What’s the difference between a theatre and an amphitheatre?

The words ‘amphitheatre’ and ‘theatre’ are often used interchangeably. However while there are many ancient theatres, few amphitheatres exist, in fact none that I know of in Turkey. The amphitheatres such as the Colosseum (433 x 666 feet/130 x 200m) in Rome, the one in Verona and others elsewhere including the legionary amphitheatres in Britain are all oval in plan, whereas theatres, both Greek and Roman, are approximately semi-circular. Theatres and amphitheatres were used for different purposes, as indeed were the Greek and Roman theatres.

Along the southern Turkish coast which we explore there are no less than 16 theatres that we visit frequently. All are interesting and comparisons are fun to make. More were built inland at various times over 700 years (5th century BC to 180 AD or so). They fall into three categories: pure Greek, Roman modified Greek and pure Roman. Their plans and construction are each quite different, although superficially they look similar.

My favourite theatre is Aspendus, which is pure Roman and the most perfectly preserved of those from the Roman Empire. It was built late on and is said to be capable of holding 15,000 people. It is a truly memorable experience to attend an opera performance there, which we can arrange. My second favourites are the Greek theatre at Priene (5th century BC) and another pure Roman theatre at Myra, which would have been known to St. Nicholas, probably 2 centuries after it was built.

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