If you have been following my Greece series on the blog, this is the 5th post recounting some of the places we visited last summer taking our older boys on a post GCSE and A level trip. We began in Athens, Explored the Acropolis, headed down the the Peloponnese staying at Kantia where we visited Nafplion before heading out on a historic journey to Epidavros. It is the the power of the Gods in Greek mythology and the healing powers of Asklepios that brought Epidavros to our attention.
Ancient Greek civilisation and their belief in the power of the gods are responsible for so much of how Greece was developed. Between chilling out on the beaches of the Peloponnese it was a golden opportunity for us to explore some of the impressive history of the area. Epidavros is right up there as a top cultural destination being home to one of the most impressive ancient Greek theatres remaining today and it was only a 40 minute car journey for from our base at Kandia.
I arrived at Epidavros with very little prior knowledge, but a helpful leaflet and signs all around the site soon bring a lay person like me up to speed. The Epidavrians founded the site as a centre for healing based on its fresh water springs and influence of the gods. The healing powers of the gods at Epidavros actually dates back to the Myceanean period when the sanctuary was first established. However having been overthrown twice it is Asklepios who really developed the healing qualities and reputation for the sanctuary into a vast community by the 6th century BC; the ruins of which can still be seen today.
Visits to the sanctuary became big business with a whole welfare program for the ill who paid to stay. Healing rooms and recovery rooms can still be seen. Myth has it that the gods would visit patients in the night and they would wake either healed or knowing the treatment they needed. Snake venom was a common ingredient in medicine and the snake became a sacred symbol depicted with Asklepios. Having a beard was also seen as a mark of power and intelligence. From the number of olive trees I’m sure olive oil had to be involved too.
Typical treatments were carved into stone so that they could be followed by healers. Instruments recovered from the site suggest that the healing moved from myths and belief to basic surgery over time.
Wellness of mind was considered an important part of the healing process and a whole running track and seating can still be seen. Major athletic events were hosted here.
Without doubt the highlight of the ancient sanctuary is the well preserved theatre. This is still in use today and a play had been shown the evening prior to our arrival. There was clearly a hanging involved as the props for this were still there. I would love to have seen the theatre all lit up at night. It is said that if you drop a penny on the central stage you will hear it at the top of the theatre thanks to the amazing natural acoustics of the arena. To be fair we failed that test but could hear a basic hand clap with ease.
Despite being THE centre for healing, the site pays little regard to catering for disabled visitors with steps everywhere. Even in the theatre, there are some token wheelchair seating marked up to the 5th row. Quite how those in needs might access this is far from clear; a little lie down in the healing room to wait for divine inspiration first maybe?
Tips for visiting Epidavros
Avoid the middle of the day in summer as it is very hot. We set off early retreating back to the beach for lunch time.
Entry prices: 6 euro for Adults 3 euro for children.
Do visit the museum before you go round the ruins to make sense of what you are seeing and see the reconstructions of how life was in the sanctuary.
Only take a small bottle of water, there is a fresh water tap to refill there and we had no trouble all week drinking tap water where ever we visited.
Wear sensible shoes, as the surface is rough and in places slippery around the ruins.
Do brave the steps to the top of the theatre, looking down is the most amazing sight and you are rewarded with a good breeze at the top.
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