Sensational Archaic building unearthed at Epidaurus Asclepieion in Greece

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Sensational Archaic building unearthed at Epidaurus Asclepieion in GreeceReconstruction of the facade of temple of Aesculapius at Epidaurus Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons License: CC-BY-SA Copyright: Wellcome Collection gallery

Another structure at the Asklepieion sanctuary, within the archaeological site of Epidavros (Epidaurus) in southern Greece, where the eponymous ancient theater is located, has been excavated by archaeologists, with the hereunto unknown building shedding light on the Archaic period, according to experts.

The building was beneath the iconic circular Tholos of the Asklepieion, dedicated to Apollo and his mythical son, Asclepius and dated to the 4th century BC.

The building is rectangular in shape, has a basement the size of the columned ground floor with a mosaic floor and dates to roughly 600 BC.

The Asclepieion of Epidaurus on the Peloponnesian Peninsula is one of the most significant ancient sites in the entire world.

The great theater of Epidaurus, designed by Polykleitos the Younger in the 4th century BC, Sanctuary of Asklepeios at Epidaurus, Greece. Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons License: CC-BY-SA Copyright:Olecorre


Currently, it owes a great deal of its fame to the theater, a wonder of acoustics which is still in operation today, but in ancient times it served as a medical sanctuary, and serious illnesses were healed there.

People from all over the Eastern Mediterranean region flocked to Epidaurus in antiquity to find cures for their various maladies. It was a spacious resort which included guesthouses, a gymnasium, a stadium, and the famous theater, which served to “elevate the soul,” which ancient Greeks saw as the goal of all theatrical plays, both tragedies, and comedies.

Along with its many luxurious facilities, the Asclepieion of Epidaurus offered beautiful, serene natural surroundings, with lush vegetation and spectacular views of the surrounding mountaintops.

According to the poet Hesiod, who was active between 750 and 650 BC, Asclepius, the son of Apollo who was regarded as the ancient Greek god of medicine, was born in Epidaurus.

The new building unearthed at Epidaurus’ Asclepieion area, which was dedicated to this god, gives new insight into the famous sanctuary, mainly concerning the early years of its creation.

It is a structure from the archaic era, whose function is currently unknown. It was built on a site adjacent to where the Tholos, or dome, the most emblematic building of the Asclepieion, is situated.

The building, rectangular in plan, had a basement space corresponding to the ground floor, with mosaics placed in a peristyle form. Based on the information gleaned so far from the excavation, which is still in progress, the building dates back to around the year 600 BC.

University of Athens Professor Vassilis Lamprinoudakis, head of the excavations in ancient Epidaurus, explained to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency that “this means the worship of Asclepius appears to have begun earlier in the Asclepieion of Epidaurus. Until now, it was believed to have begun around 550 BC, i.e., in the middle of the sixth century BC.

Temple of Asclepius in Epidaurus Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons License: CC-BY-SA Copyright: Davide Mauro

 

“Now it is evident that the structures are earlier, and this is particularly important for the history of the sanctuary and for the history of Asclepius himself,” the archaeologist pointed out.

“At the place where the Tholos was later built, a part of a building, a ‘double’ building, with basement and ground floor has been found. Since there is a basement, like in the Tholos, we consider it to be a forerunner of this ‘mysterious’ building called the Tholos,” Lamprinoudakis stressed.

“When it was decided to build the Tholos, this building was demolished. The empty space created by its basement was filled with relics from the old building, but also from other parts of the sanctuary. That is because (when) the great program of the 4th century BC began, some other buildings were also demolished, the material of which was buried with respect in the place,” he continued.

The archaeologist clarified that the name Tholos “was only given to the structure by the ancient traveler Pausanias in the second century AD. Its original name, as we know from the inscriptions of the 4th century BC, was ‘Thymeli.’ Thymeli was a kind of altar (used in sacrifice), in which offerings were made without blood.”

Lamprinoudakis added that “Research tells us that the Tholos was a kind of underground house of Asclepius, where patients were treated by injection.” The patient who slept in this special place would dream of the god Asclepius to reveal to him the cure for his illness. “This former building had a function similar to that of the Tholos, that is, its basement served as the seat of Asclepius on earth,” the archaeologist explained.

“The new building, nevertheless, also gives important clues to the topography of the sanctuary. It explains the orientation of some other constructions that follow,” Lamprinoudakis concluded.

The archaeological excavation at the sanctuary of Asclepius of Epidaurus, which has been carried out by the Department of History and Archeology of the University of Athens since 2016, continues today.

The excavations, carried out with the support of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Argolis, were financed by the organization “Asclipiades” in 2016-2017 and by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation in the years 2018-2019.

 

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