“The Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus is the most perfect theatre in the world in terms of aesthetics and acoustics.” – the University of Patras
Carved into the side of Mount Kynortio, the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus dominates the area surrounding it. The theater, which sits at the southeastern end of a sanctuary dedicated to Asclepius, the theater is often referred to as the “birthplace of art and theater”.
The Sanctuary of Asclepius in Epidaurus is considered the most important healing center of the ancient world, the place where the science of medicine was born. The Theatre of Epidaurus today is a beehive of cultural activities in the summer season, as well as one of the world’s most memorable cultural monuments.
Recently, a team of six professors from the University of Patras reported on extensive research into the theater that concluded; “the measurements confirm the theatre’s excellent acoustics and speech intelligibility, for all the typical listener positions tested.” The story also revealed that guests of the theater could hear actors or singers equally well, no matter where they were seated in the theater. In other words, the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus has perfect acoustics, and the natural echo of a voice can be heard from one end of the theater to the other.
Built more than 2,500 years ago, the theater today is seen as an icon, and performing there is an intense honor, especially for Greek artists. Performances at the theater these days mimic those of the past, but contemporary adaptations of the classics are also performed by such famous movie icons and stage stars as Melina Mercouri, Katina Paxinou, Alekos Alexandrakis, Manos Katrakis, Anna Synodinou, Kostas Kazakos, and of course the “national Greek star” Aliki Vougiouklaki.
The first modern performance conducted at the theatre was a 1938 performance of Sophocles’s tragedy Electra directed by Dimitris Rontiris, starring Katina Paxinou and Eleni Papadaki. Theatrical performances were organized into a festival back in 1954, and since 1955 the Epidaurus Festival continues to thrill audiences in the summer.
Since 1988, the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus, along with all findings in the archaeological site of the sanctuary of Asclepius, have been added to the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. The video above from Rick Steves offers other clues and information about this magnificent theater.
Interestingly, another study by the Georgia Institute of Technology reported that the perfect acoustics of the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus is not owing to the slope of the hillside, but to the design and construction of the seats.
The Georgia Tech experiment used ultrasonic waves and numerical simulations at the theater to discover the source of the perfect acoustics. Researchers discovered that certain frequencies were muffled, while other frequencies were allowed to ring out. According to the scientists, the corrugated surface of the seats created an acoustical padding effect like that of a modern sound stage.
Visitors to the theater will also be introduced to nearby archaeological wonders such as the Stadion – where sports events and competitions took place, the Gymnasium – the building where teenagers gathered to exercise, the Odeon – a place for mental and physical relaxation through music, called the first “rehab center”, by many archaeologists today, along with the Epidaurus museum.