The Ancient Theatre Archive

The Theatre Architecture of Greece and Rome

A Map and A Quest

All adventures begin with a map – at least this one did. The location was Ostia Antica, and the date was May 26th, 2001.  I was vacationing in Rome with my family. Our itinerary included the usual attractions: Pantheon – check, Forum – check, Vatican – check. They, and many more, were dots on my much-folded map of Rome. My eldest daughter recommended I add one additional landmark, Ostia Antica, the seaport of ancient Rome. As she said, “It’s easier to get to than Pompeii; it’s just as ruined; there are fewer tourists, and it has the remains of an ancient stone theatre.”

I knew enough about ancient theatres to know one when I saw one. I knew that Greece invented them and Rome remodeled them. I knew about the big three, Dionysus, Epidaurus, and Ephesus, and assumed there were a few more scattered about the ancient prefectures of Greece and Rome. The ancient theatre had been part of my theatre education, but I had never visited one before.

Armed with a water bottle, digital camera, and map, we boarded a train and headed for the coast and the mouth of the Tiber River – an appropriate place for an ancient inland city’s seaport. We toured the necropolis; we admired the mosaics; and we eventually found the remains of the Roman theatre – not tiny, not enormous, well preserved, and accessible to tourists. We stood in the orchestra and examined the remains of a Roman stage façade. We discovered a cistern that once held water for flooding the orchestra when the theatre was used for water spectacles. And, we noted the brick-clad arches that tunneled beneath the theatre’s tiers of stone seats.

When our self-guided tour reached the upper levels of the cavea, we rested. We sat in 2000-year-old stone seats and admired the view of a quiet performance space backed by a panorama of Italian umbrella pines and a sky of perfect blue. This was neither a model nor a reconstruction. And, as a teacher, this was an experience I wanted to share with students.

Last Update: 09-06-2022