The ancient theatres of the Turkish Riviera

The Roman theatre at Aspendus, the best preserved theatre in the Roman Empire

The Roman theatre at Aspendus, the best preserved theatre in the Roman Empire

The cities of the Athenian Empire, and later the independent walled harbour cities of the Hellenistic period and Roman period, all had theatres. Many of them remain and we visit them on the coast, with M/S ‘Odysseus’ landing nearby. Many are near the sea as the Greek plays, comedies and tragedies are often performed against the background of the real world…

There are three types of theatre to be seen:
•    Pure Greeks
•    Roman modified Greek
•    Pure Roman

The distinguishing features are pure Greek, mostly no stage buildings with a fully circular acting area, and the seating area is more than a semicircle. Greek theatres are built up against the slope of a hill needed to support the sloping seating area.

The commonest Roman modifications are a raised stage with under floor rooms and sometimes a back wall decorated with columns and doorways. The seating area is penetrated by vaulted tunnels as entrances and exists for the audiences who were blocked by the stage building from crossing the acting area.

A pure Roman theatre would have been built several hundred years later and in many cases was constructed on flat ground not up against a hill, as the Greek theatres had to be. This is because the Roman developed great engineering skills and could support the sloping seating on tunnels and arched vaults which also allowed the large audiences to enter the theatre from the side and back, allowing the stage building to completely close off the theatre. In some cases a canvas tent was supported on poles to shade the audience. It is said that in some cases it was rigged up by sailors in Roman times.

Dargan’s list of ancient theatres, Greek and Roman, on the Turkish Riviera – 18 major public buildings on this part of the coast:

Ephesus **** Romano-Greek
Priene *** Pure Greek
Miletus *** Pure Roman
Iassus *** Pure Greek
Bodrum (Halicarnussus) ** Pure Greek
Cedraea * Pure Greek
Cnidus ** Romano-Greek
Fethiye ** Pure Greek
Patara *** Romano-Greek
Xanthus *** Romano-Greek
Kas ** Pure Greek
Simena ** Pure Greek
Myra *** Pure Roman
Arycanda *** Pure Greek
Phaselis **
Perge **
Aspendus **** The best preserved
Side ***