Epidaurus was a small city in ancient Greece, at the Saronic Gulf. The modern town Epidavros part of the prefecture of Argolis, was built near the ancient site.


The Ancient Theater of Epidaurus is situated within the Sanctuary of Asclepius (Asclepeion) at Epidaurus, Argolis, which was one of the most extensive sacred sanctuaries in ancient Greece. It belonged to Epidaurus, a small city-state of the Classical period, located on the nearby western coast of the Saronic Gulf, where the settlement of Palea Epidavros (Old Epidaurus) stands today. The buildings of the Sanctuary - temples, sporting facilities, the theatre, baths, and so on - were built on a plateau surrounded by mountains, while there was only one road leading towards the sea.

Typical of the worship of ancient Greeks, the worship of Asclepius was always complemented with sporting and cultural contests, as well as dramatic performances. Therefore, the events performed at the theater (musical, singing contests, plays) were an essential and inseparable part of the celebrations in honor of the god of healing. The performances were attended by patients and pilgrims who visited the sanctuary. The architecture of the Epidaurus Theater stage (skene) demonstrates that it had been constructed to host dramas in the form established in Athens in the 5th century BC. Moreover, contrary to what was happening in the other theaters of the Classical and Hellenistic eras, this theater was not remodeled in the Roman era, so it kept its authentic from until the end of antiquity. According to the most popular scientific view, it was constructed in two distinct phases. The first is believed to be in the late 4th century BC. This coincides with the end of the Asclepeion’s first booming period, which was accompanied by significant building development. The second falls around the middle of the 2nd century BC.

The theater is the best preserved monument of the Eridaurus Asclepeion. It was built following the ideal three-part structure of all typical Hellenistic period theaters: the auditorium (koilon), the orchestra and the stage building. The orchestra (19.5 m /64 ft. in diameter) is perfectly circular, with a floor of beaten earth bound by a ring stone along its perimeter. An open duct running around the outside of the orchestra collects and drains the rainwater that runs off the auditorium. The auditorium itself nestles perfectly into the natural curve of the northern slope of Mt. Kynortio, at an incline of about 26 degrees. It consists of two sections separated by a semi-circular aisle: the lower section has 34 rows of benches and the upper tier, which was added during the second phase of construction, has a further 21. Narrow flights of steps divide the two sections into 12 wedge-shaped segments. The ground plan of the auditorium covers more than a semi-circle, and is slightly elliptical.

There is a solid retaining wall at each end. The rows of benches in the eight central tiers were designed as circular curves centered upon the middle of the orchestra, while the pairs of tiers on either side form arcs centered upon a point beyond the middle of the orchestra. The theatre seats around 14,000. The elongated stage building adjoining the orchestra, closing it off end to end on its north side, consisted of two parts. At the front was the raised proscenium, with a façade in the Ionian order and projecting side-walls, which faced the orchestra. At the back stood the two-story stage building. The façade of the second floor bore wide openings, which would have housed paintings (backdrops). Two ramps, one on either side, led up to the level of the proscenium. Ionian pilasters flanking the two gates architecturally linked the stage to the retaining walls of the auditorium.

The Epidaurus Ancient Theatre owes its excellent acoustics to its perfect geometrical design.Pausanias visited the Epidaurus Theatre in the mid-2nd century AD, that is to say at least four centuries after the completion of the second phase of construction, and expressed his infinite admiration for its symmetry and beauty. Pausanias credits Polykleitos as the architect of this renowned theatre, as well as for the circular tholos, or rotunda, of the Asclepeion. It is not clear whether this ancient traveler identifies the architect of these buildings with the great Argive 5th century BC sculptor of the same name (who was not alive at the time the theatre was constructed), and the reference remains as yet unconfirmed by scholars.The present form of the Epidaurus Theatre is the result of successive reconstruction and restoration works.

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