In Ancient Athens, theater was
considered to be the most significant form of art. The stories that
were performed in front of the public incorporated elements of poetry,
dance, music and acting.
nowadays has become a force of creativity and inspiration in every
corner of the planet. Most of us are familiar with Broadway in New
York, Bolshoi Theater in
Moscow, La Scala in Milan, and the Sydney Opera House—but what about
the theaters of yesterday, and all the glory they once carried on their
stages? The following list includes ten of the best-preserved and
significant ancient theaters, mainly of Greek and Roman antiquity.
Amazingly, you can still visit them today.
The Roman ruins of Side—which
are still in fairly good condition—include a temple, city gate, and a
large theater which could seat about 15,000 people. Side is a popular
resort town on the Mediterranean coast of southern Turkey. The city was
founded by Greek settlers in the seventh century B.C., and was one of
most important trade centers in the region. In 25 B.C., Side became part
of the Roman province of Galatia, and prospered through its trade in
olive oil and slaves. The theater existed as the main cultural spot in
the city for many years, and attracted notable people from all over the
The remains of the theater would later be used for gladiator fights—and even, during the explosion of Christianity, as a church.
The Roman Theater of Bosra
an ancient city located in modern-day Syria, just south of Damascus. It
is one of the oldest cities on Earth, mentioned in the fourteenth
century B.C. by Egyptian hieroglyphs. The city was conquered by the
Romans in A.D. 106, and made the capital of Roman Arabia.
The Theater of Bosra was built soon afterwards, seating up to 15,000 people. Because a fortress was built around the theater by the Ayyubid Dynasty,
it is now one of the best preserved Roman theaters in the world. It has
amazing acoustics, a three-storey-high proscenium, and thirty-five rows
as many people know already, was one of the most important sites in
Ancient Greek religion, home to the sanctuary and oracle of Apollo. The
shrine to Apollo at Delphi was dedicated in the eighth century B.C., and
the site played an important role in the Pythian Games. Important
architectural pieces of Delphi today include the Temple of Apollo, the
Treasury of the Athenians, the stadium, and—which is our concern—the
ancient theater of Delphi was built on a hill, giving spectators a view
of the entire sanctuary and the spectacular landscape surrounding it.
It was originally built in the fourth century B.C., and could seat five
thousand spectators. Although excavated and restored, the theater is in a
poor condition; the cavea has subsided, the limestone blocks are
cracking and flaking, and many of its architectural features remain
scattered throughout the area.
The Roman Theater of Amman
The most impressive monument of Jordan to this day is probably the theater,
which was built during the reign of Antoninus Pius, and could hold six
thousand people. The theater and odeon were on two sides of a colonnaded
forum, of which only a small part remains today. These originally stood
beside a stream and a major road, the Decumanus Maximus;
the stream is now in an underground culvert and the road has long since
been built over. A triple-arched gate that once stood to the north of
the forum has also disappeared; it was the entrance to the processional
stairway up to the citadel, and was mentioned by travelers as late as
1948, the theater provided a temporary safe haven for thousands of
Palestinian refugees fleeing their homes in what became Israel. Within
two weeks, Amman’s population nearly doubled.
The Greek Theater of Taormina
Taormina was a Greek colony on the east coast of the island of Sicily. The theater there
was built by the Greeks in the second century B.C. It commands a
fantastic view of all the beautiful places in the vicinity: Etna, the
Bay of Naxos, Castelmola, and the crystal-clear Mediterranean.
theater was renovated and extended by the Romans, and today it is one
of the largest ancient theaters in Sicily, second only to the one in
Syracuse. This wonderful monument is now the seat of Taormina Arte, the
International Film, Theater, and Dance Festival.
Mérida has a quite a few notable buildings, but the theater—sponsored by Consul Marcus Agrippa—is undoubtedly the most significant in the city, and perhaps through the whole Iberian Peninsula.
It’s a good example of
classic Roman theater design. It features three horizontal seating
sections, which corresponded to the social class of the spectators. It
is estimated that the capacity of the theater was about five and a half
later centuries, the theater underwent several restorations which
introduced new architectural elements and decorations. The structure was
restored again in the 1970s, and has remained in its current state ever
since. It still serves today as a place of performance, thanks to the
celebration of a yearly festival of classical theater.
The Theater of Dionysus
The Theater of Dionysus, which lies practically in the shadow of the Acropolis, is believed to be the most ancient theater in the world.
During the Classical era, Athenian drama was performed here during the celebration of the Great Dionyssia, one of the major religious festivals of the city.
Believed to have been built by descendants of the tyrant Peisistratos,
it has seen many subsequent alterations and expansions, meaning that
its architectural evolution remains a mystery. Today’s remnants derive
from the late Roman period of the theater, with only a few rows of
benches dating from its Classical Greek period.
effort is currently underway to restore the ancient theater using
fragments of the original Corinthian stone which have been scattered
throughout the site.
The Roman Theater of Orange
Originally built under Emperor Augustus in the first century A.D., the Roman theater of Orange was
closed by official edict in 391 A.D., due to the Christian Church’s
opposition to what it regarded as uncivilized spectacles.
The ancient theater was restored in the nineteenth century, and today it is home to the Chorégies d’Orange,
a summer opera festival. The free audio guide provides visitors with
interesting information about the shows and social life in the Provencal
city during Roman times.
The Theater of Epidaurus
theater of Epidaurus is undoubtedly the most famous and best-preserved
ancient theater in the world—many people would expect it to rank as
number one in this list.
It functioned as both the religious and political centre of Epidaurus,
a city-state of rather minor importance which lived under the shadow of
more powerful hubs like Corinth, Sparta, and Athens. The excavations,
which began in 1880 and were completed along with restorations in the
twentieth century, revealed the most perfect sample of ancient Greek
has fifty-five rows of seats, which are divided into twelve tiers at
the lower landing and twenty-two on the upper one, giving the theater a
capacity of more than twenty thousand viewers. The legendary acoustics of
the theater has long been the source of academic and amateur
speculation; some theories suggest that prevailing winds carried sounds
or masks amplified voices, while others say that the secret lies in the
design of the seats. No theory has been entirely proven, even after
decades of research.
The Odeon of Herodes Atticus
this list was based only on cultural and historical impact, then
Epidaurus would get the number one spot without question—but since we’re
also taking into account its unique story and location, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus gets the nod instead.
into the southern slope of the Athenian Acropolis, the odeon was built
in 161 A.D. by Herodes Atticus in memory of his wife, so it’s foremost a
memorial which also happened to function as a theater. It’s very
possible that Herodes was the richest Athenian at the time. Though he
was Greek in blood, he was an honored and privileged Roman citizen.
vast wealth and education (he was a philosopher, sophist, and
rhetorician) made him very popular, even among the royal Roman
families. It is said that he was also the teacher of two Roman emperors:
Lucius Verus and Marcus Aurelius. He lived a distinctly Roman
lifestyle, and married a young and very beautiful Roman woman named
Rigillia, who unfortunately died while she was still quite young.
mourning of Herodes Atticus was so unbearable that he painted every
wall and curtain of his house black and refused to leave it for a whole
year. When he finally got over his depression, he made various
dedications to the memory of his wife. One of them was a monument right
under the Parthenon, which he first called “The Odeon of Rigilla” after
his wife, but which he then rather selfishly renamed “The Odeon of Herodes Atticus.”