maandag 29 juli 2013

Greece, Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus

In a small valley in the Peloponnesus, the shrine of Asklepios, the god of medicine, developed out of a much earlier cult of Apollo (Maleatas), during the 6th century BC at the latest, as the official cult of the city state of Epidaurus. Its principal monuments, particularly the temple of Asklepios, the Tholos and the Theatre - considered one of the purest masterpieces of Greek architecture – date from the 4th century. The vast site, with its temples and hospital buildings devoted to its healing gods, provides valuable insight into the healing cults of Greek and Roman times.


In a small inner Argolid valley surrounded by rocky heights only thinly covered by the meagre vegetation of Mediterranean scrub, the archaeological site of Epidaurus sprawls over several levels. At an altitude of 430 m, the Sanctuary of Apollo Maleatas overlooks the rest of the ruins. Lower down, to the south-west, at approximately 360 m, is the Theatre. Finally, the Sanctuary of Asclepios and its various buildings - baths, gymnasium, palaestra, stadium and katagogeion (dormitories for patients) - stretch over a western shelf located at between 320 m and 330 m altitude.
This vast site (although only an area of 520,000 m2 is state property, construction has been forbidden throughout the entire valley from floor to crest) is a tribute to the healing gods of Epidaurus - Apollo, Asclepios, and Hygeia. Legend has it that Asclepios was the fruit of Apollo's love for a daughter of the king of Orchomenes. In the 6th century a cult dedicated to him was established at Epidaurus, where archaeological excavations uncovered a sanctuary dating from the much earlier Mycenaen period.
By the 5th century the sanctuary already enjoyed great renown, both for the miraculous cures that occurred there and for the games held every four years and the stadium dates from that time. Epidaurus entered its greatest period in the 4th century BC, when the Temple of Apollo Maneates and the great monuments of the Hieron were built. The Hieron includes the Temple of Asclepios, the Tholos, the Enkoimeterion, where the sick awaited their cures, the Baths of Asclepios, and above all the incomparable Theatre, rightfully considered one of the purest masterpieces of Greek architecture. Epidaurus continued to flourish during the Hellenistic period. Despite pillaging by Sulla in 87 BC and by Cilician pirates, the restored sanctuary prospered during the Roman period, as witnessed by the famous description by Pausanias in AD 150.
The group of buildings comprising the Sanctuary of Epidaurus bears exceptional testimony to the healing cults of the Hellenic and Roman worlds. The temples and the hospital facilities dedicated to the healing gods constitute a coherent and complete ensemble. . It exerted an influence on all the asclepieia in the Hellenic world, and later on all the Roman sanctuaries of Esculape. The emergence of modern medicine in a sanctuary originally reputed for the psychology-based miraculous healing of supposedly incurable patients is directly and tangibly illustrated by the functional evolution of the Hieron of Epidaurus and is strikingly described by the engraved inscription on the remarkable steles preserved in the Museum.
The Theatre, the Temples of Artemis and Asclepios, the Tholos, the Enkoimeterion, and the Propylaea make the Hieron of Epidaurus an eminent example of a Hellenic architectural ensemble of the 4th century BC. In particular, the theatre, an architectural masterpiece by Polycletes the Younger of Argos, represents a unique artistic achievement through its admirable integration into the site and the perfection of its proportions and acoustics.

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