I was somewhat disappointed with the visit of the great theatre: Pompeii references all mention the good condition of the remains found during the site's recuperation. Having seen many Roman and Greek theatres, I was expecting something closer to its original. It is not.
Original damaging, pieces collecting for museums, time erosion and vandalism, led it to a ruin like many other.
OK, it's interesting, but not what I expected.
Pompeians had a lively appreciation for the arts and had two semi-circular theaters for enjoying less violent spectacles than were held at the amphitheater. The larger, open-air version held 5000, had a canopy system similar to the arena's, and was used primarily for plays. With a curtain that could be raised and lowered between acts, it functioned identically to theaters today. The smaller was for music or other performances requiring a quieter environment. It once had a roof (long gone) and held about 1500.
An adjoining arcade and courtyard was for socializing before the shows and stretching during intermission. Nasty Emperor Nero later had this area converted into housing and practice space for the amphitheater's gladiators. You can easily make out the remains of the cells they occupied.
In the entrance to the theatre close to Marina Porta, I found this script:
«C(aius) Quinctius C(ai) f(ilius) Valgus / M(arcus) Porcius M(arci) f(ilius) duovir(i) / quinq(uennales) coloniai honoris / caussa spectacula de sua / peq(unia) fac(iunda) coer(averunt) et coloneis / locum in perpetuom deder(unt)»
"Gaius Quinctius, son of Gaius, and Valgus Marcus Porcius, son of Marcus the quinquennial Duovir, looked to the construction of the theater with their own money for the sake of the honor of the colonies, and gave the place to the colonists for eternity."
The Odeon is the smaller theatre in the complex, built between 80 and 75 BC. It is architecturaly similar to Greek style theatres, but it still clearly Roman in origin. It is free-standing, rather than being built onto the side of a hill, and has elaborate stage decoration. There are numerous little architectural touches, such as the small Atlantes which adorn the lower part of the end walls of the cavae.
The Large Theatre is, obviously, the larger of the two theatres contained within the Theatre complex. Unlike many Roman theatres, the large theatre was built into the hillside, in a typical Greek style. The Theatre was built at the end of the 3rd Century BC, and was extencively resotred and enlarged during the Augustan period. The renovations saw the theatre transformed from its original Greek style to a much more Roman looking venture. The stage was given a monumental facade, with columns, cornices, pediments and statues. The housing for the curtain, which was dropped rather than raised for performances, can still be seen. The theatre was also covered to protect the audience from the elements.
The Odeion or Little Theatre is closed to the Teatro Grande and it was built in 80 BC by two judges: Caio Quinzio Valgo and Marco Porcio. The theater had two orders of staircases divided in 5 sectors, with a capacity of 1000 spectators. The theater was used for musical auditions and for the representations of the mimes. The staircase of the cavea is almost integrally preserved.
The Big Theatre was built in Hellenistic period (200 - 150 BC) in the natural hollow of the hill. During the era of August it was widened with the addition of the summa cavea and of the tribunalias to the two entries side of the plan of the orchestra. It had a capacity of 5000 spectators. As you can see from the photos only few part of the staircase of the cavea survive; the scena has got the typical architecture of the Roman theaters.
The Caserma dei Gladiatori (gladiators' barracks) is the first monument you can see at the entrance of the ancient town. It is located behind the Big Theatre and the spectators were here during the breaks of the theater. It was modified in the first century AD with lateral rooms on two floors. The name is due to the gladiatorial weapons discoveries during the excavations and that you can see in the Museo Nazionale di Napoli.
Il Piccolo and Grande Teatros are very greatly preserved. They are not far from the Forum next to one another in the lower part of Pompeii. It's a great place to sit down, although you can't sit in the theatre seats because they are blocked off but you can sit on the theatre steps, and enjoy an orange and truly understand where it is you have come to.
The theater's of Pompeii are a thrill to visit as they remain in practically perfect condition. It really would not be a stretch to have live plays preformed there at any given moment. There is a large Amphitheatre that was used for the bigger plays and smaller one that might have been used for readings as well as plays. It is still unclear as to whether or not food and drink were allowed in the Amphitheatres as there are no signs that there were concession stands nearby. A shame really.
And unsurprisingly, this is the smaller of the two theatres! It was perhaps used for musical performances and poetry readings, and was built around 80 BC.
According to inscriptions found here, it had a roof to ensure excellent acoustics. This roof rested on outer walls that bordered the tiers of seats (cavea), decorated with sculpted telamons – architectural supports depicting male figures. You can see one of these in my photo, keeping Chris company, and again in my 3rd photo, which shows one in close-up. The other photo was again taken from the official website, as a tour party here was insisting on using the tiers of seats to be photographed en masse and had more or less taken over the site.
Between the two theatres is a quadriporticus, a sort of foyer, with porticos on four sides. This provided a space where the spectators of the two nearby theatres could stroll during intermissions between shows, or take shelter in case of rain. The gladiator weapons found here have caused historians to speculate that during the final years of the city, the building was used as barracks for the gladiators.
This whole area of the city, in the central part of the far southern boundary, is a pleasant place to wander, with plenty of green spaces.
This, as its name makes clear, is the larger of two theatres in Pompeii. It was built in the 2nd century BC in a location on the south side of the city which takes advantage of the natural slope of the land to create the tiers of seats (cavea). These are in a horseshoe shape which is divided into three zones, of which the lower (ima cavea) was covered with marble and reserved for the decurions (members of the city Senate) and other important citizens. The ring corridor supporting the upper tiers, and the 'balconies' above the side entrances, were added during the Augustan period. Once these additions were made the theatre could hold approximately 5,000 spectators. The stage and backdrop decorated with marbles and statues date from the restoration in 62 AD, after the earthquake.
The works performed here would quite likely have included the Atellanae (popular farces in the Oscan language), the plays of Plautus and Terentius, mimes and pantomimes with dancing and music.
If you enter the theatre first of all from above as we did (from the Via del’ Teatri) you get a great sense of what it would have been like to be in the audience here. My photo was taken more or less from this point, looking east. I think it’s a shame though that the modern railings have been added, and couldn’t work out what they added in terms of safety or explaining the site. After walking the upper rim you’ll need to retrace your steps in order to descend to the stage area and fancy yourself an actor!
With seating to hold 5000 people, Pompeii's large theater is truly impressive. It was built into a hillside, with the seating roughly following the natural contours of the land. Prior to to the volcanic eruption of 79 AD, the seats were covered by a large cloth to shade the audience from the hot Mediterranean sun.
the small theatre is one of two theatres in pompeii. it was built in 80 BC by quitius valgus and m. porcius. the theatre was used for musical concerts and orations. the original structure had a pyramid shaped roof.
According to the thesis of the architect Vitruvio, every theatre provded the spectators with a largo portico where they could walk during the performances, which were ofter very long. This one is one of the oldest examples of its kind. Yhr portico at Pompeii is quadrangular, surrounded by 74 Doric columns in tuff stucco-work. The main entrance is in the nort-eastern corner. In at least 10 rooms that was excavated they found remainders of Gladiotor weapons and in otwo rooms they found 18 skeletons, amoung which was a woman richly adorned with jewels.