The ancient city of Aspendos (modern city of Belkis,
ancient city of Pamphylia) is located on Turkey's
southern Mediterranean coast forty-seven kilometers from
the modern city of Antalya. Its
spectacularly well-preserved theatre is one of the best
examples of Roman theatre construction in the
there was probably an earlier ancient theatre on the
site, it was completely obliterated by the Roman theatre,
which was built during the reign of Marcus Aurelius
(161-180 AD). A statue of the building's architect, Zeno,
stands in the south parodos. The inscription under the
statue records the thanks of the people for the gift of
the theatre and says that Zeno was given a large garden
near the stadium for his work. Inscriptions in Greek and
Latin on either side of the skene read that the wealthy
brothers Curtius Crespinus and Curtius Auspicatus built
the theatre and dedicated it to "the Gods of the Country
and the Imperial House."
- In the 3rd century AD a
parapet was built between the orchestra and the cavea to
protect the audience from gladiatorial and wild animal
shows. The theatre continued to be used through the
Byzantine era and into the Seljuk Turkish period. The
Seljuk leader Alaeddin Kaykabat I renovated the theatre
in the 1200s AD, decorating it with painted tiles and
turning it into a palace. The Seljuks built the
tower-like entranceway over the central outer door of the
skene, which remains today.
theatre at Aspendos is without doubt the best-preserved
example of "eastern" Roman theatre construction in the
identifies distinctions between "western" and "eastern"
Roman theatres citing the straight, multi-storied scaenae
frons with a higher, seven foot, stage as characteristic
of "eastern" theatre construction techniques found at
Aspendos, Priene, Miletus, and Termessos. These
Hellenistic influenced theatres in Asia Minor are in
contrast to the "western" theatres of Italy, Spain,
France, and Africa which have recessed niches for the
doors in the scaenae frons and a lower, four-foot high
addition to the distinction of being a prime example of
"eastern" Roman theatre construction, Aspendos is further
distinguished by being the only example of purely Roman
construction in Turkey with the cavea completely and
seamlessly joined to the
influenced by the Hellenistic practice of building a
horseshoe-shaped cavea against a hillside, the
barrel-vaulted substructures supporting the upper levels
of the cavea are purely Roman. Both
the upper and lower levels of the cavea are made of
near-marble quality limestone and are separated by a
single diazomata. The forty-one rows of seats in the
cavea are subdivided by ten radiating staircases in the
lower seating section and twenty-one staircases in the
upper section. A
barrel-vaulted tunnel provides architectural support for
the upper cavea and runs behind the sole diazomata that
separates the two seating levels. Surrounding
the uppermost row of seating at the top of the cavea is a
with fifty-nine vaulted arches. This
sheltered walkway with its impressive array of arches
serves as a convenient access to the various seating
sections and also contributes to the excellent acoustics
evident at Aspendos.
The colonnade is thought to be a later addition to the
theatre, and brickwork still present in the gallery is
the remains of Seljuk repair work. The first row of seats
in the cavea was reserved for senators, judges, and
ambassadors, and the second row was reserved for other
notable figures. A number of the seats, especially in the
upper rows of the cavea, bear the inscribed names of
theatre patrons. Various sources indicate that women sat
only in the upper rows of seats. The seating capacity of
the Aspendos theatre was once estimated at 10,000 to
15,000, but recent attendance at the Aspendos Culture and
Film Festival has shown that it can hold over 20,000.
tower-like buildings (the versura) flank the
stage and connect
the skene to the cavea. Doors
at the orchestra level of the versura (the aditus
maximus) served as side entrances for performers as well
as the audience , and doors at the stage level provided
entrances and exits for
architectural feature served to enclose the Roman theatre
and the covered parodoi provided two significant
platforms for seats of honor (the Tribunalia). The
Tribunalia, or seats of judgment, were reserved for
magistrates and priestesses of Vesta and, in the event of
gladiatorial games, victors would receive recognition
from the praetor who sat in these seats. The
Tribunalia overlooked a seven foot high stage (possibly
of wood) that extended from the scaenae frons and
connected the two versura.
This stage no
longer exists but evidence of five small doors in the
face of the stage are considered part of a later Roman
sub-stage corridor leading to holding areas for animals
used in blood-sport events.
- The versura also served
as the main entrance to the cavea seating at Aspendos.
within the structure (ininera versurarum) and a series of
staircases led to entrances at the stage level and also
to the diazomata above the first level of cavea seating
and the upper arcaded gallery above and behind the
highest tier of cavea seating.
- The skene, which is as
high as the cavea, is made of regular blocks of
conglomerate, except for window and door frames in
scaenae frons has two levels, each with twenty
free-standing columns arranged in squares of four around
niches for statuary. The columns of the lower level are
Ionic, while those of the upper level are Corinthian.
Five doors open from the scaenae frons onto the
central door, the porta reggia, is the largest; the two
doors on either side of the porta reggia are the smaller
porta hospitales. At the top of the second level the
columns support a triangular pediment, at the center of
which is a frieze of Dionysus with scrolls of flowers.
Only those parts of the scaenae frons that were attached
to the skene wall have been preserved. A wooden roof over
the stage sloped backwards towards the skene wall and
served to improve acoustics and provide protection from
the elements. Additional
water runoff was directed outside the theatre by means of
a series of drainage channels such as can be seen
surrounding the orchestra and in the floor of the
outer wall of the skene has four rows of windows, three
of square windows and one, the second row up from the
bottom, of arched
molding that runs between the arches is at the same level
as the diazomata of the cavea. The outer wall mimics the
interior of the theatre in other ways;
for example, five doors, the largest in the middle, open
onto the street behind the theatre. A tower-like
structure was built in the Seljuk period around and over
the central door. Corbels,
rectangular projections of stone pierced by round
postholes, surround the windows in the topmost row of the
outer wall of the skene.
It has been proposed that the corbels held poles for a
linen awning, or velum, that partially sheltered the
- Ancient performances at
Aspendos were funded by civic institutions and admission
was charged for attending plays and competitions.
Tickets, made from bone, ivory, metal, or fired clay
inscribed with row and seat numbers, were issued to
continue at Aspendos today in the form of music concerts,
opera, and ballet, most notably the International Opera
& Ballet Festival which opened its tenth annual
season with a production of Aida in
2003. In 2001, in
the article, "Bad Vibrations Worrying Turkey," The
Washington Post reports that the Culture Ministry of
Turkey encourages the use of historical sites for
cultural and art activities: "This practice contributes
significantly to better recognition of our antique
treasures, cultural tourism and the artistic improvement
of our country." However, Archeologists as well as a few
ministry officials have questioned the impact of high
decibel, amplified music on the ancient structure and are
questioning the continued use of the theatre as a popular
modern performance space. "We don't need to wait until
the stones start falling," said Nevzat Cevik, an
archaeologist and professor at Mediterranean University
in the nearby southern coastal city of Antalya. "It's
when 10,000 people are jumping at
the same time, it's an earthquake."
- - Author: Amanda
Heffernan (student research assistant), Whitman College.
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