The ancient Greek theater at Epidaurus

A wonder of ancient architecture and design. Photo: A view from the top

EPIDAURUS, Greece, August 23, 2013 — The theater at Epidaurus is considered the most impressive ancient Greek theater in terms of acoustics and aesthetics. Built in the fourth century B.C., the theater remained buried and therefore almost perfectly preserved until excavation began in 1870.

The theater is a UNESCO World Heritage site, named for its physical and cultural importance to world heritage and history. Holding between 13,000 and 15,000 spectators, the theater is in use today and a must-see on a trip to the Greek Peloponnese.

Located 17 miles east of the city of Napflio and 80 miles from Athens, Epidaurus was originally built to entertain the patients at the sanctuary of Askleipos, known as the largest healing center in the ancient world.

Built by Polykleitos the Younger, the theater is a marvel of acoustics, where you can literally hear a pin drop on the stage from 55 rows up. The theater remained in use for several centuries despite several attacks by Romans, pirates, and an invasion by Goths in 395 A.D. that caused some damage.

The original theater had 34 rows, to which the Romans added an additional 21. Emperor Theodosius II finally banned the theater in 426 A.D., closing it after nearly 1,000 years of use.

Two major earthquakes in 522 and 551 buried the sanctuary and theater almost completely, preserving and protecting the structures until they were re-discovered at the end of the 19th century and excavation on the site began. 

Soon after excavation was completed, the first production—Electra by Sophocles—took place in 1938. The Epidaurus Festival was launched in 1955 and is held every summer with performances and screenings throughout June, July, and August. World-famous actors have performed at Epidaurus in recent years to sold-out crowds. Kevin Spacey’s 2011 performance in Richard III was a sensation that is still talked about and remembered.

In most traditional Greek theaters, the natural backdrop formed an important part of the aesthetics of the theater. Epidaurus is no exception, with a breathtaking view of the mountains and valleys directly behind the stage. 

One cannot speak of the theater of Epidaurus without discussing its astonishing acoustics. Tour guides perpetually strike matches, rustle a sheet of paper, or merely inhale deeply to demonstrate how even the slightest sound can be heard from the top rows. 

For decades scientists attributed some of the theater’s amazing acoustics to sound being carried by the wind.  However, a 2007 study by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology revealed that not only is the theater built in a way that astonishingly amplifies high frequency sound coming from the stage, but the limestone seats also act as natural acoustic traps that filter out low frequency sound, minimizing noise from the crowd. 

“When I first tackled this problem, I thought that the effect of the splendid acoustics was due to surface waves climbing the theater with almost no damping,” said Nico Declercq, a mechanical engineer that worked on the study. “While the voices of the performers were being carried, I didn’t anticipate that the low frequencies of speech were also filtered out to some extent.”

The study found that sound waves up to 500 hertz are minimized and those above 500 hertz are undiminished. 

Visiting Epidaurus is an amazing experience that confronts visitors with the wonders of ancient Greece and the rich history of this amazing country. 

As a side note, the area around Epidaurus is known for its oranges and visitors should try to have a refreshing glass of fresh-squeezed juice during their visit.  

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Laura Sesana

Laura Sesana is a writer and DC, Maryland attorney, joining the Communities in 2012.  She is the author of Colombia: Natural Parks, and has also written several articles on literary criticism.  She writes about food, health, nutrition, women’s legal issues, and the environment.  

In addition to writing for the Communities, Laura also works as an attorney and legal content writer.


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