all over the world visit Epidaurus to learn about ancient Greek culture and admire the complexity of the buildings that once stood here.
The theater of Epidaurus is the most famous among the buildings, as it is still almost perfectly preserved today and has incredible acoustics. That is why even today performances are held every summer.
Numerous guided tours with professional and licensed guides take place every day. Epidaurus can be combined with other destinations nearby for day trips or multi-day tours. You can choose between private or semi-private experiences. Most tours start from Athens, Nafplio, or Corinth.
Places to Visit Near Ancient Epidaurus
Ancient Epidaurus is located in a beautiful part of Greece, the Peloponnese. The Peloponnese offers you the opportunity to explore its long history and mythology, as it was one of the most important places in ancient Greece. You and your family will enjoy spending time in other places that are not far from Epidaurus.
Mycenae: Mycenae is a well-known site with a long history. The history of the place begins in the 19th century B.C. This military city was so great that it gave its name to an entire civilization. On the site, you can explore the Cyclopean walls and the famous treasure of Atreus.
Distance from Epidaurus: 46 km
Nemea: At the archaeological site of Nemea, you will explore the unique Sanctuary of Zeus, which was built in the 6th century. Due to the Nemean Games, you will have the chance to explore its sports facilities.
Distance from Epidaurus: 64 km
Nafplio: Nafplio, is a medieval city that overlooks the sea. You will have the chance to visit its imposing Palamid Fortress, the Venetian Fortress of Bourtzi, and the small alleys and squares.
Distance from Epidaurus: 27 km
Ancient Corinth and the Isthmus of Corinth: Ancient Corinth was a trading center for many centuries and was considered to be a wealthy city-state. The god Apollo was worshiped in a great temple. Other monuments include the Acrocorinth (Acropolis of Corinth), the Gymnasium, the market, and the healing center of Asclepius.
Distance from Epidaurus: 74 km
How to Get to Ancient Epidaurus
You can explore ancient Epidaurus on a day trip with a tour guide. It all depends on your starting point. The most common starting point is Athens, which is 148 km away from the site of ancient Epidaurus.
You can also visit the site privately if you rent a car or take a cab. This would probably be the fastest and easiest way.
If you have no problem traveling with other people, you can take the public bus. There are buses from Athens, Nafplio, and Corinth to Epidaurus.
Ruins of the ancient Epidaurus - credits: bloodua/depositphotos
Where is Ancient Epidaurus?
The archaeological site of ancient Epidaurus is located on the Peloponnese peninsula. More specifically, Epidaurus is located in the region of Argolis, in the northeastern Peloponnese. The site is 136 km from Athens and only 35 km from Nafplio, one of the most beautiful cities in the Peloponnese.
Is Ancient Epidaurus linked to the Percy Jackson Books?
Ancient Epidaurus is associated with many of the Greek myths mentioned in the Percy Jackson books. For example, Asclepius, the god of healing, who is worshiped in Epidaurus, is mentioned several times in the book 'The Blood of Olympus'.