World Heritage #0491 – Sanctuary of Asklepios

Published 26.04.2023Greece, Southern Europe, World Heritage Sites

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The Sanctuary of Asklepios in Greece was important in the transition between the healing god cults and modern medicine.

The UNESCO World Heritage List includes over a thousand properties. They have outstanding universal value and are all part of the world’s cultural and natural heritage.

Official facts

  • Official title: Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus
  • Country: Greece
  • Date of Inscription: 1988
  • Category: Cultural

UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre’s short description of site no. 0491:

In a small valley in the Peloponnesus, the shrine of Asklepios, the god of medicine, developed out of a much earlier cult of Apollo (Maleatas), during the 6th century BC at the latest, as the official cult of the city state of Epidaurus. Its principal monuments, particularly the temple of Asklepios, the Tholos and the Theatre – considered one of the purest masterpieces of Greek architecture – date from the 4th century. The vast site, with its temples and hospital buildings devoted to its healing gods, provides valuable insight into the healing cults of Greek and Roman times.

About the sanctuary of Asklepios

UNESCO states that the Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus is a remarkable testament to the healing cults of the Ancient World. It is a witness to the emergence of scientific medicine. Among the monuments of the Sanctuary is the striking Theatre of Epidaurus. It is renowned for its perfect architectural proportions and exemplary acoustics. The Theatre, together with the Temples of Artemis and Asklepios, the Tholos, the Enkoimeterion and the Propylaia, comprise a coherent assembly of monuments that illustrate the significance and power of the healing gods of the Hellenic and Roman worlds.

They describe the sanctuary as the earliest organised sanatorium. Its significance is due for its association with the history of medicine, providing evidence of the transition from belief in divine healing to the science of medicine. Initially, in the 2nd millennium BCE it was a site of ceremonial healing practices with curative associations. They were later enriched through the cults of Apollo Maleatas in the 8th century BCE and then by Asklepios in the 6th century BCE. The Sanctuary of the two gods was developed into the single most important therapeutic centre of the ancient world.

What is most important is that these practices subsequently spread to the rest of the Greco-Roman world. The Sanctuary thus became the cradle of medicine. In short, the site is one of the most complete ancient Greek sanctuaries of Antiquity and is significant for its architectural brilliance and influence.

My visit

I must admit that this heritage site did not appeal much to me. It could be that the rainy day in the Easter week of 2023 contributed to this impression. At the time it felt is if this very site was not one of the most important heritage sites in the history of mankind. Of course, I was wrong. Anyway, this was interesting, but not much more.

I parked my car, walked up the long road to the ticket office, and visited the museum. It was kind of interesting. After this I walked through the area. I stopped at the information boards and surveyed the pillars and ruins. That was all. Some world heritage sites are like this: Been there, done that.

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