The work carried out in Epidaurus by the research team from the University of Athens under the direction of Dr. Vassilis Lambrinoudakis, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Athens, in collaboration with the Ephorate of Antiquities of Argolis, has yielded significant results this year.

The central square of the Asclepius sanctuary has been cleared of stones from constructions and votive offerings deposited there since the great excavation in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

This open space in front of the temple, approximately 1,500 square meters, was a key functional element of the sanctuary. It could accommodate the crowds of pilgrims who arrived at the sanctuary to participate in the bloody sacrifice to Asclepius, along with the festive procession.

The central square of Asclepeion, in front of the temple of the god
The central square of Asclepeion, in front of the temple of the god | photo Ministry of Culture of Greece

Bounded to the east by the god’s altar and on both sides by semicircular platforms, votive offerings, and simultaneously seats for prominent families of Epidaurus, it served as a vantage point for observing the ritual of sacrifice.

About 350 stones were relocated to an organized storage facility, while another 100 were temporarily placed in the square for study before being moved. The square now presents its ancient appearance to visitors.

In the large 2nd-century AD building (“Building K”) located west of the sacred avenue, various construction phases are distinguishable, extending until the late 4th century AD. The existence of a peculiar “crypt” is consistent with the use of “Building K” for mystical worship, especially in the late Roman period.

In the city of Epidaurus, not far from the “small theater,” the previously unknown temenos of Asclepius was discovered. Its location is mentioned by the ancient traveler Pausanias. The temenos (a temenos is an area consecrated to a god, within which there may be an altar, buildings, etc.) dates back to the 4th century BC.

However, the phase in which the sanctuary buildings have been preserved is the one formed in the 2nd century AD, likely associated with Emperor Hadrian’s visit to Epidaurus in the year 124 AD.

The sanctuary consists of an outdoor enclosure of 100 square meters, a fountain with a 220-square-meter reservoir, and a stoa in front of them, measuring 128 square meters.

As Pausanias attests, statues of Asclepius and his wife Epione were placed in the outdoor enclosure. On the opposite eastern side, the enclosure wall was stepped, and on its steps, carvings to fix columns or other votive offerings are preserved.

In the center of the enclosure, there was a well with a well-constructed wall, from which a sharply edged underground tunnel led the water to the fountain, which is in contact with the enclosure. Water was a key component in the Asclepion, so the fountain building was monumental in form and dimensions.

The water intake area, in the first operating phase of the sanctuary, had an Ionic-style facade with three columns between pillars, and inside there was a basin with mineral water and basins with rhododendrons.

During the Roman phase, access to the cistern water was incorporated into the gallery built on the western side of the sanctuary, opposite the old water intake and the enclosure. The gallery had a three-tiered cradle and columns coated with mortar. There are indications that it may have served for the consecration process.

Finds from the enclosure, mainly, but also from the surrounding sites, confirm the identification of the site with the temenos of Asclepius.

The most characteristic are a shell with the god’s name engraved, clay tablets with a bust of the deity for hanging, figurines, lamps, and fragments of clay hot water bags. The bronze medical instruments found in previous excavations in the adjacent theater orchestra were likely from the sanctuary.


Sources

Greek Ministry of Culture


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