TURKEY WEB PROJECT
Ancient Theatre Sites in Modern Turkey
In Conjunction with the Fulbright Group Project to Turkey (1999)
Submitted by Jane T. Peterson, Ph.D.
Department of Theatre and Dance
Montclair State University
The following descriptions are the text accompanying the visual representations of the theatres that are submitted for the web site project.
Ancient Theatre Sites in Modern Turkey
Modern Turkey is a treasure trove of archeological information. Of the hundreds of archeological sites have been identified in Turkey, less than 100 have undergone extensive excavation. However, all those sites associated with the Greek, Hellenistic or Roman periods have one thing in common: an example of a Greco-Roman theatre. While the theatres at some sites are mere skeletons of their former glory, other examples, like those at Ephesus and Aspendos, are so well preserved that they are used for modern concerts and performances.
During the 800+ years of Greek and Roman domination in the Mediterranean world, theatre played a vital role in the civic lives of the people. A theatre with seating capacity for approximately 10% of the citys population was one of the central buildings in any ancient city. The following photographs are examples of some of these theatres in western Anatolia.
Aphrodisias was an ancient cult center for the goddess Aphrodite that was built on the River Meander (Menderes). Some archeologists date the city back as far as 5800 B.C. in association with worship of the mother goddess Cybele. The city of Aphrodisias reached its heyday under the Roman Empire. After the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. the city proved its loyalty to Octavian and achieved its independence. It received imperial patronage from the 1st through the 4th centuries A.D., thereby becoming a center of art and literature.
The theatre at Aphrodisias is built on the east slope of a small acropolis and tumulus dating back to 3000 B.C., making the theatre and the Temple of Aphrodite the two earliest areas of the city. The capacity of the theatre was 5000. The building was completed in the second half of the 1st century B.C. and later modified to accommodate gladiatorial games. It was further modified in the Byzantine period and then used for another 500 years--as late as the 7th century A.D. The auditorium (cavea) is divided into 2 sections of 26 rows each. Only tiers on the western portion of the second cavea are undamaged with the remainder of the upper cavea collapsed. There is a semi-circular orchestra. A narrow stair connects the orchestra with the box situated in the center of the auditorium. A prohedria (tier for prominent people) makes up the first row of the auditorium. The stage building (skene) was probably 2+ stories and at the rear of the stage there are 6 vaulted rooms and five entries. There were rooms and corridors under the proscenium (stage). The paradoi were closed during later reconstructions. Eventually a wall was put up behind the stage and the whole acropolis on which the theatre rests was used as a fortress. A bath was attached to the southern end of the theatre.
The area around Perge was inhabited as early as 3000 B.C. It fell under Lydian domination when King Croesus (560-547/46 B.C.) conquered Perge but came under Persian control when King Cyrus overthrew Croesus in 547/56 B.C. Alexander the Great conquered the city in 333 B.C. but upon his death the city reverted to the rule of the Egyptian Ptolemies or Seleucids of Syria. In 188 B.C. it was left to the kingdom of Pergamon by the Treaty of Apameia. Worship of Artemis goes back to the ancient mother goddess cult of Anatolia.
The theatre at Perge, built in the Roman style, is generally believed to have been built in the first two decades of the 2nd century A.D., a gift to the city by the philanthropic Plancia Magna. Although the theatre is partially free standing, the back of the auditorium is built into the Kocobelean hillside southwest of the city. As is typical of Roman theatres, the auditorium and stage building are connected. Entrance was through the vaulted paradoi on either side of the stage building. The auditorium was divided into 2 sections; the upper cavea had 23 rows of seats and the lower had 19. The total seating capacity was 14-15,000. The orchestra was slightly larger than a semi-circle and functioned as an access to seats for spectators. By the 3rd century A.D. a marble wall or parapet separated the orchestra from the auditorium. This structure protected the spectators when the theatre was used for gladiatorial contests and animal fights. The stage building (skene) was 3 levels high and had five entrances opening onto the orchestra. The fašade of the skene (sceanae frons) was one of the most richly decorated stage buildings in Anatolia with depictions of the local river god, Kestros, and the life of Dionysus, the god of theatre. The outer fašade of the stage building was also elaborately decorated with fountains and pools, friezes and statues. The excavations are continuing on the theatre.
The city of Aspendos was the only Anatolian city, besides Side, that was minting coins as early as the 5th century B.C. It is speculated that it may have been settled by Greeks from Argos and was, for a time, part of the Athenian Delian League. However, by 330 B.C. it was occupied by Alexander the Great and reached its height of prosperity during the Hellenistic period. In 190 B.C. it was incorporated into the Roman Empire. The ruins of Aspendos, including the theatre, date from the Roman period, as no trace of the pre-Roman city has been found.
The theatre at Aspendos is the best preserved Roman theatre in Turkey and is still being used for performances of the Aspendos International Opera and Ballet and Festival each summer. It is built on the NE slope of a small hill. Designed by the Roman architect Zeno, it was built in honor of Marcus Aurelius (r. A.D. 161-180) by two brothers (Curtius Crispinus and Curtius Auspicatus) who dedicated it "to the gods of the country and to the Imperial house."
One enters through vomitoria (which correspond to the Greek paradoi now covered with vaulted arches) into the horseshoe-shaped orchestra. The orchestra originally had a water canal around it and a stone parapet was added in the 3rd century A.D. to accommodate gladiator and wild animal fights. The horseshoe-shaped auditorium seats 15-20,000. The lower cavea consists of 20 rows of seats with 10 sets of steps. It is separated from the upper cavea by a passage (diazoma). The upper cavea has 21 rows of seats and 21 set of steps. Although some of the lower section of the auditorium rests on the hill, the upper cavea rests on vaulted arches. The topmost row of seats is surrounded by a gallery of 59 arches. Boxes for priests and royalty were over the paradoi. The first row of seats were reserved for judges, while women were relegated to the upper seats.
There is a two story stage building (skene). Although the decorations from the fašade of the stage building have been almost entirely removed, a carving of Dionysus can still be seen in the center, indicating that the scaenae frons was previously covered in marble and richly decorated. Five stage doors lead from the skene onto the raised stage: the porta regata (the large door in the middle) and two smaller doors (portae hospitales) on either side.
The lovely sea-side city of Side ("the pomegranate that symbolizes the fruitfulness") was first settled in the 7th century B.C. as a colony of the West Anatolian city of Kyme. In the 6th century B.C. it came under the control of Lydian kings until their defeat by the Persians. In 334 B.C. the city surrendered to Alexander the Great, but after his death it was ruled by the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucid kings of Syria. After the defeat of the Seleucids by the Romans, the city was briefly given to Pergamon before gaining its independence.
The theatre, built in the 2nd century A.D., is in the Roman style. Built on barrel-vaulted substructures and supported only by vaults, arches and columns, it is completely free standing, the only such example in Anatolia.
The auditorium is divided into a lower and upper cavea each with 29 rows of seats; however, only 22 rows of the upper seats remain. The lower cavea is divided by 12 sets of stairs and the upper by 25 rows of stairs. The curve of the auditorium significantly exceeds a semicircle. The orchestra is semicircular and is surrounded by a water channel. The high parapet separating the orchestra from the auditorium enabled the orchestra to be filled with water in order to reenact navel battles as entertainment. The stage building, which was originally 3 stories high and with a richly decorated fašade or scaenae frons, is in the process of being excavated and rebuilt. The theatre was later converted into an open-air church in the 5th or 6th century A.D.
In many respects the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus are the crown jewel of Turkish archeological sites. Before being inhabited by 10th century Ionian colonizers, the region around Ephesus had been a center of mother goddess worship that may have arisen because the area was acknowledged as one of the homes of the Amazons.
During its long and glorious history, there were four different manifestations of the city of Ephesus. The one that has had extensive excavation and rebuilding is Ephesus III, which became a commercial and cultural center in the Eastern Mediterranean area. At its height, Ephesus was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and home to 250,000 people.
The theatre at Ephesus is in the Greco-Roman style. Begun in the 2nd century B.C., the theatre underwent numerous modifications throughout the years. During the reign of Emperor Claudius (41-54 A.D.) the diameter of the theatre was enlarged, and the building was completed during the reign of Trajan (98-117 A.D.).
The auditorium has a seating capacity of 24,000 and rises to a height of 30 m. above the level of the orchestra. It is horseshoe shaped with three sections of the cavea separated by two diazomata. Each section increases in steepness above each diazoma to facilitate viewing. The orchestra is a semi-circle.
During the Hellenistic era the performers acted in the orchestra along with the chorus or on a low platform in front of the stage building. The ground floor of the stage building consists of a long hall running behind the stage with 8 rooms in the rear. By the Roman period, the stage was raised to a height of 8 1/2 feet and had a depth of 10 feet. Another 10 feet of depth was added during a reconstruction in the 1st century A.D. An elaborate 3-story fašade was also erected during this period.
Although a small settlement was founded in the archaic period, historical evidence indicates that by the 4th century B.C. Pergamon was a significant site. By the Hellenistic period (283-133 B.C.), Pergamon as a cultural center in the world and remained so for at least 150 years. With the death of Attalos III in 133 B.C., Pergamon was bequeathed to the Roman Empire and continued to be an important city. During the height of its glory, the library at Pergamon had 200,000 volumes in its collection rivaling the great library at Alexandria and thereby earning a place as one of the premiere cultural centers in the world.
The theatre at Pergamon was built during the 3rd century B.C. and modified during Roman times. Built on the steep hillside of the acropolis in the classical Greek model, the theatre was able to accommodate 10,000 spectators. The auditorium is divided into 3 sections separated by 2 diazoma or landings. The imperial box is situated in the lower section. A wall with arches and niches was added above the last row of seats during the Roman era.
Little is left of the orchestra or stage building which is speculated to have been made of wood and probably dismantled after performances. A permanent structure would have obstructed the view of the 250 m. long doric stoa behind the stage area and the Temple of Dionysus, the Greek god of theatre (and wine!), to the right of the stage area.
# 7 ASKLEPEION:
The Asklepeion at Pergamon was a healing and therapeutic center of the ancient world, comparable to other such centers at Epidauros and Kos. It is approached by the Via Tecta or Sacred Way, a 820 m. road. Part of the treatment included plays and concerts performed at the theatre.
The small theatre at Asklepeion was built to conform to the steep slope of a hill as in the Greek manner. However, the rest of the theatre is in the basic Roman style. Typical Roman features of the auditorium are the semi-circular shape and the low gallery behind the top row of seats. The capacity was 3500 spectators with an upper and lower cavea divided by 1 diazoma. There was a marble box for dignitaries occupying the 3 rows of the center section. The stage building, which is no longer standing, had been 3 stories high with a stage about 1 m. high.
One of the oldest and most important of the Ionian cities, Miletus boasts a Mycenean colony on the site dating from the 2nd millennium B.C. The city entered a very properous period in the 7th century B.C. with the establishment of colonies on the Black Sea and in Egypt and eventually became a center of Western thought with the pre-Socratic school of philosophers. It fell to Persian domination in 546 B.C. and was destroyed by them in 494 B.C. However, during the Hellenistic period it regained its importance as a center of commerce and art and functioned as an independent city during the Roman era.
The theatre is the most well-preserved building in the present excavation. First erected in the 4th century B.C., it was altered in Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine eras, eventually reaching a seating capacity of 15,000 in the Roman period. The auditorium had 3 sections of the cavea, each with 19 rows of seats. The upper cavea were supported by vaulted galleries on the diazomas. The stage building was 34 m. wide and originally 2 stories high. A third story was added in the Roman era.
Priene was one of the oldest of the Ionian settlements. Although the exact date of its founding has not been determined, coins dating to 500 B.C. have been found. The new city was founded on the present site in 350 B.C. It was important as an artistic rather than a political center.
Built in the 4th century B.C., the theatre is an example of Hellenistic design which utilized the natural slope of a hill. The auditorium was horseshoe-shaped with an estimated 50 rows of seats providing a seating capacity of 5000. The seats were bisected by 6 narrow staircases. In the middle of the 5th row were special seats with backs (prohedria) for dignitaries. There was also a row of backed seates on the first row which surrounded the orchestra. This row also contained 5 armchair seats spaced throughout the row of backed seats.
The orchestra was made of beaten earth. Although there was no evidence of an altar in the orchestra (typical of classical Greek stage design), there was an altar in the middle of the prohedria in the first row of seats. The stage building had a colonnaded proskenion (in front of the skene) which was 21 m. long and 2.75 m. wide with 12 doric supports or columns. These 12 columns provided 11 spaces or intercolumnations. Actors entered and exited from the 3rd, 6th, and 9th, while the 4th, 5th, 7th and 8th intercolumnated spaces were utilized for pinakes or painted panels of scenery. The 2-storied skene had 3 rooms on each floor. Today only the lower floor is partially standing. The proskenion, used as the acting area in Roman times, was enlarged in width by 2 m. which was accomplished by knocking out the front wall of the skene.
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