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A day in the Peloponnesian Hills

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF A GOD

The gods of Greece got the best addresses, and Asklepios was no exception.Asklepios was the only god personally approachable by individuals.And approach him they did, at his principal temple at Epidaurus in the Peloponnesian hills.A place of last resort for the blind, the lame, the sick and wounded, the pine-scented air and wide, gentle landscape of the Sacred Grove must have been therapeutic in themselves.

At present, the ruins are little more than heaps of stones; you need an imagination almost as vivid as that of the early cureseekers to envision the Sanctuary in its former glory. But an interesting small
museum was established at Epidaurus, soon after excavations of the site began in 1905, to exhibit finds from the dig.These include steles dating from the 4th century B.C. that detail some 70 cures attributed to the physician-god.

Objects once in daily use at the sanctuary are exhibited, along with offerings from patients..There are also marble sculptures and plaster casts of sculptures that were removed to the National Archaeological Museum. Particularly interesting are columns and cornices that give an idea of how magnificent the original structures must have been. You get a more vivid idea from the elegant reconstructions in the guidebook available at the desk.The guide also includes a site plan,
and with this in hand, it’s worth doubling back to approach the sanctuary, not from the museum, but as pilgrims did, through the once monumental gateway.

Over grass and broken cobbles you’ll pass the foundations of 29 structures, including a hotel built to accommodate 160 guests, a hospital, and most importantly, the Abato in which supplicants slept awaiting a curative dream visit from Asklepios and his snake. (And, of course, the god’s serpent-coiled staff became the symbol of medicine.) As the cult modernised over time, the Asklepeion added exercise and entertainment to its therapeutic regime and the ruins of a gymnasium and a stadium have been excavated.The Asklepeions’s 4th century BC theatre, however, is no ruin. Almost intact, it is considered the best preserved Greek theatre in existence and is still in use.

GETTING THERE

It is 160km from Athens to Epidaurus, but when the city’s unlovely suburbs have been left behind, you follow a pleasant road running through fragrant forests of pine, cypress, oregano and oleander. The Aegean Sea is on one side, and an inlet of the Ionian Sea on the other: the road crosses the six kilometre Corinth canal that connects the two. You can make the excursion in less than six hours, but it’s tempting to round out the day with a visit to Poseidon’s temple or to Nafplio, the first capital of liberated Greece.

I hired an air-conditioned car with driver from “George’s Taxi Tours”. I highly recommend them. Contact George by email at georgetaxitours@yahoo.com, or phone George at 210 963 7030 when you arrive in Athens.

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