The ancient open Theatre of Epidaurus dates back to 4th century BC and is located in the lush hills of the Peloponnese, just a 30-minute drive from the Saronic Gulf. As one of the many UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Greece, it is undeniably unique for a multitude of reasons. It is argued that the Theatre of Epidaurus is the grandest and best-preserved in all of Greece, making it a must-see for travelers who come to Athens (Epidaurus is only 2 hours away from Athens!). Although the Theatre is most definitely the highlight of the area, the city that surrounds the Epidaurus Theatre is also an exemplary archeological site, with a gymnasium that is recently excavated and a museum with beautiful works of art like statues and replicas.
This vast theatre, that seats up to 13,000 spectators, is situated within the archeological site of the Sanctuary of Asclepius, which is dedicated to the ancient Greek god of medicine. The area was a healing ground, a place for physical and spiritual tranquility that perfectly aligns with the landscape that surrounds Epidaurus. As you climb to the top tier of the theatre to test the unrivaled auditory system, you will look out to the horizon onto a view that will take your breath away.
The theatre was designed by the architect Polykleitos the younger, from Argos, whose achievement is considered a masterpiece 2,500 thousand years later. Perhaps what makes this sacred place a modern miracle is that the acoustics are still superb, and the architecture is an artistic phenomenon, even by today’s standards. The European Acoustic Association also released a study that measured and analyzed the acoustics of the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus using modern equipment. The researchers concluded that the acoustics are excellent for all listener positions in the theatre. It is known that spectators at the top tiers can hear performers at the bottom without any amplification. Indeed, although the theatre itself still preserves 90% of the original material and ancient form, the sound from the middle of the theatre reaches the top rows without much loss of intensity. Initially, it was thought that this was due to the location of Epidaurus, which lies in a small valley in between lush Peloponnesian hills. However, it was later discovered that the true reason is far more to do with the expert engineering skills of Polykleitos. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America has verified through a numerical study, that the seats play a crucial role in this. The seats are made up of a corrugated surface which acts as acoustic filters that pick up sounds from the theatre instead of surrounding sounds of the environment. Polykleitos had a great understanding of how to apply corrugated surfaces but also, the mere design of Epidaurus, its dimensions, and proportions, also optimize every aspect of it. This combination of details and expert engineering has resulted in the best conserved ancient theatre, of its kind, in the world.
Epidaurus ancient ruins - credits: bloodua/Depositphotos.com
The theatre is in such good condition, and was so well-designed, that annual festivals take place there to this day. The Athens-Epidaurus Festival is an annual arts festival that takes place in the theatre itself every summer. The program each year consists of music, theatrical shows & dance events among many others. You can find the program for this year here. The festival was founded in 1955 and has been a huge cultural attraction ever since.
This theatre is also one of the very few that still has its original circular “Orchestra” in the middle, which you should not forget to stand on when you visit! As you stand on it, speak and you will experience the profound acoustics for yourself. You will be able to hear your voice in a stereophonic manner - send a friend up to the top tiers and test it out! The fact that this ancient theatre can still effectively facilitate such events is astonishing; sitting in the crowd will give you a glimpse into antiquity as you will be sitting exactly where the ancient Greeks did in the 4th century B.C!The functionality of Epidaurus is what makes this ancient site a modern miracle.
Epidaurus archaeological site - credits: bloodua/Depositphotos.com
The team at Greeking.me has designed a day trip tour from Athens which focuses on the gems that the Peloponnese have to offer. Our Argolis Day Trip takes you on a private tour led by an expert guide and historian to Epidaurus, as well as Ancient Corinth, Ancient Mycenae and the town of Nafplio. This tour is designed to tick a few boxes off your must-do-in-Greece list in one great day trip from Athens!