22.2.17

The Great Theatre of Ancient Epidaurus

The theatre of Epidaurus represents the finest and best-preserved example of a classical Greek theatre. Even by today's standards, this monument stands out as a unique artistic achievement through its admirable integration into the landscape and above all the perfection of its proportions and incomparable acoustics. It was built in 330-20 BC and enlarged in the mid-2nd century AD. 

The overall 55 rows of seats rest on a natural slope and face the stage area set against a backdrop of lush landscape. The theatre is marvelled for its exceptional acoustics. Any sound on the open-air stage, whether a stentorian voice or a whisper, a deep breath or the sound of a match struck is perfectly audible to all spectators, even in the topmost row of seats, that is, nearly 60 m away. 
The answer to what makes the sound transmit so well comes from recent scientific studies: The arrangement of the stepped seating rows acts as an acoustic filter that deadens low-frequency background sounds, such as the murmurs of the audience, while amplifying the high-frequency sounds from the stage. 

History
According to Pausanias, the ancient theatre was constructed by the architect Polykleitos the Younger. Pausanias praises the theatre for its symmetry and beauty. At a maximum capacity of 13,000 to 14,000 spectators, the theatre hosted music, singing and dramatic games that were included in the worship of Asclepius.

It was also used as a means to heal patients, since there was a belief that the observation of dramatic shows had positive effects on mental and physical health.

Today, the monument attracts a large number of Greek and foreign visitors and is used for the performance of ancient drama plays. The first modern performance conducted at the Epidaurus theatre was Sofocles's tragedy Electra. It was played in 1938, directed by Dimitris Rontiris, starring Katina Paxinou and Eleni Papadaki.
Performances stopped due to World War II. Theatrical performances, in the framework of the organized festival, began again in 1954. In 1955 they were established as an annual event for the presentation of ancient drama. The Epidaurus Festival continues today and is carried out during the summer months.
The theatre has been sporadically used to host major musical events. In the framework of the Epidaurus Festival, well-known Greek and foreign actors have appeared, including the Greek soprano Maria Callas.

Description
On the headland called "Nesi" at Palaia Epidaurus, the theatre of the ancient city is quite well-preserved, in the shape it acquired during the latter years of its function. Apart from a few rows of seats, the cavea is made of limestone with poros staircases. 
Until now, nine cunei with eighteen rows of seats have been excavated, which originally could accomodate about 2000 spectators. All the benches and thrones of the theatre carry inscriptions with the names of the donors while implying a direct relationship of the monument with the cult of Dionysos. 

From the inscriptions on the monument it is deduced that it was constructed in sections, starting at the middle of the 4th century B.C. and continuing into the Hellenistic period. There may have been an earlier, simpler form of the theatre. During the Roman period, the orchestra bacame semi-circular with the erection of a stage nearer to the cavea, of which the lower part has survived until now. Benches from the cavea have been used for the construction of the city-wall, situated on the top of the second hill of the headland. 
The theatre of the city of Epidaurus was discovered in 1970. The excavations began in 1972 by the then director of the Ephorate, Mrs E. Deilaki, and lasted a few months, bringing to light most of the monument. A second, restricted investigation was carried out in 1989, without entirely revealing it. For the required study, the protection and promotion of the theatre, as well as for the consolidation and restoration of the monument, supplementary excavations have been scheduled. Once the required works are in progress, the monument protected and the safety of its visitors assured, the Town Hall of Ancient Epidaurus has the intention to institute a yearly music festival. It will bring to life this small theatre which had been in use for centuries along with the larger and more famous one at the Sanctuary of Asklepios (Lygourio).

Excavations and buildings
The excavations at Epidaurus were executed by P. Kavadias and lasted from 1881 until his death. The excavations were undertaken by the Archaeological Society. Important role in the course of the excavations was the selfless offer of the residents of Lygourio, who, apart from their help, offered their land located near the archaeological site. The first area that the visitor faces upon reaching the archaeological site is the entrance. 
The entrance, which construction dates back to the Mycenaean times, consisted of two galleries with 6 columns each, built in Ionian and Corinthian type. The second building is the temple of Asclepius, which construction lasted for 5 years. It was a Doric temple where Asclepius statue was hosted. The statue was made by Thrasymedes from Paros Island. Behind the temple there was the dome, which was the most famous building of the sanctuary. Other buildings were the house of priests, the temples to Artemis, the temple of Apollo and finally the theatre.

The theatre of the city of Epidaurus was discovered in 1970 and fully excavated in 1989.
The theatre was designed by Polykleitos in the 4th century BC.
The ancient theatre of Epidaurus has been included by UNESCO in its list of World Heritage Sites.
Plays continue to be performed in the theatre as part of the Greek festival season during the months of July & August.
After your tour of the ancient theatre of Epidaurus, you may stop for lunch at any one of the local tavernas in the vicinity or visit the villages of “Koliaki” or “Traxeia” which are famous for their local cheeses, bread and home-made pasta.

Source/Photography/Bibliography

Defrasse A. and Lechat H., Epidaure: restauration et description des principaux monuments d u sanctuaire d’Asclépios, 'Paris, '1895
Γώγος Σ., Γεωργουσόπουλος Κ. – Ομάδα Θεατρολόγων, «ΕΠΙΔΑΥΡΟΣ: το Αρχαίο Θέατρο και οι Παραστάσεις», Αθήνα 2004
A. von Gerkan , W. Müller , Das Theater von Epidaurus, Wiener 1961
Καββαδίας Π., Το Ασκληπιείο της Επιδαύρου Επανέκδοση του έργου Το Ιερόν του Ασκληπιού εν Επιδαύρω και η θεραπεία των ασθενών (Αθήνα 1900)
Καζολιάς Ε., Μελέτη προστασίας, συντήρησης και αποκατάστασης του σκηνικού οικοδομήματος του αρχαίου θεάτρου Επιδαύρου, α΄φάση: άμεσα μέτρα προστασίας και αποκατάστασης των ευπαθών τμημάτων. Επίδαυρος 2010
Β. Λαμπρινουδάκης, Ε. Καζολιάς, Μ. Σοφικίτου, Το πρόγραμμα έρευνας, αποκατάστασης και ανάδειξης του αρχαίου θεάτρου Ασκληπιείου Επιδαύρου, εισήγηση στο Διεθνές Συνέδριο «Το αρχαιολογικό έργο στην Πελοπόννησο», Τρίπολη, 7-11 Νοεμβρίου 2012.
Μπολέτης Κ., Ιστορικό των νεότερων επεμβάσεων στο θέατρο του Ασκληπιείου Επιδαύρου και στον ευρύτερο χώρο του έως το 1989, Αρχαιολογικό, Δελτίο,Ανάτυπο, Μέρος Α΄: Μελέτες, Τόμος 57, 2002
Ομάδα Εργασίας για τη συντήρηση των μνημείων Επιδαύρου, Το Ασκληπιείο της Επιδαύρου: η έδρα του θεού γιατρού της αρχαιότητα, η συντήρηση των μνημείων του, Περιφέρεια Πελοποννήσου, 1999
Παπαχατζής Νικ. Δ. Παυσανίου Ελλάδος Περιήγησις, βιβλίο 2ο: ΛΑΚΩΝΙΚΑ, Μετάφραση, Αθήνα, 1989

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