A’ Ancient Theatre of Larissa
|15th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities
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A highly notable and large theatre on Greek ground, the First Ancient Theatre of Larissa was built on the slope of Frourio hill (or 'Fortress' hill), at the fortified citadel of the ancient city. The excavations for the revelation of A Ancient Theatre started at 1910; (under the coordination of Ephor of Antiquities Apostolos Arvanitopoulos), they were continued in 1968, while from 1977, XV Prehistoric and Classic Antiquities Public Curating Service of Larissa made a systematic effort.
The upper part of the theatre was very little visible until the mid nineteenth century. Sightseer Ussing who visited, Ottoman- occupied, Larissa in 1846 and in 1857 described only its row of seats.
The ancient monument came to light after continuous expropriations. Unfortunately, other commercial buildings around it (home, shops, and laboratories) left their marks to the main body of the theatre, as it was revealed afterwards.
A’ Ancient Theatre of Larissa was built during the years of sovereignty of king of Greek city- State Macedonia, Antigonos Gonatas (first half of 3rd century B.C.). It appears to follow the example of Dionysian Theatre of Athens. That’s why; it was constructed in distance from the Ancient Market but with an orientation to it. According to archaeological discoveries, Ancient Market is placed roughly in the extent of current squares, «Kentriki» and «Taxidromiou».
According to inscription testimonies, the construction dates to the early third century BC.
During the first centuries, the theatre served a dual purpose: apart from theatrical performances, it also hosted the assemblies of the senior regional authority, the so called Koinon of the Thessalians. At the end of the first century BC it was transformed into a roman arena and thus stayed in use until the late third century AD, whereas theatrical performances and other events took place in the town's inornate Second Ancient Theatre.
The huge monument built almost exclusively of marble, has a rich plastic decoration. A natural hill cavity hosted the stepped cavea (gr.: koilo, auditorium) with seats of white marble produced at the old quarry of Kastri hill, at Aghia district. The diazoma (landing), a 2m wide corridor, divided the cavea into the lower section (main theatre) and the upper section (epitheatro). The major part of the latter has been destroyed, but we know that it was divided by 20 staircases into 22 cunei, comprising 14 to 18 rows of seats each. The epitheatro was narrower on the sides, thus providing enough space for a ramp or staircase. The main theatre was divided by 10 staircases into 11 cunei, each cuneus counting 25 rows of seats. The end of the main theatre, which led to the orchestra, was built out of marble blocks in order to support the tiers.
The best preserved part is the scene, consisting of four rooms communicating through three entrances, and built in three phases. The first phase (first half of the third century BC) coincides with the construction of the theatre: the walls were built with carved poros stones and were adorned with paintings. The two lateral rooms had independent entries from the south wall and were simply used for storage, while the two internal rooms, communicating through internal doors, served for the preparation of actors (hypokrites).
In the second phase (first half of the second century BC), to the side of the orchestra was added the proscenium (front of stage) with a total length of 20m and width of 2m. It had six jambs and six monolithic engaged Doric columns in line, and a Doric entablature on its colonnade; the whole construction was supporting a wooden tribune called "logeio" where the actors performed.
During the third phase (early first century AD), the scene suffered serious alteration, also related to the conversion of the theatre into an arena. At that time were added luxurious marble overlays, engaged columns, pillars and sculptures, as well as a second floor, but present evidence about its form is sparse.
The A Ancient Theatre of Larissa is very similar to other many important theatres of antiquity and mostly with that of Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus. It is acclaimed that more than 10.000 spectators could have been hosted to its space.