Some of the most fascinating man-made structures on earth are the massive auditoriums that were once used for theatrical performances, music shows, as well for more sinister purposes such as violent wild animal shows and gladiatorial contests. These awesome theatres have a historical stigma attached to them, and in some cases, history is still being made because some are still being used today.
It’s hard to believe that some of these theatres are close to 3,000 years old, and it’s amazing that they’re even still standing. The amount of engineering knowledge that our ancient ancestors had developed is just as mesmerising especially when some of these auditoria rival present-day outdoor theatres in terms of acoustic properties. That’s amazing for a 2,000 year old theatre that is large enough to seat 25,000 people or more!
The Colosseum, Italy
: Probably the most popular of all ancient auditoriums, the Colosseum is also the largest known amphitheatre ever built during the Roman Empire. The construction of the Colosseum was completed in 80 AD, and it originally had a capacity of 50,000 spectators. This venue was used mainly for gladiator competitions and other public spectacles for nearly 500 years. Since then, the Colosseum has taken on some damage due to several earthquakes, and also from stone-robbers who want to have a piece of the famous auditorium.
The Colosseum is quite a large structure. Its original form was approximately 660 Roman feet (1 Roman foot = 0.97 feet) long and 520 Roman feet wide, and a total perimeter of about 1,885 Roman feet. The height of the outer wall measures about 165 Roman feet tall. The Colosseum is Rome’s most popular tourist attraction, and one of the greatest man-made structures of all-time.
Epidauros Theatre, Greece
Epidauros Theatre: Built during the fourth century BC, the Epidauros Theatre was a huge 15,000 seat theatre with amazing acoustic properties. As a matter of fact, you can sit anywhere in this auditorium and hear someone on the center stage of the theatre strike a match. The limestone seats seem to block out the low frequencies of crowd chatter, and enhance the high frequencies of performers on-stage. The remarkable acoustic quality of this theatre was either designed by mistake, or it was because of some engineering far ahead of its time.
Ephesus Theatre, Turkey
Ephesus Theatre: The Ephesus Theatre is located on the slope of the Panayir Hill in the ancient city of Ephesus. It was constructed during the Hellenistic Period in the 3rd Century BC. The theatre was later enlarged during the Roman Period. This huge theatre could seat 25,000 people in its 67 rows of seats, which were separated into three sections. Much of the seating area was made of marble, especially the lower section, which was reserved for important people of the time. The width of the cavea is an impressive 466 feet across with a stage building soaring 3 storey high, an incredible theatre.
Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Greece
Odeon of Herodes Atticus: Originally built in 161 AD by Herodes Atticus, this theatre was built as an amphitheatre with a three-story high stone wall in the front of the venue, and a wooden roof overhead. Since then, this 5,000 seat auditorium has been restored using marble for the seating areas, and it’s today used for concerts during events such as the Athens Festival throughout the summer. The views from this theatre, located on the south slope of the Acropolis of Athens, are spectacular to the say the least.
Side Theatre, Turkey
Side Theatre: The resort town of Side is one of the best-known classical cities in all of Turkey. The huge ancient theatre here is spectacular and was constructed in the classic Roman amphitheatre style with extravagant arches used to support huge walls. The theatre was turned into an open-air venue sometime in the 5th or 6th Century. Much of this massive auditorium has collapsed overtime due to its sheer size and through erosion. This theatre originally sat between 15,000 and 20,000 people.
Caesarea: This remarkable ancient amphitheatre was constructed over 2,000 years ago, and today it’s one of Israel’s most popular tourist attractions. This amazingly large outdoor auditorium is not just a historical landmark, though, it’s still used today for concerts and shows. The immense size and architecture of the ancient city of Caesarea is breathtaking, and the auditorium offers spectacular views of the Mediterranean from high atop the stadium seating.
Kourion Theatre, Cyprus
Kourion Theatre: The spectacular Kourion Amphitheatre on the beautiful island of Cyprus offers both a historical perspective of the ancient Roman ages, and a beautiful view of the Mediterranean. This 2nd Century AD theatre has a capacity of about 2,000 people, and it was mostly used as a host site for gladiator games. Today, the theatre has been restored, and it’s used for live concerts and shows. It doesn’t get much better than enjoying a live concert at this historical auditorium with amazing views of the sea in the distance – that’s the life!
Argos Theatre, Greece
Argos Theatre: The ancient Argos Theatre site in Greece actually consists of two theatres that are about 100 meters apart. There is a smaller theatre that originally seated about 2,500, and then there is a larger theatre that originally sat approximately 20,000; today it seats about half that. The larger theatre originally consisted of 90 steps, which was much more than other theatres, and the seating areas were divided into upper, middle, and lower sections. The smaller auditorium dates back to the 5th Century, while the larger one was built about 100 years later. Experts believe that these ancient amphitheatres were buried for approximately 1,400 years before being discovered in 1892.
Bouleuterion of Aphrodisias, Turkey
Bouleuterion of Aphrodisias: The Bouleuterion (or council house) is located in North Agora, and it was built sometime between the 2nd and 3rd Century AD. This auditorium was not only used for theatre purposes, but it was also used by area council members for meetings. The estimated capacity of this auditorium is 1,750, although today it’s much smaller than that because the top twelve rows have been destroyed over time. The first nine rows of seating are made of marble, and they remain fully intact. The stage is about 138 feet wide and is raised off the ground. The area in front of the stage was where the orchestra was located. There is evidence that this was a covered auditorium, because the orchestra area had no drainage gutters for rainwater
Aspendos Theatre, Turkey
Aspendos Theatre: Created back in 155 AD, the Aspendos Theatre is one of the most well-preserved examples of Roman theatre construction in the world. This ancient auditorium is 325 feet by 240 feet in size, and it seats up to 20,000 people. The cavea (seating area) consists of 41 rows of seating that are divided into a lower and upper section. The upper seating area features inscribed names of theatrical patrons of the time etched into the near marble-quality limestone. The theatre originally had a retractable awning that could be used to provide shade over the spectators on a hot day, and this is evident by the 58 post holes found in the upper level of the theatre. Aspendos Theatre is easily one of the most spectacular ancient theatres to visit, because it’s so well-preserved.
Bosra Amphitheatre, Syria
Bosra Amphitheatre: This extremely well-preserved Roman Theatre in the city of Bosra, Syria was constructed back in the 2nd Century AD. This historical gem seats about 15,000 spectators, and it has an amazing story behind its pristine preservation. For over 2,000 years, the ancient ancestors of the people of Bosra kept the Bosra Theatre intact by burying it in sand, and building a fortress around it to protect against any kind of damage that it may receive over the years (war, attacks, the elements, etc.). Because of these precautionary steps taken by the ancient ancestors of the people of Bosra, the Bosra Amphitheatre is known as one of the most preserved ancient Roman auditoriums in the world.
Orange Theatre, France
Orange Theatre: This stunningly beautiful theatre is located in Southern France at Arausio and it was built about 2,000 years ago. This theatre is one of the most well-preserved examples of Roman theatre. The theatre originally sat 7,000 spectators in its tiered seating design, which was a typical design of the time. The stage is 210 feet long, and a castle-like wall shoots 120 feet into the air just behind the stage. This theatre is known for the awesome acoustics that are produced here due to the design of the auditorium. The Les Choregies music festival is held here every summer because of the remarkable acoustics, and it has become one of the largest in the region.
Termessos Theatre, Turkey
Termessos Theatre: Built sometime around the 2nd Century AD, the Termessos Theatre is located at one of Turkey’s best preserved ancient cities. The ancient city of Termessos is built at an elevation of over 3,000 feet in the Taurus Mountains. The spectacular theatre at Termessos had an original capacity of between 4,000 and 5,000 people. There were a total of 8 tiers of seating, which were shaped in the traditional semi-circle pattern. There were a total of five rooms hidden beneath the stage that were used to hold wild animals before shows. Much of this theatre today is in ruins, but it still features a strong historical presence and magnificent views high atop the Taurus Mountains.
Arykanda Theatre, Turkey
Arykanda Theatre: The ancient city of Arykanda is estimated to date all the way back to the 5th Century BC. The theatre here was built during the Roman era, and it’s still today in relatively good shape. The theatre is small, only featuring 20 rows of seating, but there is a lot of fine detail that was put into the design of the theatre. You can see Greek writings across the top two rows of seating, and the stairs featured decorative touches that added to the theatre’s elegance. There are also holes at the edge of each row of seating that are believed to have supported protective awnings during performances.
Pergamon Theatre, Turkey
Pergamon Theatre: This Greco-Roman type theatre was constructed in the 3rd Century BC and it was enlarged to its final size about 100 years later. The nearly 122 feet high auditorium could originally seat up to 10,000 people in its seating area which was built into the hillside. The steep hillside that this theatre was built upon made it the steepest theatre of the entire ancient world. There are a total of 78 rows of seating, which are divided into a total of 3 sections. All of the seats were made out of andesite and trachyte, except for the marble seat of honor, which was reserved for the wealthiest and most powerful people.
The Delphi Theatre, Greece
The Delphi Theatre: The impressive theatre at Delphi is situated upon a hill overlooking the Temple of Apollo, and the entire ancient city below. The 35 rows of limestone seating could accommodate up to 5,000 people during a show at this magnificent auditorium. It’s believed that this theatre was built sometime in the 4th Century BC and was later added onto.
Taormina Theatre, Italy
Taormina Theatre: In the heart of Sicily you can find the Taormina Theatre, which offers some of the most beautiful views of the bay of Naxos, the volcano of Mt. Etna, and the majestic Castle Mola. This 2nd Century BC theatre has a diameter of about 376 feet and a gigantic stage wall that measures 90 feet by 120 feet. This Greek theatre was later reconstructed by the Romans who used an astounding 100,000 cubic meters of stone to widen the theatre. The Taormina Theatre is still used today to host concerts, ballet, and other theatrical performances.