Renovations / Excavations
- ca. 60 CE – 221 CE: Begun 1st cent. CE – finished in Hadrianic period (early 2nd cent. CE)
- 193 – 211 CE: Under Septimus Severus, the scaenae frons was modified and decorated with elaborate limestone and marble carvings.
- 352 CE: orchestra adapted for use as kolymbethra (water pool for aquatic displays) and the repair work to scene house.
- Renovation work since 1977 has restored many of the arches and a portion of the stage floor. Prior to this date, the stage as well as its arched support system lay in ruins. Recent archaeological evidence shows that the theatre was in use through the 5th and into the 6th century AD. In 532 AD the scaenae, which had been weakened by seismic activity, was repaired.
Hierapolis was first excavated by German Carl Humann in the late nineteenth century. He published his “Altertumer Von Hierapolis” in 1889. Additional excavations by an Italian team led by Paolo Verzone began in 1957. Currently, the archaeological site is under the direction of the “Italian Archaeological Mission of Hierapolis of Frigia” (MAIER), directed by Grazia Semeraro, Professor of Classical Archaeology of the University of Salento. Hieropolis was added as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
The Hierapolis Museum was built at the site of the Hierapolis Roman baths in 1970; before then artifacts were sent to the museums at Izmir and Istanbul. As of 1996, the excavation of the orchestra and skene was complete, and the restoration of the podium was nearing completion. As of 2001, Dr. Daria de Bernardi Ferrero has been leading the Italian excavations.
Cavea Width: 103 meters
Orchestra Width: 22 meters
Hierapolis (modern Pamukkale, Turkey). Cavea width: 103 m, ima cavea 23 rows in 9 cuni; suma cavea 27 rows in 10 cunei; semicircular bisellium near bottom of middle cuneus; orchestra width: 21.65 m with evidence of kolymbethra; scaenae frons: 2 stories, 5 doorways; capacity: 10,050 to 12,550; ca. Early 2nd century CE.
Hierapolis Roman Theatre (modern Pamukkale, Turkey)
The ancient city of Hierapolis is located on a 200-meter-high terrace of limestone deposits amid a wonderland of mineral water pools and petrified limestone waterfalls. The ancient city overlooks the modern town of Pamukkale in Turkey’s Inner Aegean region. Founded as a thermal spa in 190 BCE by Eumenes II, the King of Pergamon, the city was most likely named for Hiero, the wife of the legendary founder of the Pergamene dynasty.
The theatre at Hierapolis was built in the second century AD under the Roman Emperor Hadrian during a period of extensive rebuilding following a devastating earthquake in 60 AD. It was later renovated under Septimus Severus (193-211 AD). At this time, the scaenae frons was modified and decorated with elaborate limestone and marble carvings. Although the exterior is relatively unassuming as viewed from the front, the interior contains one of Anatolia’s most complete and best-preserved collections of Greco-Roman theatre decorations.
In 343 AD the scaenae was renovated and the orchestra was altered so that it could hold aquatic displays. In the later years of the Roman Empire, the orchestra was converted into a cellar. Renovation work since 1977 has restored many of the arches and a portion of the stage floor. Prior to this date, the stage as well as its arched support system lay in ruins. Recent archaeological evidence shows that the theatre was in use through the 5th and into the 6th century AD. In 532 AD the scaenae, which had been weakened by seismic activity, was repaired.
Cavea: The theatre at Hierapolis had forty-five rows of seats separated by a diazomata or walkway. Recent reconstruction efforts have restored most of the cavea which could accommodate approximately 10,050 to 12,550 people. The summa or upper cavea contains 27 rows divided into 10 cunei with 9 staircases, and the ima or lower vacea has 23 rows divided by 8 staircases into 9 cunei. A series of vomitoria (audience passageways) provides access to the upper cavea sections through four arched entrances. Eight steps lead from the orchestra to the seats at each side of the stage. A massive marble bisellium (a centralized, curved seat of honor large enough for two or more people) dominates the center of the lower cavea. This ornately carved, curved seat of honor spans the width of the fourth, fifth, and sixth rows in the central seating section and was reserved for priests, dignitaries, or other honored guests. Square holes in the cavea floor on either side of the bisellium could be evidence of support poles for an awning (baldachin) that once covered this central seating area. An inscription in the first diazomata reads, “Hierapolis, foremost land of broad Asia, mistress of the Nymphs, adorned with streams of water and all beauty.” The theatre is made mostly of marble, but the renovations made during the reign of Septimus Severus used recycled stones from an ancient theatre to the north of the city.
Orchestra: D 21.65 meters. In 352 CE, the orchestra was made watertight for use as a Kolymbethra for aquatic shows (proscaenium doors closed so that the orchestra could be flooded). In the later years of the Roman Empire the orchestra was converted into a cellar.
Scaena Frons: The scaenae frons had five doors and six niches for statuary. Ten elaborately carved Corinthian columns in front of the scaenae frons were decorated in marble with seashell motifs. The columns supported detailed entablature (architectural element consisting of a horizontal beam, a frieze, and cornice). The stage was supported by a series of stone arches which provided a corridor beneath the stage floor.
The theatre at Hierapolis has some of the best-preserved decorative features of any theatre in Turkey. Several decorative friezes from the elaborate scaenae frons have survived intact. One shows Emperor Septimus Severus in procession with his family and the gods, with an inscription and dedication. Another illustrates the life of Dionysus, from his birth through his journeys in Asia. He is depicted riding in a carriage pulled by leopards, with an entourage of satyrs, sileni, and bacchantes, as well as the gods Pan and Priapus. The third frieze shows a procession and sacrifice to the goddess Artemis and the punishment of Niobe and her children by Artemis and Apollo.
Currently, the archaeological site is under the direction of the “Italian Archaeological Mission of Hierapolis of Frigia” (MAIER), directed by Grazia Semeraro, Professor of Classical Archaeology of the University of Salento. Hieropolis was added as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
– Author: Amanda Heffernan (student research assistant), Whitman College. 2003 (edits and updates: T. Hines. 2023)
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