Most Recent Visit: May 2021
Not to be confused with the Sanctuary of Asclepius, which today is the site that many think of as Epidaurus (or Epidauros), the city of Epidaurus was located about 8 kilometers to the northeast of the sanctuary, on the coast of the Saronic Gulf. Today, the archaeological remains are within the area of the present-day town of Palaia Epidavros. According to legend, the city took its name from a hero Epidaurus, who is alternatively described as being a son of Apollo, Argus, or Pelops. Strabo states that the city was originally founded by the Carians, who called it Epikaros. It was then taken over by the Ionians who called it Epidaurus, before it was finally acquired by the Dorians, perhaps owing to the influence of nearby Dorian Argos, who gave it the name of Epidaurus.
The city is mentioned in the earliest Greek literature, being noted in the Illiad as having sent a contingent of soldiers to fight for the Greeks in the Trojan War. The same passage notes Epidaurus as having been particularly notable for the vine growing in the region of the city. It is believed that in the 7th and 6th centuries BCE, Epidaurus was part of the Kalaurian Amphictyony of the cult of Poseidon at Calauria. In the 6th century BCE, however, the city was annexed by Corinth after the Epidauran ruler Procles married his daughter Melissa to the second tyrant of Corinth, Periander, who subsequently murdered Melisssa and took the city. At some point Epidaurous once again broke free of Corinth and though was independent, had close association with Argos and paid religious tax to the city. Colonists from Epidaurus are said to have colonized nearby Aegina as well as the more distant Cos.
Epidaurus is noted as having participated in the Persian Wars by sending 8 ships to the Battle of Artemisium, 800 men to the Battle of Platea, and 10 ships to the Battle of Salamis. When the Peloponnesian War broke out, Epidaurus allied with Sparta and would remain on their side even after the conclusion of the war. The city further participated in the Lamian War to counter Macedonian influence in Greece, and further would join the Achaean League in 243 BCE to attempt to force the Macedonians out. When Roman hegemony came to Greece, though, Epidaurus allied themselves with the Romans (perhaps around 115 BCE) and enjoyed some degree of prosperity. As Corinth became an important city under the Romans, once again, the fortunes of Epidaurus seem to have faded and the city entered a period of decline in the 2nd century CE. An earthquake in the 6th century CE seems to have been the final blow and lead to the probable abandonment of the site.
Getting There: Palaia Epidavros is a little bit out of the way, and it’s not a very big town on top of that. By car, it’s about an hour or so away from Corinth. Public transport is a bit trickier. Like some of the other smaller stops in Greece, there does appear to be some sort of regional transport network, but it’s very difficult to decipher and I’ve been told it changes rather frequently. The only guaranteed transport I could seem to find was related to the Epidaurous Festival, of which the small theater at Palaia Epidavros is venue, and the special buses that are booked from some of the major cities in the area to ferry ticket holders to the venue and back. Those are, of course, in the evening and leave little in the way for time to explore. As such, a, personal vehicle seems to be the most efficient way to get here.
There isn’t a whole lot to see of the ancient city of Epidaurus. About a kilometer and a half south/southeast of the modern town of Palaia Epidavros, at Gliati Beach, is the so-called ‘Sunken City of Epidaurus’. A little bit off shore are some remains of a Roman villa that are now under water. It’s supposed to be great for diving or snorkeling to see, but unfortunately isn’t really visible from the shore, as it’s a solid 50 meters out to see before there is anything even remotely near the surface that could be visible. A few bits stick out above the water, but, again, it’s a bit too far off shore to really make heads or tails of anything or see any form of the villa.
A bit closer to town is the so-called Small (or Little) Theater of Epidaurus. This is a name used to distinguish it from the much larger and more famous theater at the nearby Sanctuary of Asklepios. There’s a small parking area just to the west of the theater. Though it was supposed to host some performances as part of the Epidaurus Festival later in the summer, when I visited the theater it was closed and seemed to be in the midst of renovations. At the time of writing, it was still listed as being temporarily closed, presumably because of these ongoing interventions. As such, the theater can’t be entered. But, true to its name, the theater is comparatively pretty small, and so it can really be pretty adequately seen from outside the fence that surrounds it.
This theater seems to have been built in the 4th century BCE with a capacity of about 2,000 spectators. Pausanias fails to mention the presence of a theater at Epidaurus city in his 2nd century CE description, so there is some thought that it may have fallen into disuse by that time. There are definitely some brick construction elements in some of the outer structures of the theater, so there was certainly some kind of Roman activity in the immediate area of the theater. It does seem to have been altered to suit the Roman theater design sometime after Roman hegemony came to the area. Though the lack of access prevented visual confirmation, there are apparently still some inscriptions present on some of the seats, of which a fair amount remain in pretty good condition.
To the northwest of the theater is another set of remains, also fenced off with no access, but visible from a couple vantage points. English language Information is pretty sparse about a lot of the remains here. Some sources mention a Roman era bathing complex being excavated in the vicinity of the theater, so that may be what is here. A partial wall in brickwork, laid on top of larger block construction would seem, again, to indicate the presence of a Roman period of occupation on that specific area. It seems to be fairly recently excavated, within the last couple of years, or possibly even ongoing (it was fairly early in the summer when I visited, perhaps before work could be started for the summer).
Between the theater and the probable baths is a road that heads up the hill. It’s navigable by car, I saw a few in the time I was there, but, it’s fairly steep at the start and does become a bit rough at a certain point. Plus, it’s a very short walk up this road (maybe about 100 meters past the top of the theater) until a trail heads off to the right toward the Zoodochos Pigi church (Ζωοδόχου Πηγής). There is a trail that runs right above the theater, offering different vantages of the theater, but the trail to the church Is up a bit farther. An unofficial looking sign points out the direction to the church. It’s another 125 meters or so on the trail, which is very clearly a trail for most of the way, despite the fact that it zigs and zags a little bit, to the church. The church is not much to look at, but beyond the church a few meters to the south are the remains of the acropolis of Epidaurus.
Once again, the information on the remains is a little sketchy. There are supposedly some foundations of buildings, probable temples in the vicinity of the church, but much of the area is pretty well overgrown. There is a fairly significant construction with standing walls. Obviously not Greek in nature (courses of brickwork), but perhaps a little later than Roman. In form, it looks like it could be a church. There’s definitely some constructions to the west of the building, but, the landscape and vegetation made it very difficult to find a path to that side of the Acropolis.
West of this structure, though, are some Greek era fortifications that protected the acropolis. These are fairly robust in nature, and there’s actually a significant course of the wall remaining; over 100 meters in length of the wall are visible. They start about 80 meters south/southwest of the church and then run northward toward the church, actually passing to the east of it just a couple meters. Some of the wall is very clearly from above the course of the wall, as the terrain of the acropolis is essentially at the level of the top of the wall, but there are a few places to get down and to a lower elevation east of the wall, at which point more of the wall can actually be seen.
Epidaurus is a relatively quick stop, given that the acropolis is really the only area that allows for free movement, the other stops just allow visitation from outside the fence. All told, I spent probably about a half an hour, including transit to and from the acropolis. There isn’t anything in the way of any sort of information on site, not even in Greek, which is a little frustrating given that the theater is still used as a venue for the rather important Epidaurus Festival. But, also the fact that nothing has admission means that it’s a perfect little stop either before or after visiting the more popular sanctuary site, particularly coming from Corinth, as it is right along the way.
Grant, Michael. A Guide to the Ancient World: A Dictionary of Classical Place Names. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1997.
Herodotus. Historiai, 3.50, 8.2.
Homer. Illiad, 2.561.
Pausanias. Hellados Periegesis, 2.8.5, 2.28.8.
Smith, William. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography. Walton & Murray, 1870.
Stillwell, Richard, William L. MacDonald, and Marian Holland. McAllister. The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. Princeton, NJ: Princeton U Press, 1976.
Strabo. Geographika, VIII.6.1, VIII.6.10-16.