Why the Amphiareion of Oropos Was A Dream Destination
Because of its rich history, Greece is blessed with many important historic sites. One of the most intriguing is the Amphiareion in Oropos , not far from Athens. This was once a popular sanctuary and oracle temple, and now contains many remarkable ruins. The Amphiareion of Oropos offers visitors a unique insight into Ancient Greece.
The History and Myths of Amphiaraus of Oropos
Oropos was founded by colonists from Euboea in the 8 th century BC. It was located on a strategic point on the border between Attica and Boeotia and was the site of many battles. Amphiareion became important because of a spring that was associated with the hero Amphiaraus. Reputedly he was a Greek king and seer who was greatly honored in his lifetime and was the father of the hero Alcmaeon.
Amphiaraus was one of seven heroes who took part in the attack on Thebes, a doomed attempt to capture the city. During the attack, Amphiaraus was saved from Poseidon by Zeus. The father of the Gods threw his thunderbolt and the hero, along with his chariot, were swallowed by the earth, which is how Amphiaraus is believed to have become a god of the underworld. A hero-cult emerged at Oropos where a sanctuary was built and named in his honor, hence the name Amphiareion.
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Marble votive relief of a chariot race, from Oropos, beginning of the 4th century BC, Pergamon Museum, Berlin. ( Public Domain )
The hero was revered as a great seer and was the demi-god of healing, therefore associated with Asclepius, the god of medicine. Pilgrims came to the sanctuary of Amphiaraus to consult the demi-god about the future. According to Pausanias, the Greek writer, the faithful would sleep in goat skins at the sanctuary and Amphiaraus would send them dreams about their future. Many believed that their maladies could be cured at Amphiareion by bathing in its spring.
The sanctuary was largely constructed in the 5 th century BC. Control of the site switched from Boeotia when Alexander the Great destroyed Thebes in 335 BC and granted control to Athens. A stoa, a covered walkway, was added to the site in the mid-3 rd century BC and a theatre added in the 2 nd century BC.
The Amphiareion was a popular sanctuary for centuries with several festivals held at the site every year, until Theodosius I outlawed all pagan practices in 390 AD. The area was first excavated in the 19 th century and many of the artifacts found are now in museums around the world.
The Sanctuary of Amphiaraus of Oropos
In a ravine between two hills, on massive earthen banks, stands the temple dedicated to Amphiaraus. Built in the Doric hexastyle it had six columns across the front facade. This style was widely used in ancient Greece and influenced many cultures. The cela, or interior, was once spacious with an altar dedicated to five gods . Sadly, all that remains of the temple are fragments of a statue, possibly of Amphiaraus, some dedication bases, and broken colonnades.
South east view from the top of the cavea of the theatre. ( CC BY 2.5 )
The spring and a stream which were believed to have supernatural properties is located adjacent to the ruins of the temple. Those who were healed of sickness would throw coins into the water. Near the spring are the remains of a well-preserved clepsydra, an ancient water-clock, an important find for the study of Ancient Greek timekeeping.
Also near the temple is a small theatre and shrines, now little more than stones. A larger theatre located not far from the temple would once have seated three hundred people. While the outline of the orchestra and rows of seats can still be seen, the proscenium, the stage structure, is well preserved. Five almost intact prohedria, stone seats of honor, have remained in place, as if waiting for the next performance.
Remains of the ancient stoa, once covered by a roof, are now simply colonnades and stone benches. It is believed that visitors would sleep here while the hero sent them dreams.
Remains of the Stoa (4th cent. B.C.) at the Amphiareion of Oropos. (George E. Koronaios / CC0)
The location of an ancient stadium and a hippodrome that were used in the festivals, held in honor of the mythic hero, have not yet been found.
Visiting Amphiaraus in the Waking World
From Athens the site can be reached in under an hour by car, but there is also public transport to Oropos. It is open during day-light hours and display boards give visitors information about the history of the ancient sanctuary. Admission to the Amphiareion is free and set in an area of outstanding natural beauty.
Top image: Theatre of Amphiareion of Oropos. Source: Γεώργιος Βέζας / CC BY-SA 4.0
By Ed Whelan
Lee, S., & Sangduk, L. E. E. (2020 ). Amphiaraos, the Healer and Protector of Attika . Korean Journal of Medical History, 29(1), 275-310