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Roman theatre of Gortys

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During the Antonine-Severan period, the new Roman theatre of Gortyn (also known as Gortys) was constructed on the eastern side of the city. It was similar in size to the theatre situated on the foothills of the Acropolis. For long, its remains were attributed to the city’s amphitheatre due to the identification made by Onorio Belli in the 16th century.

In the summer of 1911, the Italian School of Archaeology at Athens (SAIA) dug some trial trenches at the building considered to be an amphitheatre at the time. The excavations behind the scaenae frons (the stage house front) brought to light a colossal seated statue (2.9 metres tall and weighing approximately 3 tons) of Antoninus Pius.

In 1984, the ruins of the actual amphitheatre of Gortyn were identified at the location where the church of Agioi Deka (Ten Saints) was subsequently erected in the village of Agioi Deka and the monument’s ruins had to be reexamined. In 1988, a surface survey and cleaning mission of the site took place, and trial trenches were dug at key locations of the site.

The orientation of the monument aligns with the N-S arterial thoroughfares, and the cavea (seating space) faces W-N-W. The monument is constructed almost entirely of brick and conglomerate stone. Local limestone blocks were also used.

The longest surviving theatre diameter extends to 81.5m.  The scaenae frons must have been at least two stories high and made of marble, with a sandstone podium. The centre door, the valva regia, was framed by a vestibule of exceptionally large dimensions.

The cavea rested on a complex system of strong radial walls, annular passageways and vaults, and joined the scaenae frons. It must have been divided into an ima cavea (lowest tier), media cavea (middle tier) and summa cavea (upper tier) by two praecinctiones (walkways). It consisted of a total of 31 rows which were probably topped by a covered colonnade, the porticus in summa cavea. The theatre could accommodate more than 6000 spectators.

The orchestra excavation trench brought to light the layer of marble floor slabs made from various types of marble (white marble, cipollino marble, purple-veined marble, Proconnesian marble). The theatre’s marble altar in the middle of the orchestra survives in situ. The wall of the pulpitum (stage) is preserved at a maximum height of 1.60m, its original height being 2.10m, with a passageway at its centre allowing access to the vaulted hyposkenion, the area under the stage. The scaenae (stage house) is 62.8 meters long in total. The scaenae frons is 50.27m long with three deep niches, two rectangular side niches and a central mixed-shape niche. Numerous architectural members and sculptural decorations attest to the wealth of decoration adorning the monument. The monument’s collapse possibly resulted from the catastrophic earthquakes of 365 A.D. and of the following centuries.


Greek edition of Gortina di Creta:  Quindici secoli di vita urbana by Antonino Di Vita (Vikelaia Municipal Library, Heraklion 2015)



Monument Name

Amphitheatre of Gortys



Brief Description

The Amphitheater of Gortys is located at the southeast edge of the town and was built in the 2nd century AD. Maffei claims that it looked like the Colosseum in Rome. Today it is buried to the point that hardly anyone recognizes the plan of the structure.

Images - Plans

Documentation - Bibliography

1. I. F. Sanders, Roman Crete, Warminster 1982, 63-65.

2. A. di Vita, V. La Rosa & M. A. Rizzo (eds), Ancient Crete. A Hundred Years of Italian Archaeology (1884-1984), Roma 1985, 59.

3. Α. Κάντα, Φαιστός, Αγία Τριάδα, Γόρτυνα, Athens 1998, p. 133.


The archaeological site of Gortys is located in Gortyna Municipality.



It was built in the 2nd century AD.

General Description of Monument

The Amphitheater is located at the southeast edge of the town. Maffei claims that it looked like the Colosseum in Rome. According to O. Belli’s description, as recorded by Sanders, the theater’s condition was as follows: It was built of solid and massive walls of composite concrete faced with brickwork on the outer sides. The outer wall consisted of 56 arches in two rows and there was probably a portico at the rounded apex. There were four entrances along the axes and two sections of seats inside. The internal dimensions (which were determined after I. F. Sanders cleaned the area) are 66 m. N-S and 50m. E-W. Sections of wall were revealed in a 3 m. distance on the western side. These were probably remnants of the façade, which was surrounded by two towers with internal stairways. This was probably where the main staircase was, where there was also a niche with a statue. The head of the statue is exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion  (catalogue no. 73) and it is believed that it represents Antoninus Pius. The rest of the statue has also been saved. It shows a seated figure wearing a toga (in Sanders time it was still in situ, while today it is exhibited at the Archaeological Site of Gortys, in the courtyard outside the Glypthoteque). If indeed it represents the emperor it is very likely that he was responsible for the construction of the amphitheater. But it has been supported that it represents Volumnius Sabinus, one of the Great Priests of Cretan Common (Koinon), who organized games with imperial permission sometime around the 3rd century AD. The statue may belong to the Aphrodisian School. Another statue from the Amphitheater is found today at the British Museum. It shows a female figure, probably Nemesis, in a pleated garment, who stands on a boy with a griffin to the right and a snake to the left. Fragments from the epistyle of the amphitheater have survived. They are superbly carved out of local limestone and present relief forms, such as a Medusa head, a lion, a dove, a ram head and an eagle with a snake. A fragment that is decorated with plants and bucrania probably comes from an arch. The sculptures come from Asia Minor and cities such as Aspendos, Sagalassos and Thermessos, and date to the 2nd century AD. Today the monument is buried in the ground up to the point that hardly anyone recognizes the plan of the structure.

Current Situation

A short excavation research was conducted in the beginning of the 20th century by the Italian Archaeological School.


It is located inside the archaeological site of Gortys.