The story

Backed Seat, Theatre of Epidaurus

Looking to Past Pandemics to Determine the Future of Theater

Throughout most of Western history, plays typically went on hiatus when plagues hit. But could contemporary designers, or perhaps outdoor settings or spaced-out seats, provide novel solutions?

This past spring, the Berliner Ensemble, the distinguished German theater company founded in 1949 by Bertolt Brecht and his wife, Helene Weigel, gave future audiences a preview of what live theater might look like when the pandemic has passed and playhouses reopen for business. In a photo posted to the company’s social media accounts, gone were 70 percent of the seats in the famously ornate Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, most of them having been plucked from the ground like roots to bring about a sanitary and socially distant experience of live theater in the fall, when the ensemble hopes to open.

The images make for bittersweet viewing: There is the Schiffbauerdamm’s lavish neo-Baroque construction of which Brecht was so fond, replete with statuary, columns, arches and red plush, teeming with the history of the form’s halcyon days. And then there is our present reality, reflected in the theater’s newly prophylactic seating arrangement, a sort of jagged collection of singles and pairs, each at least five feet apart per German government ordinances. To imagine how it will appear filled, most especially to the eventual performer looking out into an audience only to see more floor space than faces, seems anathema to an art form that thrives on the distinct and irreproducible circulation of energy between actors and spectators. But the alternative, of course, is no theater whatsoever.

The inhospitality of most contemporary, purpose-built theater architecture to the physically distant imperatives of Covid-19 — a fact of their locations in dense urban areas and the more basic desire for a sense of artistic exchange generated only by closeness — is a question of both public health and architectural convention. “It couldn’t be more ironic,” says Richard Olcott, an architect who designed Stanford University’s Bing Concert Hall, which opened in 2013, among many other buildings. “The whole point of that building is intimacy, and getting everyone as close to each other and the musicians.” Accordingly, theater today, as during various plague outbreaks in the 16th and 17th centuries, and then again during the 1918 outbreak of the Spanish flu, must close its doors and weather considerable financial devastation, felt hardest by those companies operating without government subsidy, which includes most American theaters. The Broadway League, the industry’s national trade association, has said that performances will not resume before January 2021.

Little is documented historically about the ways our earliest thespians navigated the pandemics that afflicted their societies, from the Plague of Athens in Ancient Greece, which surfaced in 430 B.C., with subsequent spikes in 428 and 426, to the Plague of Justinian during the Roman Empire, which began in 541 A.D. and lasted some 200 years. But in the relationship between ancient theater architecture and nature, one can discern in the Greco-Roman school of thought a particular interest in creating the conditions for a salubrious experience of drama, even though the concept of physical distancing was not recognized then, as it is now, as the most surefire means of preventing disease transmission. Instead, open-air theaters were meant to foster a connection between drama and the natural world.

One could infer an association of theater with palliative properties in Epidaurus, the ancient Grecian city where healing sanctuaries — shrines to Asklepios, the healing god and son of Apollo — functioned as de facto hospitals. Near these shrines would have been the sprawling open-air theater thought to have been designed by the architect Polykleitos the Younger and celebrated by the Greek traveler Pausanias for its perfect symmetry and acoustics, the sensation of “virtual pitch” made possible, as a 2007 study by the Georgia Institute of Technology revealed, by its corrugated limestone structure carved into the side of the hill, which acted as a filter for sound waves at certain frequencies. Ancient inscriptions suggest the theater hosted literary, musical and athletic competitions and even mystery plays. As an extant example of a remote, outdoor theater flushed with fresh air, Epidaurus has become something of a touch point for theater producers, designers and historians looking to the past to find a way forward.

“The pandemic has opened our eyes to the possibilities that the architecture that we have received was born of different times and different imperatives,” says the celebrated British stage designer Es Devlin, 48, best known for the “stage sculptures” she’s designed for Beyoncé and Kanye West and the imaginative set designs she’s conceived for theatrical productions of “The Lehman Trilogy,” “Betrayal,” “American Psycho” and countless others. Devlin suggests a number of innovations that would not only orient our theaters toward the dictates of public health, but make them more welcoming and civic-minded, too, such as performance spaces that open up onto streets (the glass and aluminum extension added to London’s National Theater in 2015 is one example she cites), inviting fresh air or a more comprehensive reimagining of how we use existing, purpose-built theaters, most of which still only open for one show an evening, making them disproportionately reliant on ticket sales. “I think it makes a lot of sense to look back at those original Greek theaters, which were very connected with nature. If you look at Epidaurus, the set design was the forest and the hills beyond the sky, and the biggest lighting effect was the sun going down,” she said.

“It would behoove us now,” Devlin adds, “to take some time while we can’t use the buildings to redirect some of our energy back toward that connection between the theater and the environment, theater and nature, theater and the sky.” After all, a recent study in Japan concluded that one is up to 20 times more likely to contract Covid-19 indoors than outdoors.

In his seminal treatise “De Architectura,” presumed to have been written between 30 and 15 B.C., the Roman architect Vitruvius was concerned with such connections, stressing the importance of constructing theaters in healthful environs, from the degree of “salubrious air” circulating within them to their orientation toward the sun. The fall of the Roman Empire in A.D. 476 led to a significant downturn in drama and the spaces that contained it for centuries, most performances were medieval liturgical plays that took place in churches, on chariots or in platforms in the street.

But, as the University of Maryland professor of theater history Frank Hildy, 67, suggests, by the time secular theater re-emerged in the 16th century with the English Renaissance, it was Vitruvius’s printed work, published in 1486, that provided a kind of blueprint for a boom in new purpose-built playhouses across Europe, even as some of the qualities to which he’d attributed the splendor of Roman architecture were lost in translation without the benefit of illustrated blueprints. In Vitruvius’s description of the spread-out tripartite structure of the Roman theater — spread outward, rather than upward — Elizabethans interpreted the three-part, vertically stacked galleries that characterize spaces like Shakespeare’s Globe, the circular, open-air structure which was uniquely generative of the specific atmosphere on which live theater thrives. Accordingly, it was preceded by the first of these open-air playhouses: The Theater, designed by James Burbage in 1576, which led to a boom in like-minded architecture throughout England, from the Swan to the Globe, the Hope to the Second Globe.

When plagues struck Europe, though, their theaters did not devise safe, sanitary ways to retain the theatrical experience, but rather accepted that playhouses had to close. During an outbreak of the bubonic plague in the early 17th century, performances in London were canceled when the death toll exceeded 30 people per week. And in his 2009 book on the bard, “William Shakespeare,” William Baker writes that from 1603 to 1613 theater closures amounted to 78 total months on account of plague and infection.

“You don’t see a significant change in the design of the buildings following that, because nobody understood what kind of change would be helpful. The audience itself needs to generate energy as different components play against and feed off each other,” says Hildy. “To accommodate the idea that you should keep people farther apart during a pandemic, which is what we’re trying to do today, doesn’t really work, because there are some fundamental principles involved.” Chief among those principles, he says, is that theater thrives when audiences and performers are as close to one another as possible.

Where strides have been made in the healthfulness of theaters, then, they have concerned things like sanitation, ventilation and fire prevention. The sanitary engineer William Paul Gerhard, writing in 1899 in Popular Science Monthly, called for improvements in sewage, drainage, carpeting and dressing rooms, invoking as a “prolific source of danger” tubercular pathogenic germs being discharged and “inhaled by playgoers,” even as the article fails to mention the imperative of maintaining distance.

As such, a more comprehensive overhaul of the theater architecture — and an embrace of ancient, open-air architectural forms as a source of inspiration — has yet to come, in part because of the financial ramifications of what we might call a socially distant or reduced-capacity theater. Theater revenue streams, especially those of Broadway, rely heavily on ticket sales and tourism, both of which have ground to a halt. But, as Devlin notes, ventures like Sam Mendes’s 1993 production of “Cabaret” at London’s Donmar Warehouse, in which audiences sat in clusters at cabaret tables, or the 2017 lake-stage production of “Carmen” at the Bregenz Festival, which Devlin herself set-designed in concert with the elements, demonstrate theater’s fundamental capacity for elasticity and provocation.

Unlike in some past pandemics, though, we now understand self-isolation as one of, if not the safest means of preventing transmission. This fact puts theater — the art form most dependent on togetherness and proximity — in a potentially intractable bind, at least in the absence of a real reimagining of theater architecture. Outdoor venues, sophisticated ventilation, advanced filtration, no-touch screens, pre-ordered refreshments and radiant heating all provide vital areas for improvement. But live theater remains a scene of mass communion. For this reason, the architect Steve Tompkins, 60, who last year was named the most influential person in British theater by The Stage in its annual list, believes theater must weather this period of arrested development, just as our forerunners did.

“I think there will be other forms: immersive theater with less dense audiences, going back to the medieval model of theater on the move, where actors and audiences are mobile rather than static. Outdoor festivals and open-air theaters and semi-covered spaces will find a resurgence,” Tompkins says. But despite what can be seen as an occasion for improvisation and a kind of time-travel, Tompkins adds, “for myself, socially distant theater is perhaps a contradiction in terms, so I think we will need to ride this out.”

In the meantime, however, the show hobbles on, as it did this summer in the courtyard outside the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, where the Berliner Ensemble put on free shows for groups of 50 people through the month of June as part of its temporary open-air program. The ensemble formally reopened for its fall season on Sept. 4 and is seen as a litmus test for the theater of the foreseeable future, one performed to small audiences, with unusually large gaps between clusters of people and long overdue sanitary precautions. But it may well be that the past, one of drama performed in the open air, in the kinds of healthful environs Vitruvius envisioned, better exemplifies the way forward.

The Epidaurus Amphitheatre in Greece

When visiting Greece, it is not just about eating delicious food in taverns and going to the beach, but most travelers, including our Omilo students, also love to visit ancient Greek sites, attend Greek concerts or theatre or learn more about Greek culture and history. Well, by visiting the beautiful site of Epidaurus, you can combine it all!

Epidaurus was the main sanctuary of Asklepios in Greece, originally a “sacred forest”, an enclosed territory dedicated to Asklepios. On the site, many of the buildings mentioned by Pausanias (read below more about Pausanias) are still visible today, like the temple and the ‘sacred sleeping place’ (enkoimeterion), a race course, but also a hotel (with four courtyards surrounded by Doric columns containing a total of 160 rooms) for visiting pilgrims. The impressive amphitheater was built in the 4th century BC, lying, as do most Greek theatres, against a slope.

The Epidaurus Amphitheatre

This theatre is by far the best-preserved theatre in Greece and has magnificent acoustics. The first row was reserved for dignitaries their seats have backs, making them into regular chairs. The complex had two entrances the western has been restored to give an impression of the original theatre. The skènè (stage) in its oldest phase had been a simple tent, but was later made of wood. Nowadays, during performances, a new stage building is erected on the site.

Take a small look at our video below.

The magnificently built venue is dedicated to ancient Greek drama, hosting tragedies and comedies performed by Greek and international theatre groups alike, with English subtitles for international visitors. Capacity: 14,000
The theatre also hosts part of the important “Athens and Epidaurus festival”, which is usually staged in the summer, bringing ancient and modern plays, musical performances etc.
Read here for more information about this festival.

Asclepius (or Asklepios)

Asklepios is the Greek god of healing. In mythology, he was the son of Apollo and the Thessalian princess Koronis, who died at childbirth. Asklepios himself was rescued and suckled by a goat. He was brought up by the centaur Cheiron, who instructed him in the art of healing, becoming so successful, that he even cured death. Of course, the god of death complained and Asklepios was killed by a thunderbolt hurled by Zeus, the king of the gods. His cult was immensely popular in the 4th century B.C. From all over the Hellenistic and Roman world the suffering came to his sanctuary for a cure. After the perquisite rites, they would go to sleep in the “enkoimeterion” close to the temple, in the hope that they would be visited by the god himself who would show them a cure or perform an operation himself. (As you might know, κοιμάμαι means ‘to sleep’, so a κοιμητήριον is ‘a place to sleep’, although most suffering would gladly escape the English derivative, a ‘Cemetery’). All around the temple buildings were erected for these pilgrims and many votive gifts testify to the gratitude of the cured.

From Epidaurus, the cult of Asklepios spread over the ancient World. In his sanctuary at the Greek island of Kos medicine developed into a science. Later his cult was also brought to Rome where Asklepios would be revered as Aesculapius. His staff with holy snakes has become a symbol of medicine.

The museum next to the theatre houses numerous objects from the sanctuary, like a collection of medical instruments made of bronze and inscriptions referring to numerous diseases (tapeworm, eye-, kidney and bladder diseases), images of Asklepios and his daughter Hygeia and large parts of the sculptures of the temple of Asklepios.

Who is Pausanias?

Pausanias was a Greek-speaking “travel writer” from the second century AD. He describes a journey in ten chapters along with the known and lesser-known places on the Greek mainland in Roman times, taking his audience from the Acropolis in Athens and its rich art treasures by way of Corinth, Nafplion, Sparta and Messenia, to ancient Olympia. From Olympia, his journey goes on to Achaia, Arcadia, Boiotia and finally to Delphi. Central to his work is the description of temples and their art treasures, interspersed with hundreds of anecdotes about artists, the winners in festivals such as the Olympic or Nemean Games, but also relating episodes from Greek history and a description about Epidaurus.

Plan your trip and visit

In case you did not visit the Epidaurus or the broader area yet, we suggest to add it to your “to-do list”!
You could start by visiting the beautiful seaside town of Nafplion, a two-hour’ drive from Athens or easily accessible by public bus from Athens.

Can You Really Hear a Coin Drop From the Back Row of an Ancient Greek Theater?

The 2,300-year-old theater at Epidaurus. Ronny Siegel./CC BY 3.0

Tourists come from far and wide to visit the 2,300-year-old Greek theater of Epidaurus, where they stand in one of the back rows, scrunch up their eyes, and listen for the far-off sound of a coin being dropped or a piece of paper being ripped by a tour guide standing on the stage. Like other amphitheaters of the period, it’s supposed to have legendary acoustics. But the sonic properties of this theater may not be as dazzling as they’re made out to be, say scientists at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, who presented their findings at the scientific conference Acoustics 󈥱 Boston earlier this year.

The team took multiple sound measurements from hundreds of spots across the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the theater of Argos, and the theater of Epidaurus to get a wider picture of the audibility of sounds throughout the auditoriums, at various times of the day to reflect changes in humidity and temperature. They focused on the sounds often demonstrated to tourists—falling coins, tearing paper, a whisper. These, they found, were not audible from the back rows, as they are often said to be.

The study has sparked a commotion among classicists, however. In a statement given to the Times of London, the Hellenic Institute of Acoustics said that the findings “lacked sufficient scientific evidence,” that the conclusions were “arbitrary,” and that it would be requesting a “thorough review of their findings.” Many scholars and journalists have posited that the study purports to measure the acoustics as they would have once been, thousands of years ago. According to Remy Wenmaekers, coauthor of the study, this reaction came because of confusion over what he and his team had set out to study. “What we investigated was the current theaters, as they are right now,” he says. “Our conclusions are saying nothing about what the theaters would have been like 2,000 years ago, and our expectation is that they were very different.”

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus at the Acropolis of Athens. Nikthestoned/CC BY-SA 3.0

There is no shortage of reasons why today’s acoustics may be different than those heralded in ancient literature, Wenmaekers says. Ancient theaters may, for instance, have had decorative backdrops behind the stage that helped bounce sound to the cheap seats. “That would probably have quite a big impact on the acoustics,” he adds.

Further, Armand D’Angour, musician and classical scholar at the University of Oxford, mentions that the degradation of the theater’s surfaces has an impact as well. “The original theater surfaces would have been shiny, because they’d have been polished marble, whereas they’re now very rutted.” There’s still much that remains unknown about the other ways the ancient Greeks projected sound, he says, and whether that included the placement of additional objects around the theater to help project sound farther. “Clear voice was the most positive adjective you could use of a herald or of a singer,” he says. “In order to achieve that clarity, the people who built these theaters would have known all kinds of things.”

Finally, acoustics both modern and ancient can be profoundly influenced by the psychological state of the listener. D’Angour describes the intense focus one might have at the theater. “Maybe that changes you the way you actually listen out for sound,” he says. Theater tour guides might also use a kind of psychological groupthink as a trick of the trade. “Nobody dares to say that they didn’t hear it,” says Wenmaekers, “because if somebody hears it and you don’t—well, you feel stupid. That is how it works.”

Georgia Institute of Technology

As the ancient Greeks were placing the last few stones on the magnificent theater at Epidaurus in the fourth century B.C., they couldn't have known that they had unwittingly created a sophisticated acoustic filter. But when audiences in the back row were able to hear music and voices with amazing clarity (well before any theater had the luxury of a sound system), the Greeks must have known that they had done something very right because they made many attempts to duplicate Epidaurus' design, but never with the same success.

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have pinpointed the elusive factor that makes the ancient amphitheater an acoustic marvel. It's not the slope, or the wind - it's the seats. The rows of limestone seats at Epidaurus form an efficient acoustics filter that hushes low-frequency background noises like the murmur of a crowd and reflects the high-frequency noises of the performers on stage off the seats and back toward the seated audience member, carrying an actor's voice all the way to the back rows of the theater.

The research, done by acoustician and ultrasonics expert Nico Declercq, an assistant professor in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Georgia Tech Lorraine in France, and Cindy Dekeyser, an engineer who is fascinated by the history of ancient Greece, appears in the April issue of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.

While many experts speculated on the possible causes for Epidaurus' acoustics, few guessed that the seats themselves were the secret of its acoustics success. There were theories that the site's wind - which blows primarily from the stage to the audience - was the cause, while others credited masks that may have acted as primitive loudspeakers or the rhythm of Greek speech. Other more technical theories took into account the slope of the seat rows.

When Declercq set out to solve the acoustic mystery, he too had the wrong idea about how Epidaurus carries performance sounds so well. He suspected that the corrugated, or ridged, material of the theater's limestone structure was acting as a filter for sound waves at certain frequencies, but he didn't anticipate how well it was controlling background noise.

"When I first tackled this problem, I thought that the effect of the splendid acoustics was due to surface waves climbing the theater with almost no damping," Declercq said. "While the voices of the performers were being carried, I didn't anticipate that the low frequencies of speech were also filtered out to some extent."

But as Declercq's team experimented with ultrasonic waves and numerical simulations of the theater's acoustics, they discovered that frequencies up to 500 Hz were held back while frequencies above 500 Hz were allowed to ring out. The corrugated surface of the seats was creating an effect similar to the ridged acoustics padding on walls or insulation in a parking garage.

So, how did the audience hear the lower frequencies of an actor's voice if they were being suppressed with other background low frequencies? There's a simple answer, said Declercq. The human brain is capable of reconstructing the missing frequencies through a phenomenon called virtual pitch. Virtual pitch helps us appreciate the incomplete sound coming from small loudspeakers (in a laptop or a telephone), even though the low (bass) frequencies aren't generated by a small speaker.

The Greeks' misunderstanding about the role the limestone seats played in Epidaurus' acoustics likely kept them from being able to duplicate the effect. Later theaters included different bench and seat materials, including wood, which may have played a large role in the gradual abandonment of Epidaurus' design over the years by the Greeks and Romans, Declercq said.

The Little Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus in the Peloponnese

The Little Theatre of Epidaurus, on the coast of the Saronic Gulf was built for the requirements of the people of the ancient city state of Epidaurus. The town controlled the major religious Sanctuary of Asclepius (site of the Great Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus, above), a four hour walk. While the theater at the sanctuary was big enough to seat pilgrims from all over Greece, the little theater never held more than 2,500 — enough for the local community. It has only 9 tiers, with 18 rows of benches. The theater was built at about the same time as the Great Theatre, in the mid 4th century BC. It was substantially adapted during the Roman era. The theater was in use for seven centuries. When it was rediscovered and excavated in the 1970s, it was buried under an olive grove.

Some things haven't changed much since ancient times. It seems there have always been subsidized, non-commercial theaters needing sponsors. The names of sponsors and civic officials at this theater are carved into many of the stone seats. Today, performances are possible at this theater largely through the generosity of private sponsors.

What Can You See There: Musical July was eight days of events that were part of the Hellenic Festival. In 2018, this theater is being programmed by the Athens and Epidaurus festival and it will host classical Greek drama for four days in July and two in August.

Need to Know: This theater is best visited if you are staying in the Argolis area of the Peloponnese. While there are bus services from Athens (KTEL bus to Palea Epidavros at 16.00 and a ten minute walk from bus terminal to the theater), there is no return bus after the performances. There are several 3-star hotels in Palea Epidavros, also known and Archaiea Epidaurus.

Ancient Greek Theatres

The Tentative Lists of States Parties are published by the World Heritage Centre at its website and/or in working documents in order to ensure transparency, access to information and to facilitate harmonization of Tentative Lists at regional and thematic levels.

The sole responsibility for the content of each Tentative List lies with the State Party concerned. The publication of the Tentative Lists does not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever of the World Heritage Committee or of the World Heritage Centre or of the Secretariat of UNESCO concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its boundaries.

Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Theatre of Dionysos in Athens: Region of Attica, Regional Unit of Central Attica 23.727730E, 37.970383N

Theatre of the Amphiareion: Region of Attica, Regional Unit of Eastern Attica 23.845344E, 38.291581N

Theatre of Epidaurus: Region of Peloponnese, Regional Unit of Argolis 23.079200E, 37.596000N

Theatre of Megalopolis: Region of Peloponnese, Regional Unit of Arcadia 22.127258E, 37.410170N

Theatre of Argos: Region of Peloponnese, Regional Unit of Argolis 22.7196E, 37.6316N

Theatre of Delphi: Region of Central Greece, Regional Unit of Fhocis 22.500706E, 38.482450N

Theatre of Eretria: Region of Central Greece, Regional Unit of Euboea 23.790644E, 38.398603N

Theatre of Larissa I: Region of Thessaly, Regional Unit of Larissa 22.415256&Epsilon,39.640315&Nu

Theatre of Delos: Region of South Aegean, Regional Unit of Mykonos 25.268105&Epsilon, 37.397040&Nu

Theatre of Melos: Region of South Aegean, Regional Unit of Melos 24.421035&Epsilon, 36.737823&Nu

Theatre of Lindos: Region of South Aegean, Regional Unit of Rhodes 28.086576&Epsilon, 36.089886&Nu

Theatre of Oeniadae: Region of West Greece, Regional Unit of Aetoloakarnia 21.199028&Epsilon, 38.409614&Nu

Theatre of Dodona. Region of Epirus, Regional Unit of Ioannina 20.787700 &Epsilon, 39.546492&Nu

Theatre of Aptera: Region of Crete, Regional Unit of Chania 24.141436&Epsilon, 35.461272&Nu

Theatre of Maronia: Region of East Macedonia and Thrace, Regional Unit of Rhodope 25 &omicron 31.155΄&Epsilon, 40 &omicron 52.727΄&Nu

Theatre construction is a concept and an architectural achievement of Greek civilisation: a plain structure in which coexist, in a balanced and complete manner, functionality and excellent aesthetics.

An indispensable element of every urban centre from the Classical period onwards, theatres were set in the centre of political, social and religious life: the acropolis, the agora, the stadium, the bouleuterion, the sanctuaries. Theatres were distinguished by their simplicity of design, with a circular or semicircular seating layout, which, combined with the height difference between the tiers, achieved a unique combination of an unimpeded view and excellent acoustics. The seats of the cavea were usually adapted to the side of a natural hill, its centre dug out of the earth or rock and banked up on the sides, while in some cases, albeit rare, an artificial elevation was created on level ground in order to form the basis of the cavea seating.

Early, wooden theatral structures are dated to the 6 th c. BC and are known only from literary sources and vase-painting. Stone structures are found from the 5 th c. onwards, while Greek theatres attained their full architectural form in the 4 th c. BC, consisting of three discrete parts: the audience seating area (cavea), the orchestra and the stage building (scaenae frons), which became ever more complex to meet evolving dramatic needs. Most theatres had stone seats divided into wedge-shaped sections (cunei) by staircases made of the same material. The cavea is divided horizontally by a concentric passageway, the diazoma. The upper part of the cavea is known as the epitheatre. The front-row seats of the lower cavea and epitheatre were reserved for privileged persons. These seats of honour might stand out by their construction, or even be luxurious stone thrones, sometimes bearing the names of the dignitaries for whom they were intended (proedriae).

Access to the orchestra was via two entrances on either side, the parodoi. Very often a drainage duct for the rainwater coming off the cavea ran round the orchestra, in front of the first row of seats.

The stage buildings, in their fully developed form, almost always combine a stage, with a ground floor and first floor, with a proscenium. The proscenium usually takes the form of a small row of pillars, columns or semi-columns in the Doric or Ionic style. Paintings were placed in the spaces between the columns of the proscenium, while each of its three doorways, similarly painted, is conventionally thought to have led to the palace, the countryside or the port. The stage building always includes an upper storey, its floor level with the proscenium roof. Certain stages also included side rooms that served as outbuildings, while many stage buildings are connected to porticos (stoai). In some theatres, an underground passage from the stage to the orchestra, known as the &ldquoCharonian steps&rdquo, allowed the gods of the netherworld to appear and intervene in the actions of the characters on stage.

The actors&rsquo performance area, the logeion, was between the stage building and the orchestra. With the passage of time and the development of the stage building, this was moved to the flat proscenium roof or to special raised platforms.

In Roman times, most Greek theatres were turned into arenas, adapted to the new types of spectacle which became popular during this period. Protective structures were added for the audience, while the orchestra area was enlarged to host gladiatorial combats and wild beast fights. In some cases water cisterns were placed in the orchestra for water sports and other spectacles.

The theatres were built to host plays, which were originally closely linked to religious rituals. They later evolved independently of religion, culminating in performances by actors and a chorus (combining recital and dancing), with all the features of a theatrical production as we would think of it today, involving stage direction, scenery, stage machinery and theatrical equipment. During the course of their evolution, theatres acquired a central role in the function of the city-state, and became multifunctional, used not only for dramatic and religious performances but also for political purposes linked to the institution of Democracy. It is telling that the ancient traveller Pausanias regards the theatre as one of the basic urban features of a Greek city, along with the agora, the gymnasium and the public administrative buildings, and an important element in recognising cities in the East as being Greek (Phocis, X 4.1.)

The theatres

1) Theatre of Dionysus in Athens

On the east part of the south side of the Acropolis stand the imposing ruins of is theatre, directly north of the Sanctuary of Dionysos. Most of the remains preserved today belong to the monumental structuring of the theatre by the archon of Athens Lycourgos, in the second half of the 4 th c. BC. The core of the theatre, however, dates back to the 6 th c. BC. That was when the Archaic Sanctuary of Dionysos was erected, while just to the north of it a circular area was levelled, where the cult performances in honour of the god were carried out. These ceremonies were watched by spectators sitting on the hillside, where wooden seats were placed shortly afterwards. This circular area of beaten earth, approximately 25 m. in diameter, formed the first &ldquoorchestra&rdquo of what was later to become the theatre. It was from the dithyrambic circle dance of the worshippers of Dionysos that tragedy was born.

The theatral structure of the 5 th c. BC must have been a simple one, although its precise form has not been fully clarified. The cavea seats were gradually replaced by stone ones, while for the first time staircases were constructed, dividing the cavea into wedge-shaped cunei, and the parodoi of the theatre were delimited. A permanent stone stage was also built, most probably consisting of a plain rectangular building.

During the time of the archon Lycourgos, in the second half of the 4 th c. BC, the cavea of the theatre was constructed wholly of stone and extended to the foot of the Sacred Rock, incorporating the section of the Peripatos, the path circling the Acropolis, which passed above the original cavea, and turning it into a diazoma (horizontal passageway). The part of the cavea above this diazoma formed the epitheatre. It is estimated that during this period the theatre had a capacity of approximately 15,000-16,000 spectators. The front tier of seats included 67 marble thrones. The stage was probably a rectangular building with two parascenia. The only major changes during the Hellenistic period must have been to the stage building, which, however, acquired a particularly monumental form in Roman times.

In 86 BC, during Sulla&rsquos invasion of Athens, the stage building suffered considerable damage, as did the whole theatre. In the mid-1 st c. AD, in the reign of the Emperor Nero, a new stage of impressive dimensions was constructed. The orchestra was restructured into a semicircle and paved with marble. In the mid-2 nd or the 3 rd c. AD a high logeion was added in front of the stage building.

2) Theatre of the Amphiareion

In the sacred sanctuary of the oracle of Amphiaraos in Oropos, Attica, stood its theatre, where musical and dramatic contests were held every four years following the establishment of the Greater Amphiareia festival in 332 BC.

The theatre of the Amphiareion preserves elements of at least two different phases: the fan-shaped plan of the cavea and the circular orchestra date from Classical times, while the proscenium and the five separate inscribed thrones of the proedria are works of the Late Hellenistic period.

Only a small part of the lower cavea survives, together with the retaining walls of the parodoi. The rectangular stage building, with a tall proscenium 2.70 m. high, has a façade of eight marble Doric semi-columns, supported on the inner side on a corresponding number of pillars. An architrave with triglyphs and metopes crowned the colonnade. The reconstructed proscenium, together with the thrones of the proedria and the dedicatory inscriptions, all form a particularly instructive group from an important phase in theatre architecture during the Hellenistic period.

The ancient theatre of Epidaurus was built of local stone on a natural slope of Mt Kynortion at the southernmost edge of the Sanctuary of Asklepios, the seat of the healer-god of antiquity and the greatest healing centre of the ancient Greek and Roman world. The theatre hosted music, drama and singing contests and poetry recitals, spectacles that formed part of the festivals in honour of Asklepios.

The theatre of Epidaurus is considered the most perfect theatral structure of antiquity, thanks to the harmony of its proportions, the symmetry of its parts and its exceptional acoustics. Its symmetry and beauty are praised by Pausanias, who attributes the monument to the Argive architect Polycleitus.

Until today, the prevailing view was that the theatre was built in two phases, at the end of the 4 th and in the 2 nd c. BC, when the epitheatre was added. Recent research, however, inclines to the view that the cavea was constructed in its entirety at the end of the 4 th c. BC. The theatre appears to have been in use up to and including the 3 rd c. AD.

The theatre was constructed according to a unified design governed by mathematical principles influenced by Pythagorean philosophy. More specifically, the overall plan is based on a pentagon centered on the orchestra, around which the cavea is laid out. For the Pythagoreans, this geometric shape expressed the harmony of the parts of a whole.

At the theatre of Epidaurus the basic parts of the ancient theatre are clearly distinguished: stage building, orchestra and cavea. The cavea is delimited by two poros-stone retaining walls and is divided by staircases into wedge-shaped cunei, which radiate out from the orchestra, drawn from three centres, an invention to which the excellent acoustics of the theatre are due. The cavea comprises 55 tiers of seats in total, which are divided by a paved passageway into two sections. The front tiers of each section and the last tier of the lower cavea boast luxurious backed thrones. In the parodoi, two monumental two-door propyla (porticos) led to the stage building and the orchestra.

The orchestra forms a perfect circle with a diameter of approximately 20 m. At its centre is preserved a stone base, interpreted by scholars as the base of the altar of Dionysos. The stage building was built of poros stone. It originally comprised the proscenium and a two-storey stage, flanked by parascenia. Colonnades adorned both the façade of proscenium and the back of the stage building at ground level. In the 2 nd c. BC the structure was adapted to the functional changes of drama. A few statues discovered during the excavations form just a sample of the sculptures decorating the stage building. Today the stage building is preserved as a low ruin.

The capacity of the theatre is estimated at approximately 13,000-14,000 spectators.

The ancient theatre of Megalopolis, with the largest capacity in Greece according to Pausanias (Paus. 8,32,1), was designed for a large audience (17,000-21,000 spectators). Set on the left bank of the River Elissonas, in a landscape of exceptional natural beauty, it is less than 2 km from the modern town of the same name. The theatre was built circa 370 BC and was used not only for performances of ancient drama, but also for gatherings of the representatives of the people of Megalopolis and the Arcadian League, as well as festivities connected to the pan-Arcadian worship of Zeus Lycaeus.

The theatre was constructed using the natural slope of the hillside. The semicircular orchestra was 30 m. in diameter, while the cavea, with a maximum diameter of approximately 130 m., was divided into three sections. The columned portico of the Thersilion, built on the south side of the theatre, served as a stage backdrop facing the cavea, a unique innovation in the architecture of theatres incorporated in the fabric of a city. Originally there was a movable wooden stage that was removed and stored in the skenotheke (storeroom) that was constructed at the west parodos. The stone proscenium, whose foundation is preserved today, was built in the Roman period.

Cut into the bedrock of the southeast slope of Larissa hill in the 3 rd c. BC, the theatre of Argos hosted the musical and dramatic contests of the Nemean Games in honour of Hera, as well as meetings highlighting its political character. Scholars estimate the capacity of the theatre at approximately 20,000 spectators.

The cavea of the monument, with 82 tiers of seats, is divided by five radiating staircases into four wedge-shaped cunei. Two entrances, the north and south parodos, facilitated access to the orchestra.

The proscenium was oblong with a façade of twenty columns. Behind it stood the stage building, accessed by two ramps. The theatre originally had a single entrance on the southeast of the stage building. In 100 AD a second entrance was added with a ramp on its north side.

On the arrival of the Romans in Argos, the stage building of the theatre was renovated. The monumental façade with its three entrances, the new logeion with its niches, added under Hadrian, and the symmetrical parascenia communicating with the raised platform of the logeion, all form part of the interventions of this period. Three staircases led from the stage building to the logeion.

With the introduction of new spectacles, such as gladiatorial combats and wild beast fights, protective fencing for the spectators was set up, supported on posts set into holes in the floor of the orchestra. Other holes in the area of the cavea indicate the presence of a canvas cover (velum) to shade the audience from the sun. North of the central staircase was constructed a new platform for dignitaries (proedria). In the 3 rd c. AD mosaic flooring with geometric patterns replaced the wooden floor at the ends of the stage.

In the 4 th c. AD a cistern was built in the orchestra for use in water sports. The theatre fell into disuse in the 5 th -6 th c. AD.

The theatre of Delphi is the largest structure within the enceinte of the Sanctuary of Apollo, set in its northwest corner, very close to the temple of the god which formed the cult centre. It was built in the 2 nd c. BC, although the area of the cavea had probably already been laid out appropriately at an earlier date, for the musical contests that formed part of the Pythian Games. An inscription records that the theatre acquired its monumental form circa 160 BC, with funding provided by Eumenes II of Pergamon. The final form of the theatre dates to the 1 st c. BC, while many modifications and repairs were carried out in the Late Roman period.

The cavea of the theatre is divided into two sections by a horizontal passageway (diazoma). The lower cavea has 27 rows of seats and is divided by eight radiating staircases into seven wedge-shaped cunei. The upper cavea has eight rows of seats and is divided by seven staircases into six cunei, corresponding to the central cunei of the lower cavea. The orchestra, 18.24 m. in diameter, is horseshoe-shaped, although it is originally thought to have formed a perfect circle. The stage building consists of a large room facing south. In the Roman period, the proscenium façade was decorated with a marble frieze carved in relief depicting scenes from the Labours of Hercules. Dozens of inscriptions commemorating the emancipation of slaves and acts of the Amphictyonic League were carved on the stone blocks of the east retaining wall, indicating the public and political character of the monument.

The theatre of Eretria is in the west part of the city, between the west gate, the stadium and the upper gymnasium, while the Temple of Dionysus has been uncovered at its southwest end.

The current form of the monument features elements of the three main building phases, according to the recent excavation data. It is one of the most typical examples of a theatre of the Hellenistic period, whose original form was not particularly affected by the restructurings of the Roman era.

It is striking that the cavea of the theatre did not exploit the natural slopes of the acropolis, but was set on an artificial embankment with many retaining walls. It had a total of 30 tiers of seats, divided by 10 radiating staircases into 11 wedge-shaped cunei forming a single block. The upper level of the cavea, corresponding to five or six tiers of seats, appears to have been intended for standing spectators. Based on this information, the theatre would have had a capacity of approximately 6,000-6,400 people.

The first building phase of the monument is dated to the late 4 th c. BC. At this stage the cavea probably had no seating, so the spectators may have sat on temporary structures, while the stage building was on a level with the orchestra. This single-storey building was shaped like an upside-down &Pi with the open end facing the audience, and consisted of a façade with an Ionic colonnade flanked by two parascenia.

The second building phase is dated circa 300 BC. During this phase the stone seats, the staircases and the two sturdy retaining walls of the parodoi were built. This was also when the stage building and orchestra were set on different levels, and the vaulted passageway connecting the two, the &ldquoCharonian steps&rdquo, was constructed, along with the raised proscenium, one of the earliest examples of its kind.

Following the destruction of Eretria by the Romans in 198 BC, the theatre was rebuilt out of poorer-quality materials with the addition of two further side structures, and was probably turned into an arena for secular spectacles.

The Ancient Theatre of Larissa I, one of the largest and most important theatres in Greece, was built at the southern foot of Frourio (&ldquoFortress&rdquo) Hill, on which the fortified acropolis of the ancient city stood. The theatre was built in the early 3 rd c. BC. During its first centuries of operation, apart from theatrical performances, it was also used for meetings of the supreme administrative regional body, the Thessalian League. At the end of the 1 st c. BC it was turned into a Roman arena and continued to function in this form until the end of the 3 rd c. AD.

The theatre is a huge monument, constructed almost exclusively of marble with rich relief decoration. The cavea was formed by the hillside itself, which had been terraced for seating. A two-metre-wide passageway, the diazoma, divided the cavea into the lower or main theatre and the epitheatre. The epitheatre is now largely destroyed, but we know that it was divided by 20 small staircases into 22 wedge-shaped cunei with 14 to 18 rows of seats each. The main theatre was divided by 10 small staircases into 11 cunei with 25 rows of seats each. The orchestra is thought to have measured over 25 m. in diameter. The two parodoi, together with their retaining walls, are preserved in excellent condition.

The stage building, consisting of four rooms with three entrances between them, is the best-preserved part of the theatre. The stage building, 20 m. long and 2 m. wide, was added in the first half of the 2 nd c. BC. It had a row of six jambs and six monolithic Doric semi-columns, and its colonnade supported a Doric entablature, while the whole structure supported a wooden platform, the logeion, on which the actors performed. In the 1 st c. AD, the stage building was severely damaged, partly due to the transformation of the theatre into an arena. That was when luxurious marble cladding, semi-columns, pillars and sculptures were added, along with a second storey of as-yet-unknown form.

The theatre of Delos was built by the Delians with money from the treasury of the Temple of Apollo, using marble from a neighbouring quarry and local stone, and also marble imported from the islands of Paros and Tinos. The construction of the theatre began circa 310 BC and was completed around 70 years later, circa 240 BC. The theatre was definitively abandoned following the destruction of 88 BC.

The cavea of the theatre is supported by a sturdy marble retaining wall. A passageway running across it divides it into two sections of 27 and 16 tiers, seating approximately 1,600 spectators. Access to the cavea was via the two parodoi, two more entrances at the level of the passageway separating the two sections, or by a final one in the middle of the highest point of the theatre. The semicircular orchestra was closed on its straight side by the skene, a rectangular stage building with external dimensions of 15.26 x 6.64 m. with three entrances on the east side and another on the west. In front of the stage building was the proscenium (proskenion), a 2.67-m.-high colonnade with pillars and Doric semi-columns. The metopes on the proskenion entablature were decorated with alternating tripods and bulls&rsquo heads in relief. Later a portico was added to the other three sides of the stage building, the same height as the proskenion, with Doric pillars.

Southwest of the theatre are preserved the remains of altars and sanctuaries dedicated to Artemis-Hecate, Apollo, Dionysos, Hermes and Pan.

The ancient theatre of the island of Melos in the Cyclades is set on the slope of the hill over which the ancient city spreads, in an impressive site overlooking the bay of Melos. Excavations to date have revealed the orchestra and part of the cavea, the stage building and the west retaining wall. The cavea, constructed on the natural slope of the hill, is in the typical horseshoe-shaped layout of ancient Greek theatres. Seven wedge-shaped cunei with up to nine rows of white marble seats are preserved. Each row contains four to five seats. The orchestra lies approximately 1.70 m. below the level of the paving-stones of the circle, in order to serve as an arena. The vertical rock face between the arena and the circle was faced with marble slabs. Of the stage building, part of the stage and proscenium is preserved, as well as scattered architectural members.

The preserved form of the ancient theatre of Melos dates from the Roman period, although it may originally have been built in Hellenistic times. The architectural elements of the stage building are similar to those of theatres in Asia Minor.

The ancient theatre of Lindos lies at the foot of the west slope of the rock of the Lindos acropolis, directly below the temple of Athena Lindia. It is connected to the great city festivals in honour of Dionysos, the Sminthia, which included dramatic, musical and athletic competitions, processions and sacrifices. The theatre is dated to the 4 th c. BC and had a capacity of 1,800-2,000 spectators.

The cavea was divided into nine wedge-shaped cunei separated by eight narrow staircases. It had 19 rows of seats, most of them carved into the rock although some were built, as were the endmost cunei and the side retaining walls, which do not survive. The staircases led to a passageway (diazoma) above which lies the upper cavea with six rows of seats. The upper cavea is more steeply inclined, in order to provide even the non-privileged spectators with a good view.

The seats of honour, or thrones, were arranged in a circle on a projecting band of rock. The orchestra of the theatre is circular and also carved into the rock. The stage building was at least 19 m. long and 4.80 m. wide.

Today only the rock-cut parts of the theatre are preserved: the circular orchestra, the three central cunei of the upper cavea together with parts of the two cunei on either side, and the central section of the upper cavea.

The theatre of Oeniadae, built on a steep hillside, offers spectators an unrivalled view of the Acheloos river valley running down to the Ionian Sea.

The monument is architecturally unique, due to the fact that the orchestra, cavea and staircases are drawn from three different centres, and also thanks to its excellent acoustics. The east part of the cavea is carved into the bedrock, while the rest is built of limestone. It has a horseshoe-shaped plan and preserves 27 rows of seats and 10 wedge-shaped cunei, divided by 11 staircases, without an intervening passageway. The orchestra is 16.34 m. in diameter, with a covered stone rainwater drainage duct running around it. All that survives of the stage building is the foundations of the proscenium, 26 m. long, and those of the parascenia, measuring 5 x 16 m. each.

Three building phases have been identified, mostly connected to restructurings of the stage building, the earliest phase of which is dated to the mid-4 th c. BC. The proscenium was added during the Hellenistic period.

The theatre of Dodona was built in the early 3 rd c. BC, in the reign of King Pyrrhus (297-272 BC), and is one of the largest theatres in Greece, with a capacity of approximately 15,000-17,000 spectators. It is set in the natural surroundings of the Sanctuary of Zeus, west of the temple. It was built to host the Naia festival, held every four years in honour of Zeus Naios. It may also have accommodated the activities of the Epirote League, of which the Sanctuary was the seat during the period 330/325-233/2 BC.

The excavation finds indicate four building phases. To the first phase (297-272 BC) are dated the cavea, with 55 rows of seats, the circular orchestra and the stage building. Four passageways (diazomata) divide the cavea into three sections of 19, 15 and 21 rows of seats respectively. Ten radiating staircases divide the cavea into nine wedge-shaped cunei. The upper part of the cavea is subdivided by intermediate staircases into 18 cunei to provide spectators with better access, and culminated in large orthostats (stone blocks) on a three-stepped base. Two large staircases on either side of the cavea led spectators straight up from the two parodoi to the upper passageways of the theatre. Above the central cuneus, a wide exit, secured with a movable grille, was used to let the audience stream out en masse after the performance. The lowest seats with the proedria (seats of honour), as well as the corridor paving, were later removed when the theatre was turned into an arena.

The earthen orchestra, 18.72 m. in diameter, formed a perfect circle. At the centre is preserved the base of the thymele, the altar of Dionysos.

The rectangular, two-storey stage building was fronted by a row of pillars and flanked by a pair of square rooms, the parascenia. In the south wall of the stage building was a doorway with an arched lintel, leading to a Doric colonnade with a façade of 13 eight-sided pillars.

During the second building phase, following the destruction of 219 BC, the two square rooms on either side of the stage were connected by a stone proscenium consisting of 18 semi-columns. The parodoi were flanked by two monumental porticos with twin entrances and Ionic semi-columns.

In the third building phase, repairs were carried out to the stage building following the Roman destruction of 167 BC. Some of the proscenium semi-columns were replaced by rough-built walls.

Finally, during the fourth building phase, the theatre was turned into an arena. The front rows of seats were removed and the floor of the orchestra was filled in and raised, covering the thymele, the drainage duct and the remains of the proscenium.

The theatre of Aptera is built in a natural declivity, facing south towards the White Mountains (Lefka Ori) of Crete. It is situated in the south part of the city, close to the corresponding entrance. The excavation and architectural information to date indicates that there were three building phases: Hellenistic, Roman I (1 st c. AD) and Roman II (3 rd c. AD).

Of the cavea, only the seats in the central section remain, along with a sizeable part of their stepped foundations.

The retaining walls of the parodoi, mostly dating to the Hellenistic building phase, have partly collapsed, probably in the great earthquake of 365 AD. Many of their stone blocks are lying in the parodoi.

The front of the stage building has the typical scenae frons layout, with three large niches corresponding to three entrances. The three construction phases of the monument are combined in the stage building, whose walls are preserved to a height of half a metre above the floor.

In the southeast part of ancient Maronia, against the wall of the city and among its ancient buildings, stands its theatre, built on the slopes of two hills between which a seasonal stream once ran.

The cavea of the theatre, facing southwest, is constructed of hard yellowish poros stone, while the stage building is made of local limestone. The cavea was divided into nine wedge-shaped cunei, of which the first rows of seats are visible. The capacity of the cavea is estimated to have been no more than 1,300 spectators. Around the horseshoe-shaped orchestra ran a large marble drainage duct that led the rainwater off the cavea into the main channel of the stream.

The theatre formed part of the urban plan of the Hellenistic city, dating it to the end of the 4 th c. BC. The rectangular stage building was constructed in the Roman period. It was divided into three parts, with a proscenion with a colonnade, preserving 13 bases of semi-columns.

During the next building phase, in the Early Christian era, the theatre was turned into an arena. The front row of seats was removed and a protective balustrade was placed around the orchestra. The monument fell into disuse in the 4 th c. AD.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The construction of theatres, an outstanding achievement of Ancient Greek civilisation, reflects the high level of intellectual, political and social development attained by that civilisation in Classical times. Theatres were widespread throughout the Greek lands and formed the archetype of a multitude of corresponding structures in antiquity throughout the Mediterranean.

Ancient Greek theatres reflect the original concept and the first stages of development of the theatre as an architectural type, as it evolved to adapt to the changing requirements of the dramatic art during the Classical and Hellenistic periods. They form the starting-point of a long architectural tradition, constantly enriched with new elements, that continues to this day. They also constitute a technological achievement with regard to their acoustics. The variation in height between each row and the next prevented degradation of the sound waves, while the shape of the cavea enabled a good concentration of sound. The tall stage building with its parascenia, and the smooth surface of the orchestra, which was paved from a certain point onward, also functioned as sound amplifiers.

It was in Greek theatres that the great works of ancient drama were first performed, including the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides and the comedies of Aristophanes, which continue to inspire the world of the theatre to this day.

Theatre as an institution is directly connected to the spirit and expressions of democracy, as it was established in Athens by the reforms of Kleisthenes (508 BC), which is why it aimed to achieve the greatest possible level of citizen participation. Attending performances was an experience on multiple levels, which was not only intended to provide a link with religious tradition but also reflected the intellectual, political, philosophical and metaphysical concerns of its time, assuming a strongly educational character. Furthermore, theatres also served political functions connected to the institution of Democracy, being used from the 5 th c. BC onwards as meeting-places for the citizens and the Assembly (Ecclesia) of the Demos. Their multifaceted role also justifies their physical relationship with the core of civic public life, the agora.

Large numbers of ancient theatres survive in Greece, some of them in an impressively good state of preservation. The theatre is one of the few types of ancient monument which is easily recognised by the general public and has been incorporated into modern life to a striking degree.

Criterion (i): The construction of theatres is a unique concept from an architectural and functional point of view, which has proved extremely influential through the ages, becoming the model for a multitude of corresponding structures down to the present day.

Criterion (ii): The sitting of theatres within the city reflects clear urban planning. Care was taken to connect the theatre to the public centre, the agora, and the other public buildings it assisted, serving the functions of the city (social, religious and political gatherings) and democratic institutions. The theatre was the quintessence of Greek civilisation, a means of expressing measure, simplicity and harmony, and one of the criteria by which Pausanias recognised cities in the East as being Greek.

Criterion (iii): Theatres are incontrovertible proof of the high intellectual, technological, political and social level attained by Greek civilisation in Classical times. They are inextricably linked to the spirit and operation of Democracy, as it first appeared in Athens in the 5 th c. BC.

Criterion (iv): Greek theatres are the archetype of this category of monument and an achievement of acoustics at such an early period. They bear witness to the genesis and primordial forms of the theatral structure, which keep pace with and are dictated by the evolution of drama and theatrical needs. The architectural type of the theatre influenced public buildings of Greek and Roman antiquity such as bouleuteria, ecclesiasteria and Roman-type odeia and theatres, and formed the starting-point of a long architectural tradition that continues to this day.

Criterion (v): Theatre construction is a characteristic example of making full use of elements of the natural environment. In most cases the selected site is at the foot of a hill and most of the seats are carved into the bedrock, while the choice of location was also dictated by the desire to provide a panoramic view of the city, the sea, the beautiful landscape. They are thus important examples of human interaction with nature and the harmonious incorporation of structures into the landscape, evidence of the Ancient Greek love of natural simplicity and natural beauty.

Criterion (vi): It was in Greek theatres that the great plays of antiquity were first performed, including the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides and the comedies of Aristophanes, unsurpassed literary masterpieces that have influenced dramatic production worldwide and continue to inspire the world of the theatre to this day.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The selected theatres all preserve a remarkable degree of integrity and maintain all the attributes that convey their Outstanding Universal Value. Their state of preservation makes it possible to model their original form, dimensions and capacity, as well as their function.

The theatres are protected under current archaeological law and separate designations of the archaeological sites in which they are incorporated. In cases where they are used to host present-day performances, special conditions are in place not only to prevent damage to the monuments during use, but also to ensure that the events are in keeping with their character.

The selected theatres preserve a high level of authenticity. Consolidation and protection works has been carried out at certain theatres, in line with restoration norms. In cases where the cavea has been modified with the addition of seating to allow the monument to function as a theatre, this has been done using compatible materials and always respecting the original configuration.

Comparison with other similar properties

Ancient theatres form a unique category of monument, both as an architectural concept and as regards their connections to the origins of dramatic art. Some Greek theatres form individual elements of wider archaeological sites inscribed on the World Heritage List (Epidaurus, Delos, Delphi in Greece and Syracuse, Butrint, Cyrene and Cyprus in other countries) these do not, however, form the core of those incriptions and are not directly linked to the genesis of theatre, unlike those included in the present proposal.

Backed Seat, Theatre of Epidaurus - History

"Theatre, Epidaurus, built during the last quarter of the fourth century B.C. The harmony of its cavea, the way it 'sits' in the landscape with the semicircle hollowed out of the side of the hill, and the quality of its acoustics make the Epidaurus theatre one of the great architectural achievements of the fourth century. The circular orchestra provides the link with the stage buildings."

— Henri Stierlin. Comprende l'Architecture universelle. p62.

Werner Blaser and Monica Stucky. Drawings of Great Buildings . Boston: Birkhauser Verlag, 1983. ISBN 3-7643-1522-9. LC 83-15831. NA2706.U6D72 1983. plan and section drawings, p30. — Available at

Francis D. K. Ching. Architecture: Form, Space, and Order . New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1979. ISBN 0-442-21535-5. perspective drawing, p126. — A nice graphic introduction to architectural ideas. Updated 1996 edition available at

Howard Davis, University of Oregon. Slides from photographer's collection, 1988. PCD.2365.1012.0634.095. PCD.2365.1012.0634.094. PCD.2365.1012.0634.093

Sir Banister Fletcher. Sir Banister Fletcher's A History of Architecture . 18th ed., revised by J.C. Palmes. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1975. ISBN 684-14207-4. NA200.F63. photo, plan and section drawings, p244. — The classic text of architectural history. Expanded 1996 edition available at

Spiro Kostof. A History of Architecture . New York: Oxford University Press, 1985. ISBN 0-19-503472-4. LC 84-25375. NA200.K65 1985. photo, f7.12, p148.

A. W. Lawrence. Greek Architecture . Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1967. NA270.L36. plan drawing, f166, p283. Pickard-Cambridge, Theater of Dionysus in Athens, plan 1.

Henri Stierlin. Comprendre l'Architecture Universelle 1 . Paris: Office du Livre S.A. Fribourg (Suisse), 1977. detail drawing of seating and steps, p63. elevation and plan detail drawing of cavea and stage wall linkage, p63. discussion, p62.

Doreen Yarwood. The Architecture of Europe . New York: Hastings House, 1974. ISBN 0-8038-0364-8. LC 73-11105. NA950.Y37. perspective drawing of theater, f56, p27. no image credit.


The word τραγῳδία ('tragoidia'), from which the word "tragedy" is derived, is a compound of two Greek words: τράγος (tragos) or "goat" and ᾠδή (ode) meaning "song", from ἀείδειν (aeidein), "to sing". [1] This etymology indicates a link with the practices of the ancient Dionysian cults. It is impossible, however, to know with certainty how these fertility rituals became the basis for tragedy and comedy. [2]

The classical Greeks valued the power of spoken word, and it was their main method of communication and storytelling. Bahn and Bahn write, "To Greeks the spoken word was a living thing and infinitely preferable to the dead symbols of a written language." Socrates himself believed that once something has been written down, it lost its ability for change and growth. For these reasons, among many others, oral storytelling flourished in Greece. [3]

Greek tragedy as we know it was created in Athens around the time of 532 BC, when Thespis was the earliest recorded actor. Being a winner of the first theatrical contest held in Athens, he was the exarchon, or leader, [4] of the dithyrambs performed in and around Attica, especially at the rural Dionysia. By Thespis' time, the dithyramb had evolved far away from its cult roots. Under the influence of heroic epic, Doric choral lyric and the innovations of the poet Arion, it had become a narrative, ballad-like genre. Because of these, Thespis is often called the "Father of Tragedy" however, his importance is disputed, and Thespis is sometimes listed as late as 16th in the chronological order of Greek tragedians the statesman Solon, for example, is credited with creating poems in which characters speak with their own voice, and spoken performances of Homer's epics by rhapsodes were popular in festivals prior to 534 BC. [5] Thus, Thespis's true contribution to drama is unclear at best, but his name has been given a longer life, in English, as a common term for performer — i.e., a "thespian."

The dramatic performances were important to the Athenians – this is made clear by the creation of a tragedy competition and festival in the City Dionysia. This was organized possibly to foster loyalty among the tribes of Attica (recently created by Cleisthenes). The festival was created roughly around 508 BC. While no drama texts exist from the sixth century BC, we do know the names of three competitors besides Thespis: Choerilus, Pratinas, and Phrynichus. Each is credited with different innovations in the field.

Some is known about Phrynichus. He won his first competition between 511 BC and 508 BC. He produced tragedies on themes and subjects later exploited in the golden age such as the Danaids, Phoenician Women and Alcestis. He was the first poet we know of to use a historical subject – his Fall of Miletus, produced in 493-2, chronicled the fate of the town of Miletus after it was conquered by the Persians. Herodotus reports that "the Athenians made clear their deep grief for the taking of Miletus in many ways, but especially in this: when Phrynichus wrote a play entitled "The Fall of Miletus" and produced it, the whole theatre fell to weeping they fined Phrynichus a thousand drachmas for bringing to mind a calamity that affected them so personally and forbade the performance of that play forever." [6] He is also thought to be the first to use female characters (though not female performers). [7]

Until the Hellenistic period, all tragedies were unique pieces written in honour of Dionysus and played only once, so that today we primarily have the pieces that were still remembered well enough to have been repeated when the repetition of old tragedies became fashionable (the accidents of survival, as well as the subjective tastes of the Hellenistic librarians later in Greek history, also played a role in what survived from this period).

Top Ancient Greek Theatres

Ancient Greek Drama thrived in Greece between the 6th and 2nd century BC in Athens and originated from Orphic Mysteries, the religious practices of the Ancient Greek and Hellenistic period. More precisely,tragedy, comedy and satyr drama were the 3 kinds of theatre played in Ancient Greece during the festival of Dionysus, an event held in honour of God Dionysus, the famous God of wine, festivity and ecstasy.

During the era when the Ancient Greek Drama flourished, the remarkable list of performance venues that were constructed to host the masterpieces of this great art comprised of 4 mainparts: the orchestra (the dancing space), the skene (the scene), the theatron ((θέατρον

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Watch the video: Ηλέκτρα. Ορέστης. Κομεντί Φρανσαίζ - Ίβο βαν Χόβε. Αρχαίο Θέατρο Επιδαύρου 2019 (January 2022).