Athens has been a city for about 3,500 years, giving it history and artifacts that attract many tourists to the area every year. The greatest glory time for Athens was during the classical period of ancient Greece, when many of the well-known artifacts were under construction (Hall). Today Athens is the capital of Greece, and when including Piraeus, is home to approximately four million people. With the great amount of inhabitants, Athens is filled with industrialism and pollution. Many tourists only think about the attractions within Athens before going to the city. They do not know how urbanized the area is, and are therefore discouraged when they first arrive in Athens. To get the greatest appreciation for the city, explore it with an adventurous spirit and think of the history that lies within the city. Athens is one of the few capitals that can be characterized by having a glory period, a decline in the city, nearly complete destruction and then recovering in the nineteenth century (Hall). Surrounded by three mountains, Athens is truly a great city to explore and visit. To get the best understanding of the city, go to the streets of Athens where the people often hangout late into the night dancing and enjoying life.
The history of Athens dates back many years, through many prosperous and difficult periods. It would be extremely difficult and long to touch on all the important events that have occurred within Athens, but I chose what I thought was most important and helpful to get an appropriate understanding of the extended history of the city. In comprehending the ancient history of Athens, it is important to also look at the history of Attica. The first known inhabitants of Athens were the Pelasgions. Today, the oldest walls of the Acropolis are named after them. Next, the Ionians settled in Attica, splitting the city into separate, independent small towns. The two sides only engaged in diplomacy during times of war when they met with Kekrops, the first king of Athens. Around 1200 BC, the Dorians settled in Southern Greece. This group of settlers brought an end to the Mycennean civilization and also invaded Attica (greekislands). The city of Athens was beginning to encounter many social and political disturbances during this time and control was needed. In 594 BC Solon organized the state on a basis of citizens’ income. This was one of the first stages of democracy, but did not rid the area of all social conflict. Democracy was in effect until 508 BC when the politician Kleisthenis introduced equilibrium, which is a state of balance between social classes (greekislands). Up until this time, problems that the city of Athens encountered were usually within the city or occurred nearby.
At the beginning of the fifth century BC, the Persians campaigned against the Greeks. The Persians wanted to defeat the Athenians and Greeks and tried to do so numerous times. The first battle took place at Marathon and the second attempt was a naval battle at Salamis. The Athenians made their final defeat of the Persians at the Battle of Plataies. Pericles then took control of the city and contributed many things to help improve its condition. First, he strengthened democracy within Athens. Then, he strengthened the army and the naval fleet. He also began the construction of the Parthenon and of the Propylaia of the Acropolis. Then the Peloponnesian Wars, from 431-404 BC, took place between Athens and Sparta and destroyed the city of Athens. Fortunately, the Athenian people were able to regroup and reorganize making Athens a dominant city again. The city appeared to be moving in the right direction. The greatest philosophers at the time lived in Athens, which included Socrates, Plato and Aristotle (greekislands). Not long after the improvements of Athens, the Athenian democracy killed Socrates, which continues to be a tragedy discussed in Principia courses at Concordia today. Alexander the Great was the next significant ruler in Athens. His death marked the ending of the great classical period in Greece. For the next five hundred years, through the beginning of the Christian era, Athens was subject to the power of Rome (athens-today).
The Greeks were subject to other countries until the 1800’s. After being under the power of Rome, the Greeks were subject to Turkish rule for approximately four hundred years. Then on March 25, 1821, Greece began to fight for their independence as a nation. In 1829 Greece was declared an independent nation, and they celebrate their independence every March 25. Today, Greece is a republic country with a democratically elected parliament (athens-today). It is evident that Athens and the country of Greece have a history that dates back many years. When touring in Athens and Greece it is important to remember the history and the events the country has endured.
With the history of Athens dating back so many years, it is difficult to know the exact records of all that really occurred. Many mythological stories have been made to describe some of the early events of the city. One story accounts on how the city got the name of Athens. The story starts in Olympus, when a council of 12 gods met to decide who was going to lay claim to Attica. The candidates were Poseidon, the god of the sea, and Athena, the goddess of wisdom. When the showdown arouse, Poseidon struck the rock of the Acropolis with his trident and a horse and rushing water sprang forth, out of the rock. Next, it was Athena’s turn to show her power. This goddess struck the rock next to her with her spear and the first olive tree sprang forth. The gods claimed Athena the winner and protector of the city, which then took her name (greekislands).
Another historical issue that deals with Athens that continues to be controversial today is the dispute about the Elgin Marbles. The marbles were a part of a sculpture that was in the Acropolis, but were taken by the British ambassador named Lord Elgin. He negotiated with someone to remove some objects of Greek antiquity from Greece around 1799, and in doing so, took part of the sculpture. The Greeks say that the sculpture is “a symbol of our nationhood” and want it back in Greece (Zenell). The “Elgin Marbles” continue to be in a British Museum today, but the fight over who should really have the marbles is ongoing.
Athens has numerous tourist attractions that make the city remarkable to visit. Some of the most popular ones are the Acropolis, the Parthenon and the Agora, which were researched more in depth by fellow classmates. Besides these famous sites, there are various other attractions that Athens offers to visitors. First, there are a variety of different museums found within the city. The most popular one is the National Archaeological Museum. This museum is divided up into many different halls, each significant for a certain form of art or time period. The Hall of Mycenaean Antiquities is the best one to see. It includes the Mask of Agamemnon, a golden mask of an ancient king. Another hall is dedicated to the Cycladic Collection, which is devoted to Cycladic art (Hall). This museum draws people interested in a variety of different areas. The National Art Gallery is another museum found in Athens. This gallery gives emphasis to Greek painting and sculpture. There are works form Picasso, Marquet and Utrillo here (Hall). Other well-known museums within Athens include the National Historical Museum, the Acropolis Museum and the Agora Museum. These are only a few of the many museums in Athens, if interested in this area, there are many more possible museums to visit.
The Plaka is a favorite place for many tourists when visiting Athens. It is in the oldest section of Athens and most of the streets here are closed off to automobiles. The Plaka is known to be one of the nicest areas in central Athens. It contains many outdoor restaurants and cafés, which are a great way to people watch and get a feel of how the people of Athens live. Generally the restaurants are a little more expensive, but the food is known to be very good. There are also many tourist shops found in the Plaka. These shops are stocked with native and historical items to purchase, and provide many souvenirs to bring home. The Plaka is located on the streets right below the Acropolis and is not difficult to find (athensguide).
Other attractions to see include Plateía Syntágmatos and the National Gardens. The Plateía Syntágmatos is also known as the Syntágma Square. It is the home of the Greek Parliament and contains the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.” The National Guard is on continuous watch of the tomb and the changing of the guards can be seen every Sunday at eleven in the morning. Behind the parliament building is the National Gardens. It is formally known as the “Royal Gardens,” and is one of the most peaceful spots found within the city of Athens (athensguide). The many tourist attractions found in Athens provide adventures to suit everyone’s desires. Ranging from the popularly visited Acropolis, to a small museum about Greek art, to sitting at a corner café, the magnificence of Athens can be found almost anywhere.
Along with the spectacular attractions, the entertainment found within Athens keeps many people up late into the night. Every night on the Hill of the Pynx is a light show played on the Acropolis. The lights are accompanied with music and sound effects, which provide entertainment for all ages. Bars and music is also very popular in Athens. Almost all the bars within Athens have a dance floor. The majority of the bars play good music, not heavy metal or hard rock, under the age of twenty-five, discos are another place where many people go to dance. The most popular disco is Easy Way; here they play Western Rock music under an open roofed dance floor (Eyewitness). The natives from Athens enjoy staying up late into the night dancing, talking and having a good time.
If late nights are not ones style, there are many other forms of entertainment that the natives partake in during the day as well. Football, or soccer to Americans, is the most popular sport in Greece. There are a total of eighteen teams in Greece, and six are within Athens. Usually games are played on Wednesdays and Sundays, but they will be in play-offs in mid-May and could be playing on other days as well (Eyewitness). Shopping is also very popular. There are many low prices, but it is advised to look around before buying because many vendors will take advantage of tourists. Compare prices between stores and a little bargaining can also be done. Greece is known for their well-made sandals. The best brand to buy is Stavros Melissinos; these are the most popular sandals in Greece. Flea markets are very common within Athens as well. It is possible to find many good deals and souvenirs at these places. Jewelry is often sold at flea markets and high quality gold and silver can be purchased at a fairly low price. Greece is one of the cheapest European countries to buy jewelry (Eyewitness). The entertainment and tourist attractions keep visitors very busy while in Athens, but other important information is needed to make the stay successful.
Transportation within Athens can be very hectic, as it is in all large cities. Staying patient and knowing your destination will be very helpful. Watch for traffic at all times in Athens, with the busy streets, drivers get rude and reckless. Taxis are probably the quickest form of transportation. They are difficult to get during rush hour, and knowing your destination is necessary. Taxi rates change during the day, so be aware of how much you are actually paying the driver (athens-today). They will recognize that you are a foreigner and may try to take advantage of you and your money. Buses are also very common in Athens. They are useful in getting to the major tourist spots such as the Acropolis and the Parthenon. Sometimes to get to the destination point, you may need to ride a few different buses. It is the helpful to map out the route beforehand or talk to someone at the hotel or bus service that can help you. Along with the buses, there are trolleys in Athens that go to the major tourist attractions. Motorcycles and bicycles can be rented for reasonable prices too. This allows freedom to move about the city without depending on other modes of transportation. The rental place will probably put restrictions as to how far you can travel (athens-today). There are many forms of transportation within Athens, except for during rush hour, getting to destination points should be fairly easy.
After a day of sightseeing, eating the unique Greek foods will be a delightful experience. Breakfast is usually a light meal and lunch is eaten in mid-afternoon. Dinner does not usually start until ten at night (athens-today). This is a social time for the people, where they sit and talk late into the evening. Eating out is a way of life in Greece. The majority of the time a good-sized meal is reasonably priced. Assortments of Greek wines accompany the different courses and foods at restaurants as well. It is helpful to keep in mind that a service charge is already added to the bill when you get it. If the service is good, it is right to leave a small tip in recognition of good work. In Greece, restaurants are places to go before going out for evening entertainment (athens-today). Not all restaurants are the same. There are Greek Taverns, where it is custom to go into the kitchen and choose the meal of your choice. Small cafés are often found on street corners and typical sit-down restaurants are also common (athens-today). Many of the restaurants are outdoors because of the year round good weather in Greece.
To make the stay in Athens the best possible, I wanted to include some miscellaneous information that will be useful when traveling. First, Athens is the capital of Greece and one of the southern most European cities. Second, the most popular religion is the Greek Orthodox and the currency is the drachma. It is also useful to understand that instead of celebrating birthdays in Greece, they celebrate name days. Each name has a specific day and on that day everyone with the name celebrates. The climate in Greece is nice all year. Many tourists get sunburned each year, so it is helpful to carry along sun-block and long sleeves if out for the entire day. Lastly, wearing the appropriate clothing and shoes will make Athens much more enjoyable. Sandals are almost always suitable and having rubber soles is recommended for climbing the rocky terrain around and within Athens. If visiting a church is included in the day’s agenda, bring the necessary clothing to cover the body (Zenell). This should be done out of respect and courtesy towards the people of Athens and their beliefs. Knowing more about the city of Athens, I hope that our visit here is complete and fulfilling. Keep in mind that remembering the history and how the artifacts began is important to know when exploring the great city of Athens.
Eyewitness Travel Guides, Greece. London: Dorling Kindersley, 1996.
The Ancient Greeks are well known for their designing and constructing extraordinary buildings. The Acropolis is generally considered one of the most popular areas of Greek landscape, with the Parthenon as the focal point. The image of the Acropolis and its contents (specifically the Parthenon), as it rises up above the city of Athens, summarizes what Athenian and Greek tradition and culture represent.
The Acropolis is a rock with the dimensions 155 meters high, 300 meters long and 150 meters wide that elevates out of the Attica Basin. The original purpose of the Acropolis was for military purposes. It protected the king and his company by providing a great view in every direction. The Pelasgians, who constructed large slabs of rock to form Cyclopean or Pelasgian walls that are reach up to six meters wide, did the original building of the Acropolis. However, over time the Acropolis was destroyed twice and then rebuilt again. Besides the popular Parthenon, other buildings on the Acropolis include the Propylaia, which is the entrance to the Acropolis, the Temple of Nike, and the Erechteheum. Also, members of the community would donate works to the Acropolis to be shown on the hill. Before destroyed in a war, the most famous donation was a sculpture of the goddess Athena, made of bronze, which was nine feet tall.
The Parthenon is the most visible of all buildings on the Acropolis and dominates the view of the Acropolis as one of the world’s most incredible sights. The original reason for the Parthenon was to honor the Goddess Athena, however it wasn’t actually known as the Parthenon until the fourth century during the Panathenaic Games. The final building began in 447 BC, led by Iktinos and Kallikratis to celebrate Athena and Panathenaic Games. After being destroyed earlier by the Persians and then rebuilt again, the final construction is made of marble, except for the roof made of wood and the foundation made of limestone.
Architecturally the Parthenon is considered perfect. The building is 30.88 meters wide and 69.51 meters long. There are eight columns on each of the short sides and 17 on each of the long sides. As a result of careful planning by the architects, the Parthenon is considered perfect because of its proportions, harmonic look, and the balance of power and refinement it contains. Unfortunately, part of the Parthenon was damaged in 1687 when a Venetian bomb hit the Acropolis and caused a large explosion. Also in the 19th Century Lord Elgin stole decorations (marbles) out of the Parthenon and transferred them to England, where they are still preserved today. The event is known today as the Elgin Marble Controversy.
National Archaeological Museum
There are nearly 40 museums in the city of Athens. However, few compare to the National Archaeological Museum, as it is ranked in the top ten museums in the world. Found in central Athens, this museum was the first large museum of archaeological finds and contains a variety of ancient Greek art and other objects. It is said it would take weeks for a visitor to properly observe the objects.
The two-story museum was built by the architect Ludwig Lange, modified by Ernst Ziller, and finished in 1889. It contains Cycladic, Minoan, Mycenaean, and Classical Greek Art. The museum is divided into three divisions. They are the Prehistoric Division, Sculpture from the Archaic to Hellenistic Periods, and the Pottery from Geometric to the end of the 4th Century AD.
Although there are many exhibits in the museum, there are a few there are considered the most popular. These include the Kouros (rooms 8,11,13), or the “nude man-boys,” the bronze statue of Poseidon (or Zeus of Artemisios, room 15), which was found about 65 years ago off the Evian coast, and the Thera frescoes (room 48), which is a collection of diverse vases and frescoes that ornamented the houses of prehistoric Thera (Akrotiri). The first main room is room 4, the Mycenaean Collection, much of which was discovered by H. Schliemann in 1876. Some of the most celebrated pieces include the gold death masks and diadems, inaccurately linked to King Agamemnon.
1. National Archaeological Museum, “Dilos: Holiday World.” February 27, 2001.
2. The National Archaeological Museum. April, 29, 2001.
Greece is one of the most visited European countries, yet at the same time it is one of the most unknown. Though a relatively small country (with less than 51,000 square miles), Greece has an extensive history and a strong tradition that still lives on today. Much of this tradition stems from the earlier days and from ancient structures. The ancient Agora in Athens, ancient Corinth, and ancient Mycenae all play a role in the development of Greek culture.
First, we’ll discuss the Agora, in Athens. The word Agora actually means marketplace—however this marketplace wasn’t just a spot to buy a fish, it was the heart of ancient Athens. Political, commercial, religious, and social activities all took place in the Agora. There were schools, shops, and a theater to keep people busy. It was also the home of the city mint—all of Athens’ silver coins were made here. This was even the site where the famous Socrates was indicted and executed in 399 BC.
Today, the Agora claims many different historical artifacts. We’ll go over a few of the main attractions. One such aspect was the Panathenaic Way. This route of travel was named after the Panathemaia Festival’s grand procession. The route ran through the Agora, as well as the main entrance, from the Acropolis in southeast Athens to the Kerameikos in the northwest.
Another important monument is the Temple of Hephaistos. This temple, also known as the Theseion, stands on the hill of Kolonos Agoraios and is the most prominent and best-preserved building on the site. The temple was dedicated to the gods Hephaistos and Athena—both of which were displayed on bronze statues in the interior.
A significant statue was that of a triton (half god, half fish—a pretty sweet combination) by the Odeion of Agrippa. The statue was made of marble and dates from AD 150. Today it is in the Agora museum. The Odeion of Agrippa (mentioned above), was an auditorium with a seating capacity of about 1,000 people. It was later destroyed by fire in AD 267.
Another interesting complex was the jail. Though the Agora was fairly large, the prison was not. It only had eight cells and one entrance (for security reasons). It was in one of these cells that Socrates was imprisoned and executed.
The Agora was also famous for its numerous stoas. A stoa, in ancient Greek architecture, is a large open area at the heart of the city whose boundaries are defined by the public buildings that surround it. The Agora was host to the Stoa of Zeus Eleutherios, the Painted Stoa, the Royal Stoa, the Stoa of Attalos, the Middle Stoa, and finally the South Stoa. These various stoas served all functions—from victory celebrations, to headquarters, to shops, to displaying artwork. They varied in size but all played an important role in the development of the Agora.
Ancient Corinth is our next topic of interest. Corinth was a city of ancient Greece, famous for its position on a narrow isthmus between the Saronic and Corinthian gulfs. Transporting goods across this isthmus was the shortest route from the eastern Mediterranean to the Adriatic Sea. As Corinth grew, it became one of the largest cities of ancient Greece and a rival of Athens. Despite its progress, in 146 BC the Roman army destroyed Corinth. Julius Caesar later rebuilt the city and it became the capital of Achaea, a Roman province. Under Roman rule, ancient Corinth was known for its luxury and elegance.
As the town grew, eventually attaining a population of nearly 750,000, it gained an immoral reputation for lust, greed, deceit and many other sins to terrible to mention. This opportunity attracted St. Paul in AD 52 where he fought to straighten out the city. While doing so, he made his money working as a tent-maker.
Today, though the modern-day Corinth is a busy tourist attraction, the ancient city of Corinth lies in ruins—most of the damage due to earthquakes. Like Athens though, some of the history still stands. One of these amazing artifacts is the famous Temple of Apollo. This structure was one of the few buildings preserved by the Romans when they rebuilt the city. Made of stucco and limestone, little besides the seven columns stand today. Even from these columns it is easy to see the size and magnitude that people of the time period were working with.
Another interesting aspect of Corinth was that of the theater. Originally a common theater, it was modified in the third century AD so water could be piped in for the purpose of staging mock sea battles. I thought that was what bathtubs were for. The people of that time certainly had some interesting ideas.
Ancient Mycenae brings up still more significant history. The significance of this complex is the example of sophisticated citadel architecture. Mycenae was a palace on top of a hill—many called it a fortress. Artisans and merchants lived just outside the city walls for access and availability to those that inhabited the great structure. Unfortunately, turmoil was everywhere during the time period and in 1100 BC it was abandoned.
Ancient Mycenae was famous not only for its durability and rigidity, but also for use in Homer’s famous poem the Iliad. Using various archaeological evidence, comparisons have been made between Mycenae and Homer’s “myths.” Many of the ancient sites in Homer’s works are thought to be the cities of some of the heroes of the Trojan War. With this information and further, deeper analysis, many believe that Homer’s works were indeed more than myths.
As mentioned above, Mycenae was thought of as a fortress. One such reason was due to the “Cyclopean” walls. These walls, up to 46 feet wide, were completely indestructible. The Greeks later imagined that giants had built them. Part of this great wall included the Lion Gate. The name is derived from the two sculpted lions that are standing up on an alter (all carved from the stone) above the entry way. The symbolization of the lions leaning on the altar was intended to show the power and domination held by the Mycenaean people.
Today, the structure of Mycenae is still standing. One of the more notable constructions was that of a secret stairway. Located at the far corner of the compound, the stairway contains 99 steps dropping to a cistern deep beneath the citadel. The purpose of this cistern was to ensure a water supply in times of attack.
Even more amazing are certain grave circles. These grave circles were quite large and built out of the same material the fortress was. Grave Circle A, for example, held six royal family shaft-graves. These graves combined contained 19 bodies and over 30 pounds of gold! The golden artifacts are now on display in Athens.
One more structure worthy of mention is the Royal Palace. This was located at the highest point of the compound. Today only the floors are left, but it is interesting to note the burn-marks that are still visible from its destruction in 1200 BC.
Browsing Ancient Coinage of Corinth. < http://www.wildwinds.com/coins/greece/corinth/i.html> 22 Apr
Camp, John M. The Athenian Agora, Excavations in the heart of classical Athens. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1998.
Cities of Ancient Greece on the Spartathlon Route. < http://spartathlon.webvista.net/ACities.htm> 22 Apr 01.
Dubin, Marc. Greece: Athens & the Mainland. New York: Dorling Kindersley, Inc., 2000.
Freeman, Kathleen. Greek City-States. New York: The Norton Library, 1950.
Mycenae. <http://www.virtualpilgrim.com/VPWherePages/iris.html> 22 Apr 01.
The Roman Agora of Athens. <www.vacation-cyclades.com/athens/roman-agora.htm> 22 Apr 01.
Rumored to be the location of the center of the world, this was determined by Zeus when he released two eagles from the edges of the world and met at Delphi at the Archaic omphalos (navel-stone). The site is also the home of the temple to Apollo, and most importantly the location of the ancient Oracle.
Delphi is not a very large community, even in ancient times; it became an important site due to the importance of the Oracle and the power that it provided to the visitors. The prophecies were foretold by women who would undergo a trance that was induced by drugs, afterwards they would answer the question with a vague answer. Because the answer was vague it was open to a variety of interpretations.
Important sites in Delphi
The Sacred Way: The path we take up to see the location of the oracle and the other ruins.
The Sacred Spring: Visitors would need to bathe in the spring before they went to see the oracle.
The Treasury of the Athenians: Third treasury, well survived, built around 508 BC after democracy was established in Delphi. The building has reliefs of the exploits of Theseus (the founder of democracy), and The Ten Labors of Herakles.
The sanctuary of Athena Pronaia: Circular building of the Doric order (380 BC), the building has been carefully built, with many details. The function of the building has remained a mystery. A little way outside of the main site.
The Stadion: a large arena/stadium used for foot races, and other games.
Temple to Apollo: The most important building in the sanctuary, it was the center of the cult of Apollo and the oracle. Today the temple consists of a flat base with pillars on the perimeter. The temple contained statues to Apollo, the omphalos, and was the location of the oracle.
Theater of Delphi: A well preserved theater built out of limestone, because of its location and high slope, it provides a good view of the landscape.
Nafplio and the Palamidi Fortress
Nafplio has been a major Greek port since the Bronze Age, and was even the first capital city of Greece after the Greek war for independence, 1821-1828. Now Nafplio is a peaceful seaside resort, dominated by the imposing Palamidi Fortress. The castle of Palamidi lies on a high 216m hill to the east of Akronafplia. It was constructed between 1711-1714 during the second Venetian occupation of the area (1686-1715), but was captured just a year later by the Turks. This citadel’s gates are all adorned by the Lion of Saint Mark, the Venetian emblem. Under the leadership of klepht (guerrilla) chief Theodoros Kolokotronis, the Greeks besieged the fortress for 15 months during the war for independence before the Turks finally capitulated. It is a typical baroque fortress, based on the plans of the engineers Giaxich and Lasalle.
Currently small-scale restorations on the walls and the south end fortifications are under way. The 5th Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities is carrying out the restoration.
The Castle Venetian defensive structure dated to the beginning of the 18th century. It consists of eight bastions (projections from the fortification) surrounded by walls. A long stairway reinforced with small battlements starts at the foot of the NW slope and leads up to the fortress on the top of the hill.
Church of St. Andrew built in one of the bastions of the fortress. It is a barrel-vaulted church with the eastern half built underneath one of the arches supporting the walls.
The prison of Kolokotronis. One of the bastions, the so-called "Miltiades" was used as the prison cell of Kolokotronis, a hero of the Greek Revolution and known as the Grand Old Man of Morea.
The Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus was the most celebrated healing center of the ancient world.
The cult was known to exist in the 6th century BC when the hilltop sanctuary of Apollo Maleatas was no longer spacious enough for the public worship of the Epidaurus city-state. The authority and radiance of Asklepios as the most important healer god of antiquity, brought to the sanctuary great financial prosperity, which in the 4th and 3rd centuries BC enabled the implementation of an ambitious building program for the construction of monumental buildings for worship (the temple and the altar of Asklepios, the Tholos, the Abaton, etc.), and later, of buildings mainly secular in character (the Theatre, the Ceremonial Hestiatoreion, the Baths, the Palaestra, etc.). The Asklepieion survived until the end of antiquity, having experienced a second heyday in the 2nd century AD
The Asklepieion have been brought to light through excavations carried out by the Greek Archaeological Society (1879-1926). Since 1985, the Committee has undertaken complementary archaeological research for the Preservation of the Epidaurus Monuments.
The theatre of the Asklepieion of Epidaurus is the ideal specimen of the achievements and experience of the ancient Greeks on theatre construction. Pausanias already praised it in antiquity for its symmetry and beauty.
Designed by Polyclitus the Younger, this theatre is based on a fully circular orchestra.
Typical Hellenistic structure with the three basic parts:
The cavea, the orchestra and the stage building (skene). The longest radius of the cavea is 58 m. while the diameter of the orchestra is about 20 m.
The lower of the two diazomata (sections) is divided with 13 stairways into 12 cunei (with 34 rows of benches) and the upper with 23 stairways into 22 cunei (with 21 rows of benches).
The stage building included a main room with four pillars along the central axis, and one square room at each end. The proskenium had a facade with 14 half-columns against pillars. Two ramps on either side led to the stage while monumental double gates stood at the two entrances.
The theatre was built in two stages. During the first, at the end of the 4th century BC, the orchestra, the lower diazoma and the stage building (in its "pre-Hellenistic" phase) were constructed. During the second, at the middle of the 2nd century BC, the cavea was enlarged at the top, and the stage building was given its "late-Hellenistic" shape.
The theatre was used for musical and poetical contests and theatrical performances.
The acoustics are exceptional and it is true that a penny dropped in the center of the arena can be heard on the back row.