The pride of Argolis, a land whose name evokes myths and legends that go back a long way in time, is the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus, a thousand-year-old building that combines architectural genius and religious mysticism.
Magnificent example of classical perfection, characterized by an impeccable symmetry, is one of the top attractions of the Peloponnese. It is an unmissable destination both for those who stay in the area, perhaps in the lovely city of Nafplio, and for those who want to make exciting day trips from Athens.
There are many theaters in Greece, so why come all the way here to see another? There are valid reasons. First of all, because the theater of Epidaurus is one of the best preserved theaters of antiquity, and secondly because it is immersed in a beautiful green setting that makes it particularly impressive.
And then you too will surely want to try the coin game…. Ask your guide, your partner or your friend to wait for you on the proscenium, climb up to the last row of steps and give a signal to your accomplice to drop a coin. Incredulous, you will be able to hear the sound of the coin hitting the ground without the need for any microphone, speaker or headphones.
Such is the acoustics of the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus that architectural scholars, musicians, actors and visitors never cease to be amazed. This same portentous wonder excites the spectators of the theatrical performances and concerts that still today, more than two thousand years after its construction, are held in one of the most beautiful theaters of ancient Greece.
The magic of myth is more alive than ever: come and discover it.
The Ancient Theater of Epidaurus was built around the fourth century BC on a project of the architect Polyclitus the Younger. It rises on the western side of Mount Cinortion and was part of a complex of buildings that constituted the Temple of Asclepius, the greek god of medicine who had in the city of Epidaurus the center of his cult.
The sanctuary dedicated to Asclepius was considered in antiquity the most important center of care of all Greece: thanks to its importance, the city could become rich and equipped with a theater that became more famous than the sanctuary itself. The shows of music, singing and dramatic games that were held in the theater were directly related to this cult and therefore it was believed that attending the shows had a beneficial power for the health of body and soul.
The structure of the theater is typical of a classic Hellenistic theater, with three distinct areas: cavea, semicircular structure with steps reserved for the public; orchestra, circular space in the center of the theater; stage, which originally included a two-story stage and a proscenium. The stage has a diameter of 20 meters.
Currently it has 55 tiers and a capacity of 14,000 spectators; originally there were 34 tiers, 21 were added later by the Romans. These numbers are probably not accidental: they are in fact related to the so-called Golden Section of antiquity, or the irrational number 1.6180339887 to which were associated symbolic and religious meanings.
Until the mid-nineteenth century the theater fell into oblivion, hidden by trees and shrubs grown on the slopes of the hill. The first excavations took place in the second half of the nineteenth century; excavation and restoration works continued until 2016, allowing us today to admire a theater that looks very faithful to the original.
Even today, the theater is used for plays and concerts; these are mainly tragedies and other classical theater performances, but occasionally contemporary events with famous international guests also take place.
The feature that has made the theater of Epidaurus so famous is its acoustics: every sound can be heard from the proscenium up to the last row at the top. Without any amplification, even very faint sounds, such as a falling coin, can be heard.
How it was possible to create a theater with such perfect acoustics remained a mystery for centuries, but such perfection made it difficult to think of pure chance. Yet perhaps this is the case…
Recent studies have shown that the exceptional acoustics of the theater of Epidaurus are due to the limestone used to make the tiers of seats and not to the slope of the theater as was previously believed.
The rough stone acts as a filter eliminating the low frequency of sounds, in particular the
the voice of the actors. The missing frequencies are reconstructed by the brain of the spectators through a mechanism called “virtual pitch”. It is something similar to what happens during telephone conversations with a poor signal.
It is unthinkable that architects in ancient times could have known the acoustic qualities of limestone, and this explains why the exceptional result obtained in Epidaurus has never been replicated in other Greek theaters.
If you are passionate about ancient history or if for you the charm of the ancient ruins is irresistible, stay in the area after visiting the theater of Epidaurus: in the surroundings there are other attractions that might interest you.
Staying in the area you can in fact see the ruins of the temple of Asclepius, remains of the stadium and the Tholos, a white marble building of circular shape whose function is still unknown.
In the city of Epidaurus it is possible to visit an archaeological museum which exhibits findings found in the surroundings.
Getting tothe theater of Epidaurus by car from Athens is quite simple: just take the highway to Corinth, exit at the junction for Epidaurus that meets after the channel and from there follow the signs.
If instead you want to move by public transport, you have to plan at least one change. There are no direct buses or trains from Athens to the theater: you will first have to take a bus to Epidaurus or Nafplio (the latter can also be reached by train) and then a local bus to the theater.
The easiest way to visit the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus without traveling by car is to join a day tour from Athens or Nafplio.
Day tours from Athens usually include a visit to the Corinth Canal, the theater and the city of Nafplio; those departing from Nafplio generally include not only the theater and the Corinth Canal but also Mycenae.
The city of Epidaurus is located in Argolida, the eastern part of the Peloponnese, the jagged peninsula that forms the southern tip of mainland Greece and is connected to Attica by the channel of Corinth.
It is 125 km from Athens and about 35 km from Corinth and Mycenae. The ancient theater is found at about ten kilometers from the city center.