Theatre is an outdoor structure for drama performances or spectacles in ancient Greece and Rome.
The oldest place which can be called a theatre is situated in Knossos and we don't know what kind of spectacle the inhabitants of Knossos watched there; it's highly likely though that they watched beautiful Cretan girls gracefully whirl around in what Homer calls “the dancing place”. Dance is the origin of theatre and that's why the very heart of the theatre, its core, is called orchestra: the area where the chorus “orchestrates”.
The concept of theatre is deeply connected with the concept of Greek civilization and if we paraphrased Pausanias, we could say that a city cannot be named a city if it has no theatre. So, Greeks founded dozens of theatres all over the ancient world. Even Spartans had a theatre, although we are accustomed to thinking of them always fighting or exercising.
Naturally Athens holds once more the leading part and the earliest extant theatre today lies on the southern slope of the Acropolis. Despite the fact that what we see today reflects the form the theatre took in the 4th century in the time of the archon Lycurgus, we cannot help thinking that in this theatre presented their plays the great tragic poets Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides and in this same theatre once sat among the public Solon, Pericles, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle who gave us the definition of tragedy.
Many and important theatres were built by the Greeks, in Thoricos and Corinth, in Delphi and Delos, Dodona and Megalolpolis, Syracusae and Milos and the most recently excavated in Messini. The most beautiful and best preserved though, lies in Epidaurus.
The theatre of Epidaurus appears, as you walk uphill coming from the entrance, like huge arms ready to embrace you and introduce you into the mysteries of tragedy or the gaiety of comedy. Famous for its acoustics, this theatre can offer you moments of great emotion, either you go there as a visitor or as a spectator. Is it more beautiful when packed with the audience impatiently waiting for the performance to begin (it can be an ancient tragedy or a shakespearian drama) or absolutely empty on a sunny morning when you can hear, “see” and feel your voice vibrate the air and reach to the 55th row of seats, the last one of the upper diazoma. You stand on the stone on which the “thymeli”, the altar of Dionysos, had been built and think of the ancient actor who had competed there during a festival in honour of Asclepius. The spectators would come from many different places and after the performance they would go for lunch: it would be midday because the performance then took place in the morning. And then you think of Callas singing Norma and standing exactly there.
Nowadays the theatre of Epidaurus is regularly used for drama performances, mainly ancient tragedies and comedies.
Many of our theatres are being restored and some are used in the summer for performances. There is in fact a movement, called “diazoma” in this aim. Naturally it's a great pleasure to sit on a seat of an ancient theatre and watch a performance but that's not always the best for the monument itself. It's up to the archaeologists to make this decision.
Author: Avgi Kalogianni, Licensed Tourist Guide