The ruins of an ancient Greek healing temple and amphitheatre have Tamara Pitelen pondering gods and Grecian bottoms.

The word ‘awesome’ is chucked about a lot, usually on things that don’t really inspire genuine awe.

Once upon a time, the word ‘awesome’ was used to describe something sublime or powerful that overwhelms a person with feelings of reverence, admiration, or fear.

These days it’s used to describe anything, eg, ‘Wow, this hazelnut-flavoured latte is awesome.’ Occasionally though, an opportunity comes along to use the word as it was originally intended. For me, such an opportunity presented itself on a visit to the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Epidavros (AKA Epidaurus).

A couple of hours drive from Athens, Epidavros in the Peloponnese region of Greece dates back to 4th Century BC when it was the site of a well-known healing centre and a huge amphitheatre for the putting on of those famous Greek dramas. Not much remains of the healing centre but the amphitheatre is in remarkably good condition and is a large and solid reminder of how jolly clever those ancient Greeks were.

Plus the place reeks of history. Today, you can sit on the steps of this ancient amphitheatre and you know your bottom is placed in exactly the spot where ancient Greek bottoms were sat some 2,500 years ago and your eyes are scanning the same breathtaking landscape that probably looks pretty much like it did back then.

That’s awesome in itself but wait, there’s more. The amphitheatre is made up of 55 symmetrical, semi-circular rows and seats up to 14,000 people. ‘So what?’ you say. Well, back in the days before microphones and sound systems, building a theatre for an audience of thousands and making sure everyone could hear the actors was no mean feat. Epidavaros is an acoustic marvel in that respect.

This auditory phenomenon is something that every visitor today tests out. If you’re visiting with a friend, one of you climbs to the very top row of the theatre while the other stays in the middle of the stage then starts speaking, clapping, yodeling etc. To be fair, you should then swap places.

Don’t ask me how it’s done but the shape of amphitheatre carries the unamplified voice right to the very furthest corner of the audience (yes, I tested it myself, I was the one who tried running up the 55 steps to the top of the theatre,  that’s a great heart rate booster just by the way).

Apparently, the limestone seats filter out low-frequency noises like the chatter of the crowd and amplify high-frequency sounds from the people on stage. Like I said, awesome.

In fact, this place is such a wonder re its acoustics that some modern day experts can’t decide whether it’s the result of design or dumb luck. I think those clever Greek architects knew exactly what they were doing.

Just past the amphitheatre is the other reason that ancient Greeks used to flock to Epidavros, namely the healing temple – which sounds like it was something between a spa retreat and a hospital.

Only the ruins of the ancient healing centre remain today but back in its heyday, the healing centre at Epidavros was the most celebrated in the Classical world. It was built in honour of Greek god of healing, Asclepius, who was the son of Apollo, the god of music. Asclepius was reputedly born in Epidavros.

The healing centre was where the sick and infirm of ancient Greece went to seek cures for whatever ailed them. Apparently, they would first spend the night in a big sleeping hall and the god Asclepius would visit them in their dreams to tell them how to get better, the next day the patient would describe these dreams to a priest who’d advise on a cure.

Like any modern day spa, there was a gymnasium and spring water baths although records from the time also suggest surgeries were carried out under anesthesia of the day such as opium. Happily unlike a modern day spa however, the use of snakes was common in healing rituals, being considered sacred animals. A kind of ‘take two asps and call me in the morning’.

But then again, maybe it still works…

Photo: Flickr CC: Jimmy Baikovicius

Tamara Pitelen

About Tamara Pitelen

Tamara Pitelen is a writer, editor and PR consultant who specialises in wellness and spirituality. Now based in Bath, UK, Tamara has spent 20 years writing for newspapers, magazines and websites whilst living in Dubai, Hong Kong, Japan, England, New Zealand and Australia.