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Ancient Greek Theatres

Date of Submission: 16/01/2014
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Greece to UNESCO
Ref.: 5869

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Theatre of Dionysos in Athens: Region of Attica, Regional Unit of Central Attica 23.727730E, 37.970383N

Theatre of the Amphiareion: Region of Attica, Regional Unit of Eastern Attica 23.845344E, 38.291581N

Theatre of Epidaurus: Region of Peloponnese, Regional Unit of Argolis 23.079200E, 37.596000N

Theatre of Megalopolis: Region of Peloponnese, Regional Unit of Arcadia 22.127258E, 37.410170N

Theatre of Argos: Region of Peloponnese, Regional Unit of Argolis 22.7196E, 37.6316N

Theatre of Delphi: Region of Central Greece, Regional Unit of Fhocis 22.500706E, 38.482450N

Theatre of Eretria: Region of Central Greece, Regional Unit of Euboea 23.790644E, 38.398603N

Theatre of Larissa I: Region of Thessaly, Regional Unit of Larissa 22.415256Ε,39.640315Ν

Theatre of Delos: Region of South Aegean, Regional Unit of Mykonos 25.268105Ε, 37.397040Ν

Theatre of Melos: Region of South Aegean, Regional Unit of Melos 24.421035Ε, 36.737823Ν

Theatre of Lindos: Region of South Aegean, Regional Unit of Rhodes 28.086576Ε, 36.089886Ν

Theatre of Oeniadae: Region of West Greece, Regional Unit of Aetoloakarnia 21.199028Ε, 38.409614Ν

Theatre of Dodona. Region of Epirus, Regional Unit of Ioannina 20.787700 Ε, 39.546492Ν

Theatre of Aptera: Region of Crete, Regional Unit of Chania 24.141436Ε, 35.461272Ν

Theatre of Maronia: Region of East Macedonia and Thrace, Regional Unit of Rhodope 25ο 31.155΄Ε, 40ο 52.727΄Ν

Theatre construction is a concept and an architectural achievement of Greek civilisation: a plain structure in which coexist, in a balanced and complete manner, functionality and excellent aesthetics.

An indispensable element of every urban centre from the Classical period onwards, theatres were set in the centre of political, social and religious life: the acropolis, the agora, the stadium, the bouleuterion, the sanctuaries. Theatres were distinguished by their simplicity of design, with a circular or semicircular seating layout, which, combined with the height difference between the tiers, achieved a unique combination of an unimpeded view and excellent acoustics. The seats of the cavea were usually adapted to the side of a natural hill, its centre dug out of the earth or rock and banked up on the sides, while in some cases, albeit rare, an artificial elevation was created on level ground in order to form the basis of the cavea seating.

Early, wooden theatral structures are dated to the 6th c. BC and are known only from literary sources and vase-painting. Stone structures are found from the 5th c. onwards, while Greek theatres attained their full architectural form in the 4th c. BC, consisting of three discrete parts: the audience seating area (cavea), the orchestra and the stage building (scaenae frons), which became ever more complex to meet evolving dramatic needs. Most theatres had stone seats divided into wedge-shaped sections (cunei) by staircases made of the same material. The cavea is divided horizontally by a concentric passageway, the diazoma. The upper part of the cavea is known as the epitheatre. The front-row seats of the lower cavea and epitheatre were reserved for privileged persons. These seats of honour might stand out by their construction, or even be luxurious stone thrones, sometimes bearing the names of the dignitaries for whom they were intended (proedriae).

Access to the orchestra was via two entrances on either side, the parodoi. Very often a drainage duct for the rainwater coming off the cavea ran round the orchestra, in front of the first row of seats.

The stage buildings, in their fully developed form, almost always combine a stage, with a ground floor and first floor, with a proscenium. The proscenium usually takes the form of a small row of pillars, columns or semi-columns in the Doric or Ionic style. Paintings were placed in the spaces between the columns of the proscenium, while each of its three doorways, similarly painted, is conventionally thought to have led to the palace, the countryside or the port. The stage building always includes an upper storey, its floor level with the proscenium roof. Certain stages also included side rooms that served as outbuildings, while many stage buildings are connected to porticos (stoai). In some theatres, an underground passage from the stage to the orchestra, known as the “Charonian steps”, allowed the gods of the netherworld to appear and intervene in the actions of the characters on stage.

The actors’ performance area, the logeion, was between the stage building and the orchestra. With the passage of time and the development of the stage building, this was moved to the flat proscenium roof or to special raised platforms.

In Roman times, most Greek theatres were turned into arenas, adapted to the new types of spectacle which became popular during this period. Protective structures were added for the audience, while the orchestra area was enlarged to host gladiatorial combats and wild beast fights. In some cases water cisterns were placed in the orchestra for water sports and other spectacles.

The theatres were built to host plays, which were originally closely linked to religious rituals. They later evolved independently of religion, culminating in performances by actors and a chorus (combining recital and dancing), with all the features of a theatrical production as we would think of it today, involving stage direction, scenery, stage machinery and theatrical equipment. During the course of their evolution, theatres acquired a central role in the function of the city-state, and became multifunctional, used not only for dramatic and religious performances but also for political purposes linked to the institution of Democracy. It is telling that the ancient traveller Pausanias regards the theatre as one of the basic urban features of a Greek city, along with the agora, the gymnasium and the public administrative buildings, and an important element in recognising cities in the East as being Greek (Phocis, X 4.1.)

The theatres

1)      Theatre of Dionysus in Athens

On the east part of the south side of the Acropolis stand the imposing ruins of is theatre, directly north of the Sanctuary of Dionysos. Most of the remains preserved today belong to the monumental structuring of the theatre by the archon of Athens Lycourgos, in the second half of the 4th c. BC. The core of the theatre, however, dates back to the 6th c. BC. That was when the Archaic Sanctuary of Dionysos was erected, while just to the north of it a circular area was levelled, where the cult performances in honour of the god were carried out. These ceremonies were watched by spectators sitting on the hillside, where wooden seats were placed shortly afterwards. This circular area of beaten earth, approximately 25 m. in diameter, formed the first “orchestra” of what was later to become the theatre. It was from the dithyrambic circle dance of the worshippers of Dionysos that tragedy was born.

The theatral structure of the 5th c. BC must have been a simple one, although its precise form has not been fully clarified. The cavea seats were gradually replaced by stone ones, while for the first time staircases were constructed, dividing the cavea into wedge-shaped cunei, and the parodoi of the theatre were delimited. A permanent stone stage was also built, most probably consisting of a plain rectangular building.

During the time of the archon Lycourgos, in the second half of the 4th c. BC, the cavea of the theatre was constructed wholly of stone and extended to the foot of the Sacred Rock, incorporating the section of the Peripatos, the path circling the Acropolis, which passed above the original cavea, and turning it into a diazoma (horizontal passageway). The part of the cavea above this diazoma formed the epitheatre. It is estimated that during this period the theatre had a capacity of approximately 15,000-16,000 spectators. The front tier of seats included 67 marble thrones. The stage was probably a rectangular building with two parascenia. The only major changes during the Hellenistic period must have been to the stage building, which, however, acquired a particularly monumental form in Roman times.

In 86 BC, during Sulla’s invasion of Athens, the stage building suffered considerable damage, as did the whole theatre. In the mid-1st c. AD, in the reign of the Emperor Nero, a new stage of impressive dimensions was constructed. The orchestra was restructured into a semicircle and paved with marble. In the mid-2nd or the 3rd c. AD a high logeion was added in front of the stage building.

2)      Theatre of the Amphiareion

In the sacred sanctuary of the oracle of Amphiaraos in Oropos, Attica, stood its theatre, where musical and dramatic contests were held every four years following the establishment of the Greater Amphiareia festival in 332 BC.

The theatre of the Amphiareion preserves elements of at least two different phases: the fan-shaped plan of the cavea and the circular orchestra date from Classical times, while the proscenium and the five separate inscribed thrones of the proedria are works of the Late Hellenistic period.

Only a small part of the lower cavea survives, together with the retaining walls of the parodoi. The rectangular stage building, with a tall proscenium 2.70 m. high, has a façade of eight marble Doric semi-columns, supported on the inner side on a corresponding number of pillars. An architrave with triglyphs and metopes crowned the colonnade. The reconstructed proscenium, together with the thrones of the proedria and the dedicatory inscriptions, all form a particularly instructive group from an important phase in theatre architecture during the Hellenistic period.

3)      Theatre of Epidaurus

The ancient theatre of Epidaurus was built of local stone on a natural slope of Mt Kynortion at the southernmost edge of the Sanctuary of Asklepios, the seat of the healer-god of antiquity and the greatest healing centre of the ancient Greek and Roman world. The theatre hosted music, drama and singing contests and poetry recitals, spectacles that formed part of the festivals in honour of Asklepios.

The theatre of Epidaurus is considered the most perfect theatral structure of antiquity, thanks to the harmony of its proportions, the symmetry of its parts and its exceptional acoustics. Its symmetry and beauty are praised by Pausanias, who attributes the monument to the Argive architect Polycleitus.

Until today, the prevailing view was that the theatre was built in two phases, at the end of the 4th and in the 2nd c. BC, when the epitheatre was added. Recent research, however, inclines to the view that the cavea was constructed in its entirety at the end of the 4th c. BC. The theatre appears to have been in use up to and including the 3rd c. AD.

The theatre was constructed according to a unified design governed by mathematical principles influenced by Pythagorean philosophy. More specifically, the overall plan is based on a pentagon centered on the orchestra, around which the cavea is laid out. For the Pythagoreans, this geometric shape expressed the harmony of the parts of a whole.

At the theatre of Epidaurus the basic parts of the ancient theatre are clearly distinguished: stage building, orchestra and cavea. The cavea is delimited by two poros-stone retaining walls and is divided by staircases into wedge-shaped cunei, which radiate out from the orchestra, drawn from three centres, an invention to which the excellent acoustics of the theatre are due. The cavea comprises 55 tiers of seats in total, which are divided by a paved passageway into two sections. The front tiers of each section and the last tier of the lower cavea boast luxurious backed thrones. In the parodoi, two monumental two-door propyla (porticos) led to the stage building and the orchestra.

The orchestra forms a perfect circle with a diameter of approximately 20 m. At its centre is preserved a stone base, interpreted by scholars as the base of the altar of Dionysos. The stage building was built of poros stone. It originally comprised the proscenium and a two-storey stage, flanked by parascenia. Colonnades adorned both the façade of proscenium and the back of the stage building at ground level. In the 2nd c. BC the structure was adapted to the functional changes of drama. A few statues discovered during the excavations form just a sample of the sculptures decorating the stage building. Today the stage building is preserved as a low ruin.

The capacity of the theatre is estimated at approximately 13,000-14,000 spectators.

4)      Theatre of Megalopolis

The ancient theatre of Megalopolis, with the largest capacity in Greece according to Pausanias (Paus. 8,32,1), was designed for a large audience (17,000-21,000 spectators). Set on the left bank of the River Elissonas, in a landscape of exceptional natural beauty, it is less than 2 km from the modern town of the same name. The theatre was built circa 370 BC and was used not only for performances of ancient drama, but also for gatherings of the representatives of the people of Megalopolis and the Arcadian League, as well as festivities connected to the pan-Arcadian worship of Zeus Lycaeus.

The theatre was constructed using the natural slope of the hillside. The semicircular orchestra was 30 m. in diameter, while the cavea, with a maximum diameter of approximately 130 m., was divided into three sections. The columned portico of the Thersilion, built on the south side of the theatre, served as a stage backdrop facing the cavea, a unique innovation in the architecture of theatres incorporated in the fabric of a city. Originally there was a movable wooden stage that was removed and stored in the skenotheke (storeroom) that was constructed at the west parodos. The stone proscenium, whose foundation is preserved today, was built in the Roman period.

5)      Theatre of Argos

Cut into the bedrock of the southeast slope of Larissa hill in the 3rd c. BC, the theatre of Argos hosted the musical and dramatic contests of the Nemean Games in honour of Hera, as well as meetings highlighting its political character. Scholars estimate the capacity of the theatre at approximately 20,000 spectators.

The cavea of the monument, with 82 tiers of seats, is divided by five radiating staircases into four wedge-shaped cunei. Two entrances, the north and south parodos, facilitated access to the orchestra.

The proscenium was oblong with a façade of twenty columns. Behind it stood the stage building, accessed by two ramps. The theatre originally had a single entrance on the southeast of the stage building. In 100 AD a second entrance was added with a ramp on its north side.

On the arrival of the Romans in Argos, the stage building of the theatre was renovated. The monumental façade with its three entrances, the new logeion with its niches, added under Hadrian, and the symmetrical parascenia communicating with the raised platform of the logeion, all form part of the interventions of this period. Three staircases led from the stage building to the logeion.

With the introduction of new spectacles, such as gladiatorial combats and wild beast fights, protective fencing for the spectators was set up, supported on posts set into holes in the floor of the orchestra. Other holes in the area of the cavea indicate the presence of a canvas cover (velum) to shade the audience from the sun. North of the central staircase was constructed a new platform for dignitaries (proedria). In the 3rd c. AD mosaic flooring with geometric patterns replaced the wooden floor at the ends of the stage.

In the 4th c. AD a cistern was built in the orchestra for use in water sports. The theatre fell into disuse in the 5th-6th c. AD.

6)      Theatre of Delphi

The theatre of Delphi is the largest structure within the enceinte of the Sanctuary of Apollo, set in its northwest corner, very close to the temple of the god which formed the cult centre. It was built in the 2nd c. BC, although the area of the cavea had probably already been laid out appropriately at an earlier date, for the musical contests that formed part of the Pythian Games. An inscription records that the theatre acquired its monumental form circa 160 BC, with funding provided by Eumenes II of Pergamon. The final form of the theatre dates to the 1st c. BC, while many modifications and repairs were carried out in the Late Roman period.

The cavea of the theatre is divided into two sections by a horizontal passageway (diazoma). The lower cavea has 27 rows of seats and is divided by eight radiating staircases into seven wedge-shaped cunei. The upper cavea has eight rows of seats and is divided by seven staircases into six cunei, corresponding to the central cunei of the lower cavea. The orchestra, 18.24 m. in diameter, is horseshoe-shaped, although it is originally thought to have formed a perfect circle. The stage building consists of a large room facing south. In the Roman period, the proscenium façade was decorated with a marble frieze carved in relief depicting scenes from the Labours of Hercules. Dozens of inscriptions commemorating the emancipation of slaves and acts of the Amphictyonic League were carved on the stone blocks of the east retaining wall, indicating the public and political character of the monument.

7)      Theatre of Eretria

The theatre of Eretria is in the west part of the city, between the west gate, the stadium and the upper gymnasium, while the Temple of Dionysus has been uncovered at its southwest end.

The current form of the monument features elements of the three main building phases, according to the recent excavation data. It is one of the most typical examples of a theatre of the Hellenistic period, whose original form was not particularly affected by the restructurings of the Roman era.

It is striking that the cavea of the theatre did not exploit the natural slopes of the acropolis, but was set on an artificial embankment with many retaining walls. It had a total of 30 tiers of seats, divided by 10 radiating staircases into 11 wedge-shaped cunei forming a single block. The upper level of the cavea, corresponding to five or six tiers of seats, appears to have been intended for standing spectators. Based on this information, the theatre would have had a capacity of approximately 6,000-6,400 people.

The first building phase of the monument is dated to the late 4th c. BC. At this stage the cavea probably had no seating, so the spectators may have sat on temporary structures, while the stage building was on a level with the orchestra. This single-storey building was shaped like an upside-down Π with the open end facing the audience, and consisted of a façade with an Ionic colonnade flanked by two parascenia.

The second building phase is dated circa 300 BC. During this phase the stone seats, the staircases and the two sturdy retaining walls of the parodoi were built. This was also when the stage building and orchestra were set on different levels, and the vaulted passageway connecting the two, the “Charonian steps”, was constructed, along with the raised proscenium, one of the earliest examples of its kind.

Following the destruction of Eretria by the Romans in 198 BC, the theatre was rebuilt out of poorer-quality materials with the addition of two further side structures, and was probably turned into an arena for secular spectacles.

8)      Theatre of Larissa I

The Ancient Theatre of Larissa I, one of the largest and most important theatres in Greece, was built at the southern foot of Frourio (“Fortress”) Hill, on which the fortified acropolis of the ancient city stood. The theatre was built in the early 3rd c. BC. During its first centuries of operation, apart from theatrical performances, it was also used for meetings of the supreme administrative regional body, the Thessalian League. At the end of the 1st c. BC it was turned into a Roman arena and continued to function in this form until the end of the 3rd c. AD.

The theatre is a huge monument, constructed almost exclusively of marble with rich relief decoration. The cavea was formed by the hillside itself, which had been terraced for seating. A two-metre-wide passageway, the diazoma, divided the cavea into the lower or main theatre and the epitheatre. The epitheatre is now largely destroyed, but we know that it was divided by 20 small staircases into 22 wedge-shaped cunei with 14 to 18 rows of seats each. The main theatre was divided by 10 small staircases into 11 cunei with 25 rows of seats each. The orchestra is thought to have measured over 25 m. in diameter. The two parodoi, together with their retaining walls, are preserved in excellent condition.

The stage building, consisting of four rooms with three entrances between them, is the best-preserved part of the theatre. The stage building, 20 m. long and 2 m. wide, was added in the first half of the 2nd c. BC. It had a row of six jambs and six monolithic Doric semi-columns, and its colonnade supported a Doric entablature, while the whole structure supported a wooden platform, the logeion, on which the actors performed. In the 1st c. AD, the stage building was severely damaged, partly due to the transformation of the theatre into an arena. That was when luxurious marble cladding, semi-columns, pillars and sculptures were added, along with a second storey of as-yet-unknown form.

9)      Theatre of Delos

The theatre of Delos was built by the Delians with money from the treasury of the Temple of Apollo, using marble from a neighbouring quarry and local stone, and also marble imported from the islands of Paros and Tinos. The construction of the theatre began circa 310 BC and was completed around 70 years later, circa 240 BC. The theatre was definitively abandoned following the destruction of 88 BC.

The cavea of the theatre is supported by a sturdy marble retaining wall. A passageway running across it divides it into two sections of 27 and 16 tiers, seating approximately 1,600 spectators. Access to the cavea was via the two parodoi, two more entrances at the level of the passageway separating the two sections, or by a final one in the middle of the highest point of the theatre. The semicircular orchestra was closed on its straight side by the skene, a rectangular stage building with external dimensions of 15.26 x 6.64 m. with three entrances on the east side and another on the west. In front of the stage building was the proscenium (proskenion), a 2.67-m.-high colonnade with pillars and Doric semi-columns. The metopes on the proskenion entablature were decorated with alternating tripods and bulls’ heads in relief. Later a portico was added to the other three sides of the stage building, the same height as the proskenion, with Doric pillars.

Southwest of the theatre are preserved the remains of altars and sanctuaries dedicated to Artemis-Hecate, Apollo, Dionysos, Hermes and Pan.

10)  Theatre of Melos

The ancient theatre of the island of Melos in the Cyclades is set on the slope of the hill over which the ancient city spreads, in an impressive site overlooking the bay of Melos. Excavations to date have revealed the orchestra and part of the cavea, the stage building and the west retaining wall. The cavea, constructed on the natural slope of the hill, is in the typical horseshoe-shaped layout of ancient Greek theatres. Seven wedge-shaped cunei with up to nine rows of white marble seats are preserved. Each row contains four to five seats. The orchestra lies approximately 1.70 m. below the level of the paving-stones of the circle, in order to serve as an arena. The vertical rock face between the arena and the circle was faced with marble slabs. Of the stage building, part of the stage and proscenium is preserved, as well as scattered architectural members.

The preserved form of the ancient theatre of Melos dates from the Roman period, although it may originally have been built in Hellenistic times. The architectural elements of the stage building are similar to those of theatres in Asia Minor.

11)  Theatre of Lindos

The ancient theatre of Lindos lies at the foot of the west slope of the rock of the Lindos acropolis, directly below the temple of Athena Lindia. It is connected to the great city festivals in honour of Dionysos, the Sminthia, which included dramatic, musical and athletic competitions, processions and sacrifices. The theatre is dated to the 4th c. BC and had a capacity of 1,800-2,000 spectators.

The cavea was divided into nine wedge-shaped cunei separated by eight narrow staircases. It had 19 rows of seats, most of them carved into the rock although some were built, as were the endmost cunei and the side retaining walls, which do not survive. The staircases led to a passageway (diazoma) above which lies the upper cavea with six rows of seats. The upper cavea is more steeply inclined, in order to provide even the non-privileged spectators with a good view.

The seats of honour, or thrones, were arranged in a circle on a projecting band of rock. The orchestra of the theatre is circular and also carved into the rock. The stage building was at least 19 m. long and 4.80 m. wide.

Today only the rock-cut parts of the theatre are preserved: the circular orchestra, the three central cunei of the upper cavea together with parts of the two cunei on either side, and the central section of the upper cavea. 

12)  Theatre of Oeniadae

The theatre of Oeniadae, built on a steep hillside, offers spectators an unrivalled view of the Acheloos river valley running down to the Ionian Sea.

The monument is architecturally unique, due to the fact that the orchestra, cavea and staircases are drawn from three different centres, and also thanks to its excellent acoustics. The east part of the cavea is carved into the bedrock, while the rest is built of limestone. It has a horseshoe-shaped plan and preserves 27 rows of seats and 10 wedge-shaped cunei, divided by 11 staircases, without an intervening passageway. The orchestra is 16.34 m. in diameter, with a covered stone rainwater drainage duct running around it. All that survives of the stage building is the foundations of the proscenium, 26 m. long, and those of the parascenia, measuring 5 x 16 m. each.

Three building phases have been identified, mostly connected to restructurings of the stage building, the earliest phase of which is dated to the mid-4th c. BC. The proscenium was added during the Hellenistic period.

13)  Theatre of Dodona

The theatre of Dodona was built in the early 3rd c. BC, in the reign of King Pyrrhus (297-272 BC), and is one of the largest theatres in Greece, with a capacity of approximately 15,000-17,000 spectators. It is set in the natural surroundings of the Sanctuary of Zeus, west of the temple. It was built to host the Naia festival, held every four years in honour of Zeus Naios. It may also have accommodated the activities of the Epirote League, of which the Sanctuary was the seat during the period 330/325-233/2 BC.

The excavation finds indicate four building phases. To the first phase (297-272 BC) are dated the cavea, with 55 rows of seats, the circular orchestra and the stage building. Four passageways (diazomata) divide the cavea into three sections of 19, 15 and 21 rows of seats respectively. Ten radiating staircases divide the cavea into nine wedge-shaped cunei. The upper part of the cavea is subdivided by intermediate staircases into 18 cunei to provide spectators with better access, and culminated in large orthostats (stone blocks) on a three-stepped base. Two large staircases on either side of the cavea led spectators straight up from the two parodoi to the upper passageways of the theatre. Above the central cuneus, a wide exit, secured with a movable grille, was used to let the audience stream out en masse after the performance. The lowest seats with the proedria (seats of honour), as well as the corridor paving, were later removed when the theatre was turned into an arena.

The earthen orchestra, 18.72 m. in diameter, formed a perfect circle. At the centre is preserved the base of the thymele, the altar of Dionysos.

The rectangular, two-storey stage building was fronted by a row of pillars and flanked by a pair of square rooms, the parascenia. In the south wall of the stage building was a doorway with an arched lintel, leading to a Doric colonnade with a façade of 13 eight-sided pillars.

During the second building phase, following the destruction of 219 BC, the two square rooms on either side of the stage were connected by a stone proscenium consisting of 18 semi-columns. The parodoi were flanked by two monumental porticos with twin entrances and Ionic semi-columns.

In the third building phase, repairs were carried out to the stage building following the Roman destruction of 167 BC. Some of the proscenium semi-columns were replaced by rough-built walls.

Finally, during the fourth building phase, the theatre was turned into an arena. The front rows of seats were removed and the floor of the orchestra was filled in and raised, covering the thymele, the drainage duct and the remains of the proscenium.

14)  Theatre of Aptera

The theatre of Aptera is built in a natural declivity, facing south towards the White Mountains (Lefka Ori) of Crete. It is situated in the south part of the city, close to the corresponding entrance. The excavation and architectural information to date indicates that there were three building phases: Hellenistic, Roman I (1st c. AD) and Roman II (3rd c. AD).

Of the cavea, only the seats in the central section remain, along with a sizeable part of their stepped foundations.

The retaining walls of the parodoi, mostly dating to the Hellenistic building phase, have partly collapsed, probably in the great earthquake of 365 AD. Many of their stone blocks are lying in the parodoi.

The front of the stage building has the typical scenae frons layout, with three large niches corresponding to three entrances. The three construction phases of the monument are combined in the stage building, whose walls are preserved to a height of half a metre above the floor.

15)  Theatre of Maronia

In the southeast part of ancient Maronia, against the wall of the city and among its ancient buildings, stands its theatre, built on the slopes of two hills between which a seasonal stream once ran.

The cavea of the theatre, facing southwest, is constructed of hard yellowish poros stone, while the stage building is made of local limestone. The cavea was divided into nine wedge-shaped cunei, of which the first rows of seats are visible. The capacity of the cavea is estimated to have been no more than 1,300 spectators. Around the horseshoe-shaped orchestra ran a large marble drainage duct that led the rainwater off the cavea into the main channel of the stream.

The theatre formed part of the urban plan of the Hellenistic city, dating it to the end of the 4th c. BC. The rectangular stage building was constructed in the Roman period. It was divided into three parts, with a proscenion with a colonnade, preserving 13 bases of semi-columns.

During the next building phase, in the Early Christian era, the theatre was turned into an arena. The front row of seats was removed and a protective balustrade was placed around the orchestra. The monument fell into disuse in the 4th c. AD.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The construction of theatres, an outstanding achievement of Ancient Greek civilisation, reflects the high level of intellectual, political and social development attained by that civilisation in Classical times. Theatres were widespread throughout the Greek lands and formed the archetype of a multitude of corresponding structures in antiquity throughout the Mediterranean.

Ancient Greek theatres reflect the original concept and the first stages of development of the theatre as an architectural type, as it evolved to adapt to the changing requirements of the dramatic art during the Classical and Hellenistic periods. They form the starting-point of a long architectural tradition, constantly enriched with new elements, that continues to this day. They also constitute a technological achievement with regard to their acoustics. The variation in height between each row and the next prevented degradation of the sound waves, while the shape of the cavea enabled a good concentration of sound. The tall stage building with its parascenia, and the smooth surface of the orchestra, which was paved from a certain point onward, also functioned as sound amplifiers.

It was in Greek theatres that the great works of ancient drama were first performed, including the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides and the comedies of Aristophanes, which continue to inspire the world of the theatre to this day.

Theatre as an institution is directly connected to the spirit and expressions of democracy, as it was established in Athens by the reforms of Kleisthenes (508 BC), which is why it aimed to achieve the greatest possible level of citizen participation. Attending performances was an experience on multiple levels, which was not only intended to provide a link with religious tradition but also reflected the intellectual, political, philosophical and metaphysical concerns of its time, assuming a strongly educational character. Furthermore, theatres also served political functions connected to the institution of Democracy, being used from the 5th c. BC onwards as meeting-places for the citizens and the Assembly (Ecclesia) of the Demos. Their multifaceted role also justifies their physical relationship with the core of civic public life, the agora.

Large numbers of ancient theatres survive in Greece, some of them in an impressively good state of preservation. The theatre is one of the few types of ancient monument which is easily recognised by the general public and has been incorporated into modern life to a striking degree.

Criterion (i): The construction of theatres is a unique concept from an architectural and functional point of view, which has proved extremely influential through the ages, becoming the model for a multitude of corresponding structures down to the present day.

Criterion (ii): The sitting of theatres within the city reflects clear urban planning. Care was taken to connect the theatre to the public centre, the agora, and the other public buildings it assisted, serving the functions of the city (social, religious and political gatherings) and democratic institutions. The theatre was the quintessence of Greek civilisation, a means of expressing measure, simplicity and harmony, and one of the criteria by which Pausanias recognised cities in the East as being Greek.

Criterion (iii): Theatres are incontrovertible proof of the high intellectual, technological, political and social level attained by Greek civilisation in Classical times. They are inextricably linked to the spirit and operation of Democracy, as it first appeared in Athens in the 5th c. BC.

Criterion (iv): Greek theatres are the archetype of this category of monument and an achievement of acoustics at such an early period. They bear witness to the genesis and primordial forms of the theatral structure, which keep pace with and are dictated by the evolution of drama and theatrical needs. The architectural type of the theatre influenced public buildings of Greek and Roman antiquity such as bouleuteria, ecclesiasteria and Roman-type odeia and theatres, and formed the starting-point of a long architectural tradition that continues to this day.

Criterion (v): Theatre construction is a characteristic example of making full use of elements of the natural environment. In most cases the selected site is at the foot of a hill and most of the seats are carved into the bedrock, while the choice of location was also dictated by the desire to provide a panoramic view of the city, the sea, the beautiful landscape. They are thus important examples of human interaction with nature and the harmonious incorporation of structures into the landscape, evidence of the Ancient Greek love of natural simplicity and natural beauty.

Criterion (vi): It was in Greek theatres that the great plays of antiquity were first performed, including the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides and the comedies of Aristophanes, unsurpassed literary masterpieces that have influenced dramatic production worldwide and continue to inspire the world of the theatre to this day.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity


The selected theatres all preserve a remarkable degree of integrity and maintain all the attributes that convey their Outstanding Universal Value. Their state of preservation makes it possible to model their original form, dimensions and capacity, as well as their function.

The theatres are protected under current archaeological law and separate designations of the archaeological sites in which they are incorporated. In cases where they are used to host present-day performances, special conditions are in place not only to prevent damage to the monuments during use, but also to ensure that the events are in keeping with their character.


The selected theatres preserve a high level of authenticity. Consolidation and protection works has been carried out at certain theatres, in line with restoration norms. In cases where the cavea has been modified with the addition of seating to allow the monument to function as a theatre, this has been done using compatible materials and always respecting the original configuration.

Comparison with other similar properties

Ancient theatres form a unique category of monument, both as an architectural concept and as regards their connections to the origins of dramatic art. Some Greek theatres form individual elements of wider archaeological sites inscribed on the World Heritage List (Epidaurus, Delos, Delphi in Greece and Syracuse, Butrint, Cyrene and Cyprus in other countries); these do not, however, form the core of those incriptions and are not directly linked to the genesis of theatre, unlike those included in the present proposal.