Many people like to combine their sailing holiday with sight-seeing. It’s easy to spend a day or two in Athens visiting the famous historical sites. But there are other notable places that you shouldn’t overlook. One of the most spectacular is at Epidavros, in the hills above the Saronic Gulf.
Epidavros (also spelt Epidaurus or Epidavhros in English) was supposedly the birthplace of Apollo’s son, Asclepius, the healer. A sanctuary to Asclepius was built about 8 km (5 miles) from the town. This was the most celebrated centre for healing in the Classical world. Sick people would travel long distances to visit Epidavros in the hope of being cured. Within the sanctuary there was a guest house with 160 rooms where patients slept. In their dreams, the god would advise them what they had to do to regain their health. There are mineral springs in the vicinity, which may have been used in healing.
Even after the introduction of Christianity the sanctuary was still known as a healing centre.
You can visit the ruins of the sanctuary but the site is now probably more famous for the theatre built nearly. The theatre originally dates from the 4th century BC, although it was extended in Roman times. It seats 14,000 people and is set in a lush green landscape on the side of a mountain overlooking the sanctuary.
The theatre has exceptional acoustics. You can hear unamplified speech from all the seats, even right at the top. Tour guides often ask their groups to scatter around the stands and demonstrate how they can hear the sound of a match being struck or a coin being dropped at the centre of the stage. A 2007 study by the Georgia Institute of Technology showed that the astonishing acoustic properties may be the result of an advanced design in which the rows of limestone seats filter out low-frequency sounds, such as the murmur of the crowd, and amplify high-frequency sounds from the stage. It is extraordinary to think this was built so long ago.
For centuries the ancient site remained covered beneath a slope of trees. Then, in 1881, several excavations took place. It is now not only a popular site for visitors but plays and concerts are now held in the theatre over the summer months. It is now one of the venues for the Athens & Epidaurus Festival, held every summer. It is an amazing backdrop for an ancient Greek tragedy, opera or orchestral concert.
Over the years, the theatre has hosted both Greek and foreign artists including Callas and Pavarotti. There have even been some pop concerts, although they used amplification rather than relying on the site’s natural acoustics.
INFORMATION FOR SAILORS
If you want to visit Epidavros, you should head for Palaia Epidavros port. It’s one of my favourite places, surrounded by mountains and with a green park immediately behind where you moor. The small town has cafes, bars, restaurants and hotels, several with wifi. Some offer the use of a shower to customers. My favourite is the Poseidon, situated at the water’s edge.
You’ll find a taxi rank near the port where you can take a taxi to the historical site. If you’re on a course with us your instructor can arrange this for you. There is also a bus that runs to / from the site and timetables should be on display near the port.
Entry to the port is straightforward, passing between the port and starboard pillars in the bay (lit at night) Take care of swimmers off the beach to the south. The swimming area is marked by yellow buoys but often people swim outside this area. Post a crew member on your bow to keep a good lookout.
The port can get crowded in mid-summer and sometimes a ferry or trip boat moors at the end of the quay. It’s possible to anchor in the bay but there is often a swell in the late afternoon / early evening. This generally dies down overnight. Epidavros is exposed from the east so unsuitable in strong easterly winds. Luckily, these are not common.