The theatre of Sparta was a magnificent monument which displayed grand reconstruction ideas. When Pausanias visited the theatre in 160 AD, he was impressed and characterized the theatre as “a theatre worthy of sight” (Greek Touring, III, 14.1).
The theatre is located north of the modern city, on the southern slope of the Acropolis of Ancient Sparta, and preserves elements from different building phases. Its construction dates back to the transition from the late Hellenistic period to the early Roman one and probably to 30-20 BC, while some elements date back to the end of the 4th century AD. It has been linked to the reign of Eurikles Herklanos, a friend of the emperor Octavian Augustus.
The theatre had 9 tiers with 32 rows of seats in the lower concave and 16 tiers with 17 rows of seats in the epitheatre. The hollow was supported laterally by two large retaining walls, which were added to increase the total capacity of the theatre. One gained access to the first tier from the external stairs that were close to the retaining walls of the passageways. It is estimated that the theatre could hold up to 17,000 spectators.
A remarkable feature of the Spartan theatre was the use of a wooden mobile scene. This scene was moved by wheels along by a triple stone aisle, and was kept in a building on the west side of the “scenic”. The use of the mobile scene is due to the dual function of the theatre, and the need for free space, probably because the theatre was a place of public gatherings and where worship rituals took place with dances and competitions. At the end of the 1st century A.D., the theatre acquired a steady two-storey marble Roman scene, Corinthian style, as a gift from Emperor Vespasian.
The Sparta theatre follows the tradition of the earlier Peloponnesian theatres in Epidaurus and Megalopolis. It stands out for its size and for the quality of its construction,which is also reflected in the use of the local white marble. The use of marble for a theatre of this scale is an innovation not only for Sparta but for Peloponnesian theatres in general.
Although the theatre has not been fully excavated, visitors can realize that they are in a large-scale theatre, with an impressive technical and technological achievement and are able to recognize the hollow and admire the large retaining walls that give it structure.
Ancient Theatre of Sparta
The theatre had a big scene and proscenium, a horseshoe-shaped orchestra, and a circumferential gallery at the upper part of the hollow. The hollow was made of white Taygetos marble. Ten staircases divided the main theatre into nine tiers, while seventeen staircases divided the epitheatre into sixteen tiers. The theatre may also have had a third tier. The theatre initially had a mobile scene which was kept in the “scenic”, under a shelter built in the west side. An important historical phase of the theatre is the addition of a Roman stage building in 78 A.D. during the reign of emperor Vespasianos. The main access to the theatre was from the east.
The construction of the theatre dates back to the transition from the late Hellenistic period to the early Roman period (Waywell&Wilkes, 1995) probably in 30-20 B.C., and has been linked to the reign of Eurikles Herklanos, a friend of the victor in the battle of Actius, emperor Octavian Augustus. Some elements date back to the end of the 4th century A.D..
The existence of a theatre in the city of Sparta is revealed by ancient writers as early as the 5th century B.C., and is directly linked to the celebration of worships, such as “gymnopaidies”.
The preserved theatre of Sparta that dates back to the late Hellenistic era in early Roman times, probably in 30-20 B.C., had a large scene and proscenium, a horseshoe- shaped orchestra and possibly a cirumferential gallery at the upper level of the hollow to protect the viewers from the rain. In front of the theatre ran the main Roman Spartan road, because during the 2nd century A.D. a great number of honorary inscriptions were engraved on the wall of the passage.
The theatre had 10 staircases in the lower hollow, 9 tiers with 31 rows of seats, and in the epitheatre 17 staircases, 16 tiers with 17 rows of seats. The central part of the hollow rests on the hill, while laterally it was supported by two retaining walls. The side retaining walls and the passages were made of limestone, and the facade of marble.
The names of the city’s officials were recorded annually on the eastern retaining wall. The eastern passage allowed access to the theatre and the retaining wall of the eastern and western passage led through a stairway to the tier. A special feature of the theater is that it initially had a mobile stage, which was kept in the “scenic”, a shelter built on the west passage.
This was necessary to ensure free space when the theatre was not used for theatrical performances but for political, social and festive gatherings. The existence of the mobile scene is confirmed by the three parallel elongated channels, 68 meters long, located on the ground at the end part of the orchestra. The channels end up in a building on the west side of the passage, partly under a later building (Nymphaea) from which the foundations were preserved. The use of this building refers to re-used bricks as SCANOTHES.
An important historical phase of the theatre was the addition of a Roman stage building in 78 A.D. under the reign of emperor Vespasianos. The scene had three interior rooms, three magnificent openings that led to a platform and in the façade (scaenae-frons) a two-storey Corinthian colonnade with balconies. The “scenic” of the stage was then reconstructed into Nymphaeus, a long, horseshoe-shaped, cistern with two long sides, 13.55 m long and 2.2 m wide.
The latest information on works on the theatre comes from an inscription on the architrave of the scene with reference to Theodosius (late 4th century A.D.). A settlement developed in the centre of the theatre between the 10th and 13th century. The remains were removed during the excavations in the orchestra, the scene and the lower hollow.
The theatre has similarities to the theatre of Megalopolis and its size is similar to that of Epidaurus. It is estimated that 16,000 spectators could be gathered in this enormous structure.
Excavation has brought to light architectural remains of the monument that are still visible today. The orchestra, the retaining walls and part of the theatre’s hollow have been preserved. The ancient theatre cannot be visited as its excavation has not been completed.
The theatre has been described by foreign travellers since the 18th century. The first scientific research was conducted by the British Archaeological School in 1906-1910, and also in subsequent time periods (1924-1927, 1992-1998, 2008). In the period 1960 – 1963, excavations were carried out by Professor Chrysanthos Christou at the expense of the Archaeological Society. Since 1992, the British Archaeological School has been working in the field. The area is not fully excavated. On Tuesday, October 15, 2013, the Central Archaeological Council approved the study for the restoration of the ancient theatre, commissioned by the DIAZOMA Association, and funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.
The archaeological site is protected by the Ephorate of Antiquities of Laconia.
The ancient theatre cannot be visited, as its excavation has not been completed.
The archaeological site is protected by the Ephorate of Antiquities of Laconia.
The theatre presents similarities to that of Megalopolis, such as the extended hollow around the circular orchestra, a low aisle behind the presidency seats, the isolated stage building with open passages defined by the high retaining walls and large “scenic” in the west. The use of marble for a theatre of this scale is an innovation not only for Sparta but for the Peloponnesian theatres in general, which were usually built from limestone or conglomerate stone.
Another feature of the theatre of Sparta, which is noted by Woodward is the mixed technique in construction, a combination of raw bricks in layers and stone blocks as a foundation for stone and marble constructions. The marble façade of the eastern passage, which lists the Spartan government officials, is also a rare monument in Greece, a “stone” archive of the city.
|J.M. Kaplan Foundation||13/02/2018||81.070.13|
|TERRA SPARTA ltd||29/12/2017||200.00|
|STAVROS NIARCHOS FOUNDATION||18.000.00|
|Ancient theatre of Sparta – Ministry of Culture||81.070.13|
|Ancient theatre of Sparta Απόδοση παρακρατούμενου φόρου για μελέτη Ορεστίδη – 11/2012||8.000.00|
|Ancient theatre of Sparta Απόδοση παρακρατούμενου φόρου μελέτης – 27/06/2013||4.000.00|
|Ancient theatre of Sparta ΠΑΡΑΚΡΑΤΟΥΜΕΝΟΣ ΦΟΡΟΣ ΜΕΛΕΤΗΣ Γ.ΟΡΕΣΤΙΔΗ –||4.000.00|
|Ancient theatre of Sparta ΠΡΟΣΚΛΗΣΕΙΣ ΕΚΔΗΛΩΣΗΣ (18/12/13)||209.10|
|Ancient theatre of Sparta ΤΟΠΟΓΡΑΦΙΚΗ ΜΕΛΕΤΗ – 07/04/2015||615.00|
|Ancient theatre of Sparta ΦΟΡΟΣ ΜΕΛΕΤΗΣ Γ. ΟΡΕΣΤΙΔΗ||2.000.00|
|Funding Level||Funding Source||Works Description||Remarks|
The New York-based J.M. Kaplan Foundation donation
$100,000 (€81,070.13) for the enhancement of the theatre in order to reinforce the first phase of the associated restoration works (February, 2018)
Stavros Niarchos Foundation