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The archaeological research of ancient theatres is a fascinating, multidisciplinary process. An excellent case in point is the research at the Ancient Theatre of Askra, a theatre unearthed in 1890 and whose substantiation remains an enigma to this day.
The first archaeological research at Ancient Askra was carried out in 1882 by P. Stamatakis, who identified the foundation of the small ancient temple of the Muses. He was also the first to note the existence of a theatre on the mountain’s slope. Systematic excavations of the site followed a few years later, under P. Jamot of the French Archaeological School (1888, 1889 and 1890).
The theatre, which dates back to the end of the 3rd century BC – beginning of the 2nd century BC, was built to accommodate the musical and theatrical games held in the valley during the festival dedicated to the Nine Muses. The theatre’s seating area, the koilon, followed the natural inclination of the slope. The spectators sat on rows of rudimentary seats cut in the mountain’s slope and only the proedria, the front-row seats of honour, must have been made of stone. The 19th-century excavations uncovered the 15.26 x 6.64 m skene (the structure at the back of the stage) and a proskenion (the front of the skene) of twelve Doric columns. They were backfilled and are no longer visible.
In April 2012, the President of DIAZOMA visited the archaeological site accompanied by Ms Alexandra Charami, head of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Boeotia, and archaeologist Ms Dimitra Oikonomou. Up until that time, no systematic research of the archaeological site had taken place, with the exception of the stage building. To facilitate further research and excavation of the theatre, the archaeologists proposed a geophysical survey, whose results could provide a blueprint for their new excavation programme. DIAZOMA committed to recommending the most suitable Institute to the Municipality of Aliartos so that the geophysical survey could take place as soon as possible. The agreement was signed a few months later. In October 2010, the Municipality of Aliartos commissioned the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki to carry out the geophysical survey of a total area of ten acres, to investigate the archaeological site and map any surviving architectural remains of the ancient theatre.
In November 2012, a group of researchers from the Department of Geophysics of the Aristotle University School of Geology carried out the survey in collaboration with scientists from the 9th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities. They applied the methods of electrical mapping and electrical tomography and used the late 19th-century excavation findings of the French Archaeological School to select the sites surveyed. The survey “identified several disturbances of the geophysical fields pointing to the existence of underground structures,” in other words architectural remains below the ground. These findings justified further archaeological research of the site.
In June 2016, the Ministry of Culture and the Region of Central Greece signed a Cultural Development Programme Agreement of € 50,000 for the excavation and documentation of the ancient theatre and signage of the site. Two months later, the Ephorate of Antiquities of Boeotia published a notice for the recruitment of excavation personnel.
In September 2015, DIAZOMA members attending the 8th General Assembly, which focused on planning the “Cultural Route of Central Greece” programme, were updated, among other things, on the progress of works at the monument by archaeologist Ms Dimitra Oikonomou, just before excavations at the theatre were due to start.
From October to December 2016, excavation works took place at the Ancient Theatre of Askra within the framework of the Programme Agreement. However, the archaeological research was completed without bringing sufficient evidence on the existence and substantiation of the monument to light. In a speech delivered to a DIAZOMA Corporate Members event in Karpenisi in the spring of 2017, Ms Charami said that the excavation works “did not reveal any remaining parts of the theatre, only a retaining wall at the southeast end of the theatre”. However, Ms Charami proposed the continuation of works at the Archaeological Site of the Sanctuary of the Muses through a new Programme Agreement. Focusing on the Sanctuary, it would enable the creation of a suitable infrastructure to conduct restoration and promotion studies for the site, which together with the ancient theatre forms an integral whole.
DIAZOMA film footage and more details on the progress of works at the theatre, from its first encounter with the Association to the present day, are at your disposal to become better acquainted with the theatre.
Let us travel to the Ancient Theatre of Askra
The programme was funded by the Region of Central Greece (Public Investment Programme).