The village of Palaiá Epídavros is a coastal settlement with plenty of life and nature around it. It is a preferred destination for yachts since many years now, due to its natural beauty and its ancient history (ancient city, Asklipiós sanctuary, ancient theatre of Epídavros).
The ancient Epídavros took its name from the hero of the Trojan Wars Epídavro. It was built SE of today’s location, on the characteristic peninsula of the S side of Palaiá Epídavros bay (named Nisí peninsula), whereas its harbour was situated where today’s harbour is. As a matter of fact, if you dive immediately S of the harbour, you will see the ancient pier and foundations of buildings at 3 – 4m depth.
The ancient city, as we known it today through the excavations, was founded by Diifóntis and his Dorians, around the 12th century BC. Diifóntis was married to Yrnithó, daughter of king Tímenos of neighbouring Árgos. The couple was very happy and with the blessings of the father-in-law Tímenos, who had actually promised his whole kingdom to Diifóntis. What is missing from our story? The two bad guys, the brothers of Yrnithó, who naturally wanted to break the happiness in their brother-in-law household (and thus inherit the kingdom). With malice, they managed to trick and kidnap their sister and left at night for Árgos. Diifóntis pursued, killed one of the brothers, but hesitated with the second one because he was holding his wife. He went close in order to grab her but the second brother, when faced with the inevitable, strangled (the pregnant) Yrnithó and threw her off the chariot in order to save himself. Unfortunately, he did (the story does not have a good ending), because Diifóntis, heartbroken, broke the pursuit and buried his wife (and kid) where she died, a little outside the city, in a grove he named Yrníthion.
The ancient area of Epidavría, with Epídavros as its capital, has known great prosperity in the 1st millennium BC. Built in a strategic position, with the natural defense of the surrounding mountains and hills but also the best harbour in NE Peloponnese (the ancients used both bays bilaterally of Nisí peninsula), had good commercial relationships with the strongest neighbouring cities, Árgos, Náfplio and Corinth from land and Athens, Aígina by sea. The operation of the two, renowned throughout Greece, healing centres attracted pilgrims and patients, together with their gifts, offerings and expenditure. The acme of Epídavros was such that, apart from taking part in the most important events of the classical era, it founded colonies one of which is Epídavros Limirá in the area of Máni (E coast of Pelopónnisos, close to Monemvasiá).
At a distance of 10 km approximately, lies the ancient theatre of Epídavros, the most well known and well preserved theatre in the world and the only one operating for more the 2000 years continuously. It is the work of architect Polýkleitos from Árgos in the 3rd century BC., which was later improved in the 2nd century BC but also by the Romans, in order to reach the form and the capacity we know today. The theatre has a marvelous acoustic, you should experience it yourselves. The only thing you need to do is to have your wife / husband sit at the higher levels and you whisper in the middle of the theatre one of your large secrets. You can always claim later that you yourself were acting…
In the area of the theatre, in antiquity, there was also the Asklipiós temple and sanctuary, the largest therapeutic centre at the time, with “branches” in Athens, Kos and Rome. According to the findings, its operation started on the 6th century BC. And it is believed it was built to accommodate the multitude of people visiting the then already existing sanctuary of Apóllon Maleáta, ruins of which can be seen on the N side of mount Kynórtio (the first mountain as we look north from the ancient theatre). For some centuries, these two sanctuaries operated together, up until the 1st century BC. when the sanctuary of Apóllon Maleáta was abandoned.
The ancient theatre of Epídavros and the Asklipiós sanctuary can be visited and are also accompanied by a remarkable archaeological museum. Also, during July and August every year, the Festival of Epídavros is held, in which troupes from all over the world perform exclusively ancient plays. The program each year is publish on the official site of the festival http://aefestival.gr