Ancient Greek temples, some around 2,500 years old, were built with disability ramps to improve access for visitors, a new study has revealed.
Archaeologists from California State University re-examined the placement and design of ramps at several Greek buildings, and concluded that they were installed to improve access for disabled locals.
The findings would make these the earliest known evidence of ancient societies adapting their structures for disabled people, further illustrating the much-admired sophistication of architectural design in Ancient Greece.
Access ramps were particularly common at healing sanctuaries, where many mobility-impaired people went in search of help from the healing god Asclepius, the researchers found.
Some buildings older than 4th century BC were likely built with disabled access in mind, experts said.
The Sanctuary of Asclepius at Epidaurus, for example, one of the most important healing sanctuaries in Ancient Greece, had 11 stone ramps installed on nine structures during renovations that started in 370 BC, they said, in a study that was published in the journal Antiquity on Tuesday.
“Archaeologists have long known about ramps on ancient Greek temples, but have routinely ignored them in their discussions of Greek architecture,” the study’s lead author Debby Sneed said in a press release.
“The likeliest reason why ancient Greek architects constructed ramps was to make sites accessible to mobility-impaired visitors,” she said.
It is already known that many visitors to healing sanctuaries had mobility impairments. At one sanctuary in Corinth, many dedications to the god Asclepius represent legs and feet, suggesting that people requested healing of their limbs, researchers said.
Archaeological evidence demonstrates that disability was commonplace, the authors added, noting that 60% of the individuals excavated from a Classical-period cemetery at the site of Amphipolis had osteoarthritis.
The impressive architectural innovation from about 25 centuries ago also highlights the lack of disabled access at many venues today.
Cities around the world have struggled to improve access for impaired people. A UK national travel survey found that adults with mobility difficulties took 39% fewer trips than those with no such disability in 2017.