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2,400-Year-Old Healing Temple dedicated to Asclepius

2,400-Year-Old Healing Temple dedicated to Asclepius, God of Healing, Excavated in Greece

Archaeologists in Greece excavated an ancient healing temple in the acropolis of Feneos dedicated to Asclepius, god of healing, in 2015. Along with the foundations of the sacred temple, researchers also found an enormous statue of Asclepius, and his daughter Hygeia; an elaborate mosaic floor, marble podiums, and offering tables.

International Business Times reported that the 2,400-year-old temple, known as an Asclepion (a healing temple dedicated to the god Ascelpius) was first discovered in 1958. However, archaeologists have only recently carried out extensive excavations of the site and have been able to piece together the layout of the site, as well as unearth numerous important artifacts.

Asclepius, the God of Healing

Asclepius, a son of Apollo, was a god of medicine in ancient Greek mythology. We are all familiar with Asclepius in a way, since the symbol that is used for medicine, the snake entwined staff, was the rod of Asclepius. According to mythology, Asclepius was brought up by the mysterious figure of ancient Greek mythology, the centaur Chiron, who raised Asclepius and taught him about the art of medicine. Because Asclepius used his powers to bring people from Hades (meaning resurrecting them), the God of Hades complained to Zeus because Asclepius converted many people from humans to immortals. The result was for Zeus to kill Asclepius with thunder.

Asclepius with his serpent-entwined staff, Archaeological Museum of Epidaurus

Asclepius with his serpent-entwined staff, Archaeological Museum of Epidaurus ( Public domain )

Asclepions – Healing Temples dedicated to Asclepius

Asclepions were holy temples for worshiping Asclepius, but at the same time they were the first known hospitals in the history of western civilization. There were approximately 320 Asclepions (hospitals) in Ancient Greece. Disease was considered a result of multiple social, environmental, psychological, spiritual, emotional and physical interactions. As such, physicians took a holistic approach to treatment, which included psychotherapy, massage, herbal remedies, mud and bathing treatments, surgeries and the drinking of water, which were prescribed according to what dreams the patient had experienced – it was believed that dreams recounted a visit by Asclepius, who held the key to curing all illness.

There was even a theatre at the Asklepion, to entertain the patients who would often stay for weeks. All of this was done in the belief that healing was a sacred art and that people’s souls needed to be mended as well as their bodies.

Asclepion at Feneos

The Greek Ministry of Culture has revealed that in the recently excavated Asclepion at Feneos, Corinth, archaeologists found an inscribed pedestal with a very large statue of Asclepius, along with his daughter Hygieia, the goddess of health, cleanliness, and sanitation, which had been carved by famous ancient Greek sculptor Attalus.

Marble relief of Asclepius and his daughter Hygieia. From Therme, Greece, end of the 5th century BC. Istanbul Archaeological Museums.

Marble relief of Asclepius and his daughter Hygieia. From Therme, Greece, end of the 5th century BC. Istanbul Archaeological Museums. ( Public domain )

“In the centre of the hall there is a mosaic floor with geometric shapes, guilloches and meander,” reports International Business Times. “In a second room, north of the main hall, there was a podium that would have had two bronze statues standing on it. These were later replaced by stone. In front of the podium was a marble offering table. A room to the south was also found, but its function and purpose is unclear – the only marker is a window in the north-eastern end. The excavation also showed how the outdoor courtyard (which had been found previously) was in a 'P' shape and that the path of the peristyle and courtyard led to the entrance to the sanctuary via a ramp. The courtyard was plastered with mortar in a range of colours and lion head gutters.”

An area within the ancient healing temple with fragments from a statue. Greek Ministry of Culture

An area within the ancient healing temple with fragments from a statue. Greek Ministry of Culture

Archaeologists have determined that some parts of the temple were first constructed in the 4th century BC, while the main construction occurred 200 years later. The temple was largely destroyed during an earthquake in the 1st century AD.

Today, thousands of people still travel to ancient Asklepions every year in the hopes of being healed. Tradition says that the ancient therapies based on both psychological and physical treatments were highly successful in restoring health.

And in 2016, it was announced that visitors will soon be able to experience the Asclepieion on the southern slope of the famous Acropolis of Athens as well. Architect Rosalia Christodoulopoulou began researching the site in 1993 and has found a total of 450 parts of the temple in different stone piles. Now there are plans underway to reconstruct the ancient temple. Athens Polytechnic Professor Manolis Korres, who is also in charge of the preservation of the Acropolis monuments, told Greek Reporter , “It was a monument that existed on paper, but it was considered lost as a building. Suddenly, thanks to Rosalia’s work, there is plenty of material. This is very important for the topography of the south slope. All the marbles are there.”

Two sanctuaries had been built on the location, one in 420-419 BC and the second during the 1st century BC. The team has decided to reconstruct the second phase of that Asclepieion.

Featured image: The site at Feneos. Greek Ministry of Culture.

By Joanna Gillan

 

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