The Remarkable Epidaurus Theater

For many peoples the main reason to visit the Archaeological Site of the Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus is the Epidaurus Theater.

The Epidaurus Theater is in fact the best preserved monument in the Sanctuary of Asklepios.

The Remarkable Epidaurus Theater

Let’s see a few information about the Epidaurus Theater!

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How old is the Epidaurus Theater?

The Epidaurus Theater was erected at the end of the 4th century B.C.

Who built the theater of Epidaurus?

According to the ancient traveler Pausanias (2nd century A.D.), it was the work of the architect Polykleitos, who built also the Tholos in the same Sanctuary.

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How many people could the original Theatre of Epidaurus seat?

The auditorium of the Theatre the koilon or cavea, consists of two unequal parts, which are divided by a horizontal walkway, known as the diazoma. The lower part is divided by 13 radiating staircases into 12 wedge-shaped segments, the kerkides or cunei, with 34 rows of seats each. At the upper part of the cavea 23 radiating passages divide it into 22 wedge-shaped segments with 20 rows of seats.

To each segment of the lower part correspond two segments of the upper part. The seats of the lowest row were provided with backrests and used as “prohedriae” (front seats of honour); similarly shaped were the seats of the upper part’s first row. Uphill pathways outside the Theatre led on both sides to the horizontal passage which divided the upper from the lower part of the cavea.

It is estimated that the Epidaurus Theater could accommodate 12,000 spectators.

What is remarkable about the theater at Epidaurus?

Epidaurus Theater is a characteristic example of Hellenic theatres’ tripartite structure (orchestra – cavea – stage building). Its original form remained intact in Roman times, during which most Greek theatres underwent major changes. The floor of the circular orchestra (diameter 20 m) is beaten earth. It is outlined in stone, while at its center, a circular base of an altar, the thymele, is preserved. A walkway surrounds the orchestra on the lower level, which served additionally as a drain for rainwater.

The scene (stage building) in front of the orchestra and the cavea served the needs of the actors and had a parallel use as storage room of theatrical equipment.

The scene building was composed of

  1. a rectangular oblong hall with two smaller square rooms on each side,
  2. a proscenium (stage), on whose facade was fixed panels representing the setting of each play,
  3. two ramps, one on each side, which provided access to the roof of the proscenium for the actors, and
  4. an upper storey of the scene building, of which no evidence has been preserved.

Scholars estimate that the total height of the stage building was 7.60 m. Spectators entered the Epidaurus Theater through two impressive gates situated on both sides of the stage building, between it and the lower part of the retaining wall of the cavea. The seats of the cavea were made out of local grey at reddish hard limestone, while for the stage building, a yellow soft limestone was used.

The cavea was constructed at the end of the 4th century B.C. while the stage building was modified during the 2nd century B.C. A characteristic feature of the Theatre was (and still is) its excellent acoustics. It had largely to do with its design. The creation of the circular shape of the cavea was based on three centres. The eight central cunei corresponded to a circumference which had as centre the centre of the orchestra.

The two lateral cunei were designed with different centers, which lay further away from the orchestra’s center, providing a larger radius and, consequently, a larger circle. Besides its contribution to acoustics, this “opening” on the edges of the cave allowed a better view of those sitting in the lateral cunei.

What was the Theatre of Epidaurus used for?

The Theatre of the Sanctuary was closely connected to the cult of Asklepios.

During the festivals held in honor of the god, athletic games, musical and dramatic contests also took place. The latter was surely housed in the Theatre, where most probably deep-rooted ceremonies were closely connected with the cult.

Why is the Theatre at Epidaurus still famous?

Today theatrical plays are again performed in the Epidaurus Theater during the summer (Epidauros festival). The Theatre was excavated in 1881 by P. Kavvadias, who then carried out partial restorations. Restoration works by An. Orlandos took place in the monument in the years 1954-1963.

He proceeded then to a reconstruction of the proscenium, which was later removed. The Committee for the Conservation of the Epidauros Monuments restored the western parodos gate, the last upper western cuneus (1988-1999) and the ancient drains (1992-2007). A third program includes restoration works in the cavea and the stage building.

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