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The Sanctuary of Asklepios, once the most famous healing center in the ancient world, is today best known for the Theater at Epidauros, remarkably well preserved because it was buried at some time in antiquity and remained untouched until it was uncovered in the late 19th century. Built in the 4th century BC with 14,000 seats, the theater was never remodeled in antiquity, and because it was rather remote, the stones were never quarried for secondary building use. The extraordinary qualities of the theater were recognized even in the 2nd century AD. Pausanias of Lydia, the 2nd-century AD traveler and geographer, wrote, "The Epidaurians have a theater in their sanctuary that seems to me particularly worth a visit. The Roman theaters have gone far beyond all the others in the world...but who can begin to rival Polykleitos for the beauty and composition of his architecture?" In addition, the acoustics of the Polykleitos the Younger's theater are so perfect that even from the last of the 55 tiers every word can be heard. The theater is the setting for a highly acclaimed summer drama festival, with outstanding productions.
The Sanctuary of Asklepios is dedicated to the god of healing, the son of Apollo who was allegedly born here. The most important healing center in the ancient world drew visitors in search of a cure from throughout Greece and the colonies. The sanctuary is in the midst of a decades-long restoration project, but you can see the ruins of the Sleeping Hall, where clients slept in order to be visited by the gods in their dreams and told which cure to follow, as well as the enormous Guest House, with 160 rooms, and the Tholos, where serpents that were said to cure with a flick of the tongue were housed in a maze of labyrinths. Some copies of sculptures found among the ruins are in the site museum ( the originals are in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens) along with ancient medical instruments, votives, and inscriptions expressing the gratitude of the cured. Heading south from the isthmus on Highway 70, don't take the turnoffs for Nea Epidauros or Palaio Epidauros; follow the signs that say "Ancient Theatre of Epidauros."
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