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Ancient Greek Theater Architecture Many aspects of ancient Greek
theaters have long been studied and debated. Much of the information about these theaters
is based on speculation due to the fact that so little of them still exist today. This lack of
remnants especially applies to the architecture of the early Greek Theaters. However,
through archeological finds and years of studying the people, the plays, and the
architecture of the time, we are able to make many conclusions about these early
structures. Greek Theaters are classified into three categories: The early Athenian
Theaters, Hellenistic Theaters, and Graeco-Roman Theaters. Like most new inventions or
creations, the initial theaters built by the Athenians were very simple. In the fifth century
B.C., it became popular to build theaters on the slope of a large hill, or an acropolis,
the most famous, being in Athens. These early theaters could be divided into three parts.
The theater consisted of the theatron (or auditorium), the orchestra, and the skene (or
scene building) (Betancourt). The Greeks would eventually perfect a technique that would
fit as many spectators into the theatron as possible. At first the spectators sat on the
ground until wooden bleachers were installed. After it was discovered that the wooden
bleachers were prone to collapsing, permanent stone seating was built. The architects
created concentric tiers of seats that followed the circular shape of the orchestra and
hugged the rising ground of a hillside, following the natural contours of the land. Usually,
theatrons were symmetrical; however, there do remain examples of irregularly shaped
theatrons. A horizontal passage called the diazoma separated the theatron into halves, thus
allowing audience members to more easily get to their seats. The front seats were called
proedria and were reserved for officials and priests. The skene of the fifth century theater
is believed to have been a temporary structure, erected and taken down for each festival. It
was constructed using light and perishable materials until later, when theaters were built in
stone. At that point, a permanent stone skene was built (Allen 28). More became known
about the skene after it changed to a permanent, stone fixture in the theater of the fourth
century B.C. Lastly, but likely the most important part of theater is the orchestra. In its
simplest form the orchestra is simply a circular plot of land designated as a place for
dance. In fact, this is exactly how many see the Greek Theater developing. The orchestra
appeared to have been circular in shape and possess supernatural powers. The surface of
the orchestra was originally earth and measured about 66 feet in diameter. When many of
the theaters were renovated, a raised stage was added, thus eliminating the need for the
old orchestra. Therefore, the old orchestra was converted into additional seating
(Betancourt). Obviously, this seating was needed because of the growing popularity of the
theater. An altar (or thymele) was located in the center of the orchestra. It looked like a
short drum of marble decorated with low-relief carvings of garlands and satyrs. It was
used for sacrifices in honor of the god Dionysus. The altar was primarily used prior to
performances. However, due to religious themes of the plays, the altar was occasionally
utilized in the performances as well. Between the orchestra and the skene was a level
surface known as the proscenium. The proscenium was the area in which the majority of
the action took place. It was raised one foot from the surface of the orchestra. Theater and
drama was born in Attica, the present day Athens. Built on the Acropolis is the theater
where many of the lost and surviving plays from the fifth and fourth century B.C., were
probably debuted. The Theater Dionysus, like many of its descendants was built in the
open air of an acropolis. Dionysus was a very large theater, with a seating capacity of over
17,000. Regardless, it was believed to have excellent acoustics. Without the excellent
acoustics, audience members in the furthest back rows would likely have very little idea
what was happening on stage. Very few visual aspects of the performance could be made
out from such great distances. For this reason, set designers would avoid intricate detail
on most everything they constructed. Playwrights would call for designs that were
relatively basic so they could be clearly discernible from the furthest seats. For the same
reason, costume designers were forced to create costumes on a large scale. Very large
masks were worn by many of the actors. ... more
Find essay on The Architectural Design Of
In the first century AD, the Roman Emperor Vespasian decided that Rome needed a stadium that would not only satisfy the crowds, but also convince the magnitude that Rome had become a power to be reckoned with. He wanted them to know that Rome now again had strong and unquestionable power in the world after the strong and bitter civil war it had recently gone through. His idea was to create an amphitheater. This theater, named the Flavian Amphitheater, earned a reputation as the greatest and deadliest structure ever built during the Roman Empire.
The Roman people found their greatest entertainment at public gladiatorial combats. Up until the late first century BC, these combats were held in the forum, the Circus Maxima, and other small arenas. At each of these sights there were great drawbacks. When the games were held in the forum, the only seats were a limited amount of temporary wooden seating. The Circus Maxima could hold a much greater amount of people then the forum, but the large spina, which stood in the middle of the fighting floor, created a great visual obstacle for all the spectators. The small arenas had such limited seating that going to the expense of hosting the games was often not worth it, due to the limited viewing audiences. All of these venues also harvested great safety and sanitary concerns. None of them had public toilets, or wash rooms. They were also nearly impossible to be efficiently evacuated in case of an emergency.
In 53 BC the politician Curio created the idea to build two semicircular stands built on a pivot. These stands could then be moved so each section could be turned away from each other and view separate events, or they could be turned inward, forming an oval, for joint viewing. This was the first recorded amphitheater in history.
In around 72 BC Vespasian, the current emperor of Rome, took this knowledge of Curio, along with that of the problems created with the other theaters, and set out to build the greatest amphitheater ever. The architect who created his design is unknown, but construction began in 75 BC. He selected a marshy area between the Caelian and Esqualine hills as the sight for his structure. This area was also the previous sight of Neros Golden House. During Neros rule he had created such a lasting illusion of terror throughout Rome that Vespasian wanted to prove to Romans that this too could be overcome. His goal was to transform the old residence of notorious horror into one of joy and entertainment. The construction is said to have progressed at a very rapid pace. Vespasian passed away in the year 79 AD, and the overseeing of the construction was continued by his sons Titus and Domitian, until 80 AD when it was completed. It is said that some 30,000 Jews were pressed into building this miraculous amphitheater, and that they can be credited for the fast completion in a time when modern building tools such as cranes were unavailable. The finished structure was named the Flavian Amphitheater, after the ruling dynasty who created it.
The Flavian Amphitheater was built in the shape of ellipse in the honor of the amphitheater of Curio, but this one was much larger. There were three principle arcades. The intervals were filled with arched corridors, staircases, supporting substructures, and finally tiers of seating. Much of the stones used in the construction were mined from Albulae near Tivoli, a town that was some fifty miles away. Much thought and planning was put into deciding what stones or materials would work best with each section of the Flavian Amphitheater. The final decisions proved so strong that parts of the structure still exist 2,000 years later. The foundation was built using concrete, a building material that was created by the Romans. Travertine, a form of limestone, was used for the tiers and arcades. Tufa-infill, a very porous substance, was used in between the piers and walls of the lower two levels. The top level, which was added after the initial construction, was originally made of wood. After a few years, the wood was taken out and replaced with brick faced ... more
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