Renovations / Excavations
There are eight excavation campaigns that have involved the theater/temple of the San Nicola theatre/temple complex since 2002 : the first four were carried out under an agreement between the University of Salento and the Superintendency for Archaeological Heritage of Salerno, Avellino, Benevento and Caserta, under the direction of Prof. Gianluca Tagliamonte and Dr. Francesco Sirano, the others also conducted by the University of Salento by virtue of a three-year concession (2012-2014) issued by the Directorate General for Antiquities of the MIBACT, with the direction of Tagliamonte, the coordination of Luciano Rendina.
The Pietravairano site is currently undergoing a functional and conservative restoration with the goal of showcasing the complex as an archeological exhibit while providing a venue for the staging of theatrical productions. (Source: Antonio Salerno, the Superintendency for Archaeological Heritage of Salerno).
Cavea Width: 43 meters
Orchestra Width: 21 meters
The work, carried out by Salento University, aimed to complete the excavation of the theatre-temple complex.
In the theatre, largely excavated in 2007-2008, the excavation of the pronaos was deepened, at the centre of which an “a cappucina” burial, without grave goods, was found (n.14). Another tomb (n. 15), of the same type and also without grave goods, was found in the south-western sector of the terrace. It contained a child that still had its milk teeth. The lack of grave goods in both burials means they cannot be dated based on the archaeological evidence.
The recent investigations also involved the entire theatre building. Sixteen tiers of the cavea were brought to light, divided horizontally in three sectors by two wide passageways, while the presence of three flights of steps subdivided the cavea itself into four parts or wedges.
The orchestra, still to be completed, has so far been investigated through limited sondages, which however revealed the original floor surface, made up of compact mortar with small limestone and tile inclusions. Large sections of the same floor were also present along the aditus, the points of access to the theatre that sloped down from the exterior towards the orchestra level. The proscaenium was completely exposed and in the central sector an opening 0.80 m wide provided entry to the scenery pit that was originally covered by the wooden pulpitum.
The theatre entrances were monumentalised with vaulted passageways of which traces of the walls remain at foundation level abutting the containing walls of the cavea. The facade of the proscaenium must have been decorated with terracotta pilasters, attested by several traces, while a central opening provided access to the scenery pit (hyposcaenium), the same length as the scenae frons, covered by wooden planks (pulpitum) of which all traces are lost. The scenae frons was supported to the rear by semicircular buttresses. In addition to the imposing substructures, short sections of the walls are standing, evidence of its ancient glory. However, we have no evidence for the reconstruction of the form and decoration of the front wall of the stage structure. Probably covered by a flat roof, this structure was delimited to the south by one of the highest and most imposing walls within the sanctuary complex, certainly the longest, which must have been clearly visible from the valley below.
Summary Author: Gianluca Tagliamonte – Università del Salento
FastiOnline. https://www.fastionline.org/excavation/micro_view.php?item_key=fst_cd&fst_cd=AIAC_1747. Accessed 4/8/2023
Mt. San Nicola Theatre (modern Pietravairano, Campania, Italy)
The Theater of Mt. San Nicola is located in the province of Caserta in the Campania region of Italy. It is part of a theatre/temple complex on the top of Monte San Nicola near the modern city of Pietravairano. The complex was lost and forgotten for centuries; then found by accident by a local pilot following a brush fire in 2001.
The complex is sited atop Mount Nicola at a height of 450 meters above sea level and is accessed by ascending a steep, gravel walkway. The region was occupied by the Samnites for hundreds of years but the ruins of the theatre/temple complex show evidence of Roman construction, dating from the early 1st Century BCE. Both the theatre and temple were abandoned in the 2nd Century CE and disappeared from public memory due to their somewhat inaccessible location and the vegetation that overgrew the ruins. Following a brush fire in 2000, Professor Nicolino Lombardi, a Campania resident historian, was able to discern the fire-exposed ruins while piloting a light aircraft over the region. (source: Il teatro ritrovato. Il complesso archeologico del Monte S. Nicola di Pietravairano. (Cinque Luigi, and Panariti, Dario).
Excavations began in 2002 by the University of Salento and the Superintendency for Archaeological Heritage of Salerno, Avellino, Benevento, and Caserta, under the direction of Prof. Gianluca Tagliamonte and Dr. Francesco Sirano. Initial findings determined that the theatre belongs to the category of so-called “Greco-Roman” theatres and was clearly inspired by the Greek architecture of southern Italy and Sicily.
By 2015, the excavations revealed an upper and lower cavea with a diameter of approximately 43 meters. The south-facing cavea was built into the natural slope of the hill below the temple with retaining walls (analemmata) built of local limestone. A wide passageway (diazoma) separated the upper and lower cavea seating sections (maeniāna). The cavea was accessed by three stairways which divided the cavea horizontally into four wedge-shaped seating sections. The theatre could seat approximately ?2,000 spectators. The 2015 Univesity of Salento excavation report identifies 16 cavea rows of seats: ima cavea: 2 rows; media cavea: 11 rows; summa cavea: 3 rows . Due to the steep incline of Mt San Nicola, the theatre’s construction site is supported by a series of four semi-circular buttresses behind and to the south of the stage house.
By the end of the 2015 the University of Salento excavations, a semi-circular orchestra was revealed, made up of compact mortar with small limestone and tile inclusions, with a diameter of 21 meters. The excavation report concluded the now missing stage was originally covered by wooden planking, and the theatre entrances consisted of vaulted passageways. The report concluded that the scaenae (stage house) was supported to the rear by semicircular buttresses, but nothing remains of this rear-stage wall, it architectural decorations, nor the flat roof that most likely covered the stage at a height equal to the rear of the cavea seating.
Experiments conducted by the University of Salento in 2012 explored plans for restoring the cavea tiers of seating. The goal was to implement reversible interventions that would preserve the tiers of seating and protect them from erosion caused by rainwater runoff and the seasonal cycles of freezing and unfreezing. The additional benefits of restoration would allow the complex to serve as an archeological exhibit while providing a venue for the staging of theatrical productions. By 2020,12 tiers of cavea seating were restored and a wooden cover was constructed over the orchestra and stage. Restoration work continues.
Bibliography / Resources:
Cinque Luigi, and Panariti, Dario. Il teatro ritrovato. Il complesso archeologico del Monte S. Nicola di Pietravairano. University of Salento (Lecce) Superintendence for the Archaeological Heritage of Salerno, Avellino, Benevento and Caserta. 2012. https://www.academia.edu/21656836/Il_teatro_ritrovato_Il_complesso_archeologico_del_Monte_S_Nicola_di_Pietravairano. Accessed 3/25/2023.
FastiOnline. Fasti Archaeologici. The International Association for Classical Archaeology. https://www.fastionline.org/excavation/micro_view.php?item_key=fst_cd&fst_cd=AIAC_1747 Accessed 4/8/2023.
Pietravairanl, Temple and Theater of San Nicola. http://www.pietravairano-ce.it/teatro_tempio.htm. Accessed 4/6/2023.
Pleiades. Ancient World Mapping Center and Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. https://pleiades.stoa.org/places/251442732. Accessed 3/30/2023.