Asclepeion of Epidaurus

The Asclepeion of Epidaurus was one of the most important healing centres of the Greco-Roman world. Named after the god of medicine, Asclepius, these sanctuaries welcomed pilgrims that came from all over the Mediterranean seeking healing for their ailments through physical and spiritual means.
The land of Epidaurus has been associated with the world of health and healing since time immemorial. Healing deities were worshipped on Kynortion hill. In the Mycenaean era, there was a temple dedicated to a goddess associated with health. Around 800 BC, a new temple in honour of the god Apollo Maleatas was erected on its ruins.
The number of patients increased steadily and around 600 BC a new sanctuary dedicated to Asclepius was founded. People from all corners of the known world at the time would come hoping for a cure. Thus, the Asclepeion of Epidaurus become the most reputed of all Asclepeia in Greece. Rich offerings from the followers made the sanctuary prosper and grow over time, as an ever greater number of new buildings were added.

Temple of Asclepius

The Temple of Asclepius was the first and most important building of the Asclepeion. However, only traces of it can be seen today.
The road beginning in the town of Epidaurus passed through the monumental gateway of the sanctuary (Propilaia) and led to the central part of the sanctuary, to the altar and the temple of Asclepius. A wide space, free of building, was formed in front and on the south side of the temple, where different kinds of votives were placed.
The temple was erected circa 375 BC by the architect Theodotus. The excavations have shown that it was destroyed by fire in the 4th or in the beginning of the 5th century AD.
The cella was provided with an internal Corinthian colonnade surrounding the chryselephantine (made out of gold and ivory) cult statue of god. Asclepius was represented seated of a throne, holding his rod with the left hand and extending the right towards a head of the rising snake. In the floor of the cella opened a quadrangular pit with stone walls, the “thesauros” (treasury), in which precious objects, offering and perhaps payments to the god for his help were kept.



The stoa of Abaton or “Enkoimeterion” (incubation hall) was the place in which patients were cured through the contact with the healing god Asclepius during the “encoimesis” (incubation). This kind of healing was a mystery, so the stoa was an “abaton” (impenetrable), which means blocked for those who had not prepare themselves to encounter Asclepius.
Abaton was a long narrow building, 70 meters long and 10 meters wide. It combines two architectural orders of classic antiquity, the Ionic and the Doric order. The original Western wing was a stoa with 17 Ionic columns, in the northeastern the sacred well of Asklepios was incorporated. Water was always one of the main elements of a healing process. The back hall of the building contained close rooms for patients preparing themselves to meet Asclepius in their dream.
Patients made their preparations in the eastern part and the upper storey of the western part of the building, purifying themselves with water from the sacred well and reading narrations of wonderful healing recorded on stelai erected inside the stoa, which led them by autosuggestion to go through the miracle of the cure. Then, they passed to the ground floor of the two-storeyed stoa can lay down on the ground, waiting for the miraculous dream to come. The sleep symbolized the death of their ill self and Asclepius, who visited them in their dream, bestowed them new healthy life.
Excavations have shown that incubation took place as early as the middle of the 6th century BC in front of the well, in smaller and lighter constructions of that time.
The Abaton was incorporated in a stoa of the late Roman period, which surrounded the most important building of the sanctuary. It was subsequently abandoned and fell into ruins.



The Tholos together with Temple of Asclepius and the stoa of Abaton were the main buildings of cult in the centre of the classical sanctuary. The name “tholos” was one of the used by the ancient traveler Pausanias (2nd century AD), who also mentions architect, Argive Polykleitos. Inscriptions of the 4th century BC, however, found in the sanctuary and the recordings the annual expenses for the construction of the building, call the building Thymelle, which means altar. This implies some kind of offering to the god. Modern scholars date the construction of the building to the years around the middle of the 4th century BC.
The building was circular (diameter 21,5 m) with an external Doric peristyle of 26 columns.
Ancient sources are almost silent concerning the use of this building. The circular ground plan, common as a type of burial monuments, the underground labyrinth reminiscent of the dark passages of the Underworld, the mention of the tomb of Asclepius in Epidauros by Christian authors oh the 4th century AD, support the interpretation of Tholos as simulation of the underground dwelling of the god. According to this principal myth, Asclepius struck by the thunderbolt of Zeus was banished in the realm of Hades, but at the time he received the privilege to be able to continue people from his underground seat. Recent studies showed that the celling of the Tholos labyrinth in on exactly the same hypsometric level as the celling of the ground floor of the Abaton, where the incubation of patients took place. This means that the two building were bound with a correlated religious content and that they mush have been designed in the single, coherent building program. The incubation, that is the sleep in the Abaton, during which the god restored the health of the patient, was an imitation of death, a temporary descent in the Kingdom of Hades, imposed by the very character of Epidaurian healing, bound to the chthonic substance of Asclepius.



The bath complex of the sanctuary is generally identified as “akoai”. The building is connected with fountains on its southern side. In these fountains water coming from the springs of Mount Kynortion was collected and from them it was distributed to the different parts of the sanctuary.
The bath building occupies an area approximately 650 m2 and consists of four parallel wings.


Bath of Asclepius

Water was the most important element in the worship of Asclepius. According to the ritual of the cult, the suppliant purified himself by washing with water from the well slept near the well waiting for the visit of god in his dream. The sacred water was thought not only to be a means of purification but also an element causing regeneration.
The earlier building is dated to the late 5th or early 4th century BC. By the end of the 4th century the sacred well was already incorporated in the stoa of Abaton. A new system of water supply was constructed transporting water from the mountains to the sanctuary. A water pipe of this system ended in front of the temple of Asclepios and supplied there a bronze fountain-statue of Asclepios with water. The water came out from a cup held by the god and was channeled further to the early bath building. It is presumably since that time the building was called “Bath of Asclepius”.


Sanctuary of the Egyptian Gods

The building is identified as the temple of the Hygeia, Appolo and Asclepios the Egyptians. The ancient Greek traveler Pausanias mentioned that it was built with money donated by the Roman senator Antoninus (2nd century AD). The syncretism of Greek and Egyptian deities set in already in much earlier times. We know that oriental deities were often venerated in religious colleges, where initiation was required.


Hestarion complex

The Hestarion complex consist of the Hestarion and its monumental Propylon at the northwest. Sacrificial meals related to the cult of Asclepius took place in the building, which dates to around 300 BC. The Odeum which was erected inside the peristyle courtyard of the Hestarion, is a Roman insert of the 2nd or early 3rd century AD.
Remnants of couches preserved mainly in the eastern rooms and remains of fire with food residues in the courtyard indicates that ritual meals related to the cult of Asclepius took place in this edifice. During the annual festival a procession was sent to the sanctuary from the city. Part of the sacrificial food was offered to the god, while the rest was consumed by the worshipers.
The complex was probably designed to facilitate training as well, as it shares common characteristics with a gymnasium.
The Hestarion was partly destroyed, mainly in its western part, during the raids of Cilician pirates which happened in the second quarter of the 1st century BC. In the 2nd century AD. The courtyard of it, a roofed theater, Odeum was erected, where probably the ritual and musical part of the festival continued to take place.
In the Roman times the Proryon was converted into a temple of Hygieia, goodness of health.



In ancient times the beneficial effect of theatrical performances on the mental and physical health of the patients at the Asclepeion were already known. That is the reason why a theatre was added to the healing centre at the end of the 4th century BC, which according to Pausanias’ testimony, was built by Polyclitus the Younger.
Completely in harmony with the landscape, it was built on the natural slope of the Kynortion hill in local limestone. The theatre housed about 13 thousand spectators and continued to flourish until the 3rd century AD. Two earthquakes in 522 and 551 AD contributed to the theatre gradually being abandoned.
At the end of the 19th century excavations brought to light the ancient theatre once again. As of 1954 to the present day, the ancient theatre comes alive during the summer months with theatrical performances staged as part of the Athens and Epidaurus Festival.


Note: the informations were retrieved by the site's posters and labels.

  • Photos by Eugenia Panova moc.liamg|avonapeve#| (July 2019)
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