Epidaurus was not independent of Argos and not included in Argolis until the time of the Romans. With its supporting territory, it formed the small territory called Epidauria. Reputed to be founded by or named for the Argolid Epidaurus, and to be the birthplace of Apollo's son Asclepius the healer, Epidaurus was known for its sanctuary situated about five miles (8 km) from the town, as well as its theater, which is once again in use today. The cult of Asclepius at Epidaurus is attested in the 6th century BC, when the older hill-top sanctuary of Apollo Maleatas was no longer spacious enough.
The asclepeion at Epidaurus was the most celebrated healing center of the Classical world, the place where ill people went in the hope of being cured. To find out the right cure for their ailments, they spent a night in the enkoimeteria, a big sleeping hall. In their dreams, the god himself would advise them what they had to do to regain their health. Found in the sanctuary, there was a guest house for 160 guestrooms. There are also mineral springs in the vicinity which may have been used in healing.
Asclepius, the most important healer god of antiquity, brought prosperity to the sanctuary, which in the 4th and 3rd centuries BC embarked on an ambitious building program for enlarging and reconstruction of monumental buildings. Fame and prosperity continued throughout the Hellenistic period. In 87 BC the sanctuary was looted by the Roman general Sulla, and in 67 BC, it was plundered by pirates. In the 2nd century AD, the sanctuary enjoyed a new upsurge under the Romans, but in AD 395 the Goths raided the sanctuary.
Even after the introduction of Christianity and the silencing of the oracles, the sanctuary at Epidaurus was still known as late as the mid 5th century, although as a Christian healing center.
The prosperity brought by the asclepeion enabled Epidaurus to construct civic monuments, including the huge theatre that delighted Pausanias for its symmetry and beauty, used again today for dramatic performances, the ceremonial hestiatoreion (banqueting hall), and a palaestra. The theater was designed by Polykleitos the Younger in the 4th century BC. The original 34 rows were extended in Roman times by another 21 rows. As is usual for Greek theatres (and as opposed to Roman ones), the view on a lush landscape behind the skênê is an integral part of the theatre itself and is not to be obscured. It seats up to 14,000 people.
The theatre is admired for its exceptional acoustics, which permit almost perfect intelligibility of unamplified spoken words from the proscenium or skēnē to all 14,000 spectators, regardless of their seating (see Ref., in Greek). Famously, tour guides have their groups scattered in the stands and show them how they can easily hear the sound of a match struck at center-stage. A 2007 study by Nico F. Declercq and Cindy Dekeyser of the Georgia Institute of Technology indicates that the astonishing acoustic properties may be the result of the advanced design: the rows of limestone seats filter out low-frequency sounds, such as the murmur of the crowd, and amplify high-frequency sounds from the stage.
Arafat, K. W. 1995. Die Skulpturen des Asklepiostempels in Epidauros. Classical Review, 45, no. 1, pp. 197–198.
Holland, Leicester B. 1948. Thymele: Recherches sur la of Archaeology, 85, no. 3, pp. 387–400.
Vassilantonopoulos S. L., Zakynthinos T., Hatziantoniou P. D., Tatlas N.-A., Skarlatos D., Mourjopoulos J. N., “Measurement and Analysis of Acoustics of Epidaurus Theatre”, presented at the Hellenic Institute of Acoustics 2004 conference (in Greek), Thessalonica.