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Roman Architecture - Theatres

( Originally Published 1921 )

Roman theatres were often adapted from the Greek to suit the Roman drama, and for this the auditorium, with its tiers of seats one above the other, was restricted to a semicircle (p. 109). The central area at the ground level, which in Greek theatres was occupied by the chorus, became part of the auditorium and was assigned to senators and other dignitaries. The stage increased in importance and was raised and brought into immediate connection with the auditorium. Roman theatres were not only hollowed out of a hill-side, but they were also built up by means of concrete vaulting, supporting tiers of seats, under which were the connecting corridors used for retreat in case of sudden showers.

The Theatre, Orange (p. 109 E, F, G, H), in the south of France, is in an unusual state of preservation, and here the auditorium, which holds 7,000 spectators, is partly constructed and partly hollowed out of the hill-side. It is 340 ft. in diameter between the enclosing walls, and has stairways on either side of the various levels. The stage was 203 ft. wide by 45 ft. deep, and is enclosed by return walls at right angles to the wall at the back of the stage. The great wall of the outer facade, 324 ft. long by 116 ft. high, is ornamented with wall arcading, and there still remain the two tiers of corbel stones pierced with holes for the velarium poles, but the original portico has disappeared.

The Theatre of Marcellus, Rome (B.C. 23-13), was entirely built up on a level site, and therefore the seats of the auditorium were supported not on a hill-side, but, like those of the Colosseum, on radiating walls and concrete vaulting. It is the only ancient theatre now in Rome, and, though in a ruinous condition, portions of its semicircular auditorium still remain, consisting of two tiers of outer arcading, ornamented with superimposed Doric and Ionic Orders.

The Odeion of Herodes Atticus, Athens (A.D. 161) (p. 75 C), connected by an arcade with the Theatre of Dionysos (p. 112), is Roman in plan and is partly hewn out of the Acropolis rock and partly constructed, and its marble seats accommodated 6,000 people ; while cedar wood, found buried on the site, would suggest that there may have been a roof to the stage.

The two theatres at Pompeii, as well as those at Taormina and Syracuse in Sicily, at Fiesole near Florence, at Ostia near Rome, at Timgad in North Africa, and Aspendus in Asia Minor, are other Roman theatres.

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