UQ Ancient Greece Study Tour – The Theatre of Epidaurus

Ethan Clark-Kistowski, third year undergraduate student at the University of Queensland shares his insights of the 2020 Study Tour

It was a lovely winter afternoon, on one sunny day just a few short months ago when as part of the UQ Ancient Greece Study Tour, I got to visit the Theatre of Epidaurus. After touring Athens, the Isthmus of Corinth and the Acrocorinth itself, our group arrived in the afternoon at the Theatre of Epidaurus. Being both an Archaeology and Ancient History student, I was really excited to see such a wonderful site.

Already it promised to be a pleasant site, nestled amongst a peaceful forest and the rolling hills of the Argolid Peninsula. To my joy, we were greeted by some of the cats of the site as our bus rolled up to the front gates, and we soon made our way inside to the Theatre itself, where we learned about the site and both its ancient and modern history from a fellow student (we all had to present on two topics as part of the UQ Tour of Greece).

After the informative and educational presentation, we were all allowed to explore the site. I, and a few others, stayed behind to climb to the top of the theatre to test the acoustics, and found out, that sound really does carry well. The condition of the site was also superb with most of the seating surviving, no doubt aided by the fact that unlike many theatres, this one was not converted by the Romans to be used for gladiator fights.

UQ Students exploring the Theatre of Epidaurus. Photo Holly Otto

We then slowly explored the rest of the site, but not before becoming lost and looping back to the Theatre itself. Nevertheless, we eventually found our way to massive dormitories of the Asklepieion of Epidaurus and marvelled at the sheer scale of the architecture that could still clearly be seen today. The Rotunda, even if it looked more like a construction site, was also inspiring. We then made our way to one of the gates and were able to find the scratches made by wheels, and the graffiti scrawled by later Christians upon them.

The ruins of the Asklepieion. Photo Ethan Clark-Kistowski
The Rotunda of Epidaurus- Under (Re)construction. Photo Ethan Clark-Kistowski
Christian Graffiti by the Main Gate. Photo Ethan Clark-Kistowski

More information on Epidaurus, the Theatre and the Asklepieion during the Ancient World can be found in Pausanias’s Travel Guide of course.

Soon however, the day drew to a close and as the sun began to dip towards the horizon, we had to make our way back to our bus, but not before making a quick last-minute rush to the site gift store to buy souvenirs of our visit. And then we rolled off, to continue deeper into the Peloponnese.

Reflecting on that visit, so many weeks ago, words cannot describe how in awe of the site I was. Having studied both Archaeology and Ancient History, I quickly got use to the idea that in my studies, I would almost never get to see a relatively intact site like this- pottery sherds are the classic example of most material we examine, especially in the classical world. I am so grateful that the trip allowed me to explore this site with my classmates and learn more about it from them.

And just with so many things that preserve so well, it was not the intentional acts of humans that led to the site coming down to us- rather it was the site being forgotten about due to its isolated nature, and nature slowly reclaiming it, with soil covering the site through erosion. And then it was archaeologists who uncovered it in the modern era and restored it to the world.

Perhaps the most amazing thing of this amazing site (other than the cats!) is the fact that the theatre is still used as a theatre during the summer today as part of the Epidaurus Festival, with some performances even being of Classical Greek Drama. While no plays will be staged there this year in all likelihood, thanks to Covid-19, the continuity between its ancient and modern functions shows a respectful and creative use of the site, that was only made possible thanks to excellent preservation and skillful restoration.  

Personally, I think the playwrights and actors who long ago staged plays in the Theatre would be most pleased by the fact that 2,000 years later, it is once again being used to stage some of those same plays that they may have put on.

All in all, the UQ Ancient Greece Tour is an amazing experience, and I would strongly encourage anyone who has even a passing interest in archaeology, ancient history or art history to apply.

Ethan Clark-Kistowski is a Third Year Student at UQ who embarked upon the 2020 UQ Ancient World Study Tour. He studies both an Extended Ancient History and an Extended Archaeological Sciences Major at UQ through a dual degree. He is a keen lover of the Hellenistic Era, archaeology and cats and can be contacted using the following email:
e.clarkkistowski@uq.net.au

Contacts

Dr Stavros Paspalas – Acting Director
Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens, Room 480, Madsen Building (F09), University of Sydney NSW 2006 Australia
+61 2 9351 4759 +61 (0)2 9351 7693 arts.aaia@sydney.edu.au