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8 Reasons Why Ancient Epidaurus is a Must For Families

    In a quiet location, near the city of Ligourio, on the Argolis peninsula lies the ancient city of Epidaurus. In ancient Epidaurus, archaeologists discovered significant monuments that indicate that the place was dedicated to the god-physician and father of medicine,  Asclepius. 

    The monuments include the famous ancient theater of Epidaurus that people from all over the world are coming to visit and the complex of the Sanctuary of Asclepius. Evidence suggests that medicine was practiced there for thousands of years. 

    Epidaurus was not only the most famous healing center of antiquity, but it was also a place of worship with temples dedicated to numerous Greek and Roman gods. In addition, “Asclepieia” was held every 4 years, like the Olympic Games in Olympia.

    Let’s explore ancient Epidaurus and its monuments through its mythology, history, and cultural features. 

    History of the Ancient Epidaurus

    The peaceful hinterland of Epidaurus, with its mineral springs and mild climate, had been known since the Mycenaean era (16th century BC). At that time the area was devoted to the healing gods and spirits.

    In the 8th century BC, a temple was built here dedicated to the god Apollo of Meleatas, who possessed healing abilities. Since Asclepius is considered the son of Apollo the Meleatas, a sanctuary of the healing “god” Asclepius was later built in the 6th century BC. 

    From the 6th century onwards, Asclepius was the most important god worshiped in Epidaurus. His fame was so great that people from all over Greece came here to give gifts to the god and to cure their diseases.

    In the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, the sanctuary and healing center of Asclepius was so famous and rich that more buildings were built to accommodate even more people. In addition, the Asclepieia Games also began in the 4th century. A stadium, palestra, the famous theater of Epidaurus, and other buildings were constructed.

    In the Roman era, the Asclepeion of Epidaurus was renovated to look more like a rich Roman city with more buildings. 

    Eventually, it was gradually abandoned in the 5th century AC as the official religion was Christianity and thus it was considered a pagan place. 

    The Mythological Persona of Asclepius 

    People believed that Asclepius had found the cure for all diseases. Therefore, sick people from all over Greece came to his sanctuary to be healed. This sanctuary was not the only one in Greece, but it was the most famous. 

    Sick people spend the night at the Abaton, where, according to the myth, they die for the night and meet Asclepius, who would tell them how to cure their illness.

    Moreover, the teacher of Alexander the Great was the philosopher Aristotle, who was also the grandson of Asclepius.

    Doctor Hippokrates 

    Hippokrates, the so-called “father of western medicine,” was Asclepius’ most famous physician. We also know him for the “Hippocratic Oath,” the official oath doctors take when they graduate. It was the sacred speech Hippokrates gave to the gods of health. The script talks about the duties doctors have to perform in the Asclepeion.

    Why Should Families Visit Ancient Epidaurus?

    1. Epidaurus and its Monuments

    In Epidaurus, there are still remains of the ancient buildings that will amaze you and your family. It is one of the most complete archeological sites in the world. 

    Thanks to the ancient Greek traveler and geographer Pausanias, we know details about buildings that are no longer visible.

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    The Sanctuary of Asclepius was a complex of buildings that contained many facilities for visitors. It is dedicated to the homonymous god of healing.

    Among the facilities of the complex were:

    • Abaton or Katagogio: where sick people sleep as part of the ritual 
    • Loutra and mineral springs for bathing
    • Tholos: a circular building used to worship Asclepius
    • Altar of Asclepius 
    • A square building used as a restaurant
    • A guest house with 160 rooms
    • Stadium: sports facilities for Asclepieia that were hosted every 4 years in Epidaurus
    • Temple of the goddess Artemis, who was the goddess of hunting
    • Another temple of Asclepius: with an ivory statue of Asclepius
    • The ancient theater of Epidaurus
    • Odeion: which is a smaller theater

    All these buildings show how important the historical site is and why the Sanctuary of Asclepius is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    2. Ancient Theater of Epidaurus

    It is the most famous building visited by people from all over the world. It is also the best-preserved ancient theater in the ancient world. It still has the best acoustics today. Nowadays, theatrical performances are still held here.

    It was built by the architect Polykleitos in the 4th century BC. The theater can seat more than 13,000 spectators. It was dedicated to Asclepius.

    However, it was not only used for performances. The therapists of Asclepius believed in healing the body and mind. So they used the theater and the Odeon as part of the healing process. They believed that the soul could be part of the healing. Therefore, the theater was also used for therapeutic and religious purposes.

    The first play in the theater at Epidaurus was staged no earlier than 1938. More than a century after the first excavations. The play was the famous “Electra” by Sofoklis. 

    3. Asclepieia Games

    In 480 B.C. the Asclepieia festivities began. According to the myth, the two sons of Asclepius founded it in honor of their father. The Asclepieia took place every 4 years and included sports and musical races. Asclepieia Games were similar to the Olympic Games, which were part of the Panhellenic Games in Greece.

    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.

    4. Ancient Epidaurus in Greek Mythology

    Epidaurus has a long mythological background associated with gods and heroes, mortals and immortals. 

    According to myth, Asclepius was the son of one of the Greek gods, the god Apollo of Meleatas, and the mortal Koronis. Koronis was the granddaughter of Malos, the former king of Epidaurus. Asclepius was mortal at first but possessed healing powers that eventually made him a god. On the site, we find the temple of Asclepius and Apollo Meleatas.

    When Apollo heard from Artemis that Koronis would marry a mortal, he took Asclepius and gave him to the mythical centaur Cheiron to raise. Cheiron was a very waisted creature who taught Asclepius all about medicine. 

    At his side, Asclepius also had the goddess Athena, who gave him the blood of the mythical creature Medusa. With this blood, Asclepius brought two heroes back to life. Zeus was so angry that he struck him with a lightning bolt and killed him.

    In the sanctuary, we also find the temple of Artemis. Artemis was the goddess of hunting, but in another version of her, as here, Artemis Hecate is the goddess who possessed the knowledge of medicinal and poisonous herbs.

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    Muses were also worshiped in Epidaurus, in a rare small open temple that can no longer be seen today. The Muses were 9 and were daughters of Zeus. They were goddesses of music, the arts, and theater. They also used to play music with the god Apollo.

    Due to the theatrical and musical performances that took place in Epidaurus, it is understandable why they were associated with the Sanctuary.

    Asclepius was also worshiped throughout the ancient Roman world. We meet temples dedicated to him in Asia Minor, eastern Greece, and gradually throughout Greece.

    All these mythological relations make it clear that Epidaurus and the sanctuary were closely connected with mythology.

    5. The Archaeological Museum of Asclepion in Epidaurus

    After you and your family have explored the site, it’s time to visit the Archaeological Museum of Epidaurus. The museum is located on the grounds between the ancient theater and the Temple of Asclepius. 

    Like many amazing museums in Greece, the museum of Epidaurus was built in the early 20th century to house the amazing finds and treasures of the sanctuary. 

    The museum was opened in 1909, making it one of the oldest archaeological museums in Greece. It is a small but very well-organized museum, consisting of two long and narrow rooms and a small outdoor area with ancient inscriptions. 

    It is a classic example of the 20th-century museological concept with numerous exhibits in just one room. The exhibits date from the archaic to the Roman period.

    It houses architectural parts of the temples of Asclepius, Artemis, and surrounding buildings, including pedestals, columns, and parts of altars dedicated to the ancient gods. Also, Greek and Roman offerings such as sculptures, pottery, and ceramics. Perhaps the most significant and rare exhibits are the medical equipment.

    Some of the exhibits are in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

    6. Archaeological Excavations in the site of Ancient Epidaurus

    The first excavation began in the late 19th century (1881) by the Greek Archaeological Society. The excavations lasted more than 40 years. The leading archaeologist was Panagis Kavadias. Ancient Epidaurus at that time was densely forested and sometimes even inaccessible. So a lot of work had to be done, which took many years.

    After many years of hard work, the almost inaccessible theater was uncovered. P. Kavadias had mentioned in the past that the local community was an integral part of the excavations, as they even made their land available to the archaeological service. 

    According to Kavadias, the Greek Archaeological Society tried to restore the theater and other monuments, but due to World War II and the Greek Civil War, the process was repeatedly interrupted.

    Since then, a great deal of restoration work has been done on the buildings and the exhibits that continue to this day. Archaeologists now have a good overview of how the area was laid out and what role each building played in ancient times.

    7. Family-Friendly Tours in Ancient Epidaurus 

    The site of Epidaurus is one of the most popular places to visit in Greece. It combines the natural beauty of an ancient sacred area and the long history that it reveals in front of you. People from around the globe are coming here to understand the ancient Greek culture and admire the buildings that carry their own special history. 

    The theater of Epidaurus is the most famous among the buildings due to its almost perfect condition and the incredible acoustics even today. That’s why performances are still taking place every summer. 

    Families love this destination not only during summer but all year round. Here you and your family will enjoy walking among the trees that surround the sanctuary and discovering its ruins. 

    Many different tours take place on-site daily with professional and licensed tour guides. Epidaurus with other nearby destinations in a day trip or even as part of a multi-day tour. You can even choose between private or semi-private tours. Most tours start from Athens, Nafplio, or Corinth.

    8. Kid-friendly Destinations to Visit Near Epidaurus 

    Ancient Epidaurus is located in one of the most beautiful parts of Greece, the Peloponnese. The Peloponnese has a long history that is lost in mythology. Other amazing and unique ancient cities are located here. You and your family will be thrilled to be able to visit other places that played a significant role in ancient times and are not far from Epidaurus.

    1. Ancient Corinth and the Corinth Canal: Ancient Corinth was considered one of the wealthiest cities in ancient Greece. It was a trading center for many centuries. Apollo was worshipped there since the 7th century BC. Other monuments at this site include the Acrocorinth (Acropolis of Corinth), the market, the Gymnasium, and another Asklepieion.

    Distance: 74 km from Epidaurus

    1. Mycenae: The history of Mycenae begins in the 19th century B.C. It was a rich military city that gave its name to an entire civilization! The place is famous for its Cyclopean walls and the treasure of Atreus. At the entrance, you will also discover the Lion’s Gate that adorns the city walls.

    Distance: 46 km from Epidaurus

    1. Nafplio: It is one of the best and most romantic places in mainland Greece overlooking the sea. Nafplio offers you the opportunity to get to know a medieval city with its imposing Palamid Fortress, Bourtzi Fortress, and the small alleys and squares.

    Distance: 27 km from Epidaurus

    1. Nemea: At the archaeological site of Nemea, you will discover the Sanctuary of Zeus, built in the 6th century. At the site, you will also explore the sports facilities that date back to the Nemean Games, one of the Panhellenic Games. The Nemean Games were one of the most important sporting events like the Olympic Games.

    Distance: 64 km from Epidaurus

    How to reach Ancient Epidaurus

    The best way to visit ancient Epidaurus is to take a day trip with a licensed tour guide. There are numerous tours you can take depending on your starting point. The most common starting point is Athens. Athens is 148 km away from Ancient Epidaurus.

    If you prefer to visit the archaeological site privately with your family, you can take a taxi from any location or even rent a car. This would probably be the fastest way. 

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    If you have no problem traveling with other people, you can take the public bus. There are buses that connect Epidaurus with Athens, Nafplio, and Corinth.

    FAQ

    Is Ancient Epidaurus Worth Visiting?

    Absolutely. Epidaurus is one of the must-see sights in Greece, especially for families. Its main attraction is the most popular ancient Greek theater. It owes its popularity to the fact that it is one of the best-preserved theaters in the world. It is also known worldwide for its acoustics.

    Nevertheless, the archeological site of Epidaurus is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its theater. Rather, the site is by far the most important sanctuary of Asclepius. So, if you are visiting Greece with your family anytime soon, be sure to visit ancient Epidaurus.

    Is Ancient Epidaurus linked to the Percy Jackson Books?

    Yes, ancient Epidaurus is one of the most important sites linked to many of the Greek myths mentioned in the Percy Jackson books. Asclepius, the healer god worshiped in Epidaurus, is mentioned more than once in the book ‘The Blood of Olympus’. 

    This is one of the main reasons why Epidaurus is a must-see archaeological site for Percy Jackson fans. If your kids love Percy Jackson, you can have a look at our fully-customizable private Percy Jackson tour from Athens to Ancient Corinth and Epidaurus.

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    Which God Was Worshipped in Ancient Epidaurus?

    In a few words, ancient Epidaurus was the sanctuary of Asclepius, the healer god of ancient Greece. In addition to Asclepius, the site was also used as a place of worship for the god Apollo, who was Asclepius’ father. Finally, archaeologists have found a temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis. It becomes clear that Epidaurus was one of the most important sacred places in ancient Greece, where more than one god and goddess were worshiped.

    How Many Hours are Needed to Explore Ancient Epidaurus?

    Ancient Epidaurus is an archaeological site with numerous things to see and explore. It is recommended to spend 1 to 2 hours in the outdoor area, where the Sanctuary of Asclepius and the Ancient Theater are located. You can allow another 30 minutes to visit the Archaeological Museum of Epidaurus, which is located on the grounds. You will find it between the Sanctuary of Asclepius and the Ancient Theater.

    Address: Ancient Epidaurus, Peloponnese

    Best season to visit

    • summer
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