The Iconic Ancient Greek Theatre of Taormina

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The Ancient Theatre of Taormina, also known as Teatro antico di Taormina, is an impressive historical site located in Taormina, Sicily, Italy.

Originally constructed by the Greeks in the 3rd Century BC, the theatre was later rebuilt and expanded by the Romans. Despite being referred to as an amphitheatre, it is actually an ancient theatre, not a gladiatorial arena.

The theatre has been a significant attraction for tourists visiting the city, and it continues to serve as a venue for concerts, plays, and various other events to this day. The presence of the theatre is a testament to the influence of ancient Greeks on Sicily, as they established important settlements on the island around 750 BC to take advantage of its fertile soil and advantageous trading position.

Around the 3rd Century BC, during the reign of Hiero II, the Greeks undertook the incredible feat of carving directly into the solid rock of Mount Taro to create the theatre. Approximately 100,000 cubic metres of rock were removed for its construction, with enslaved individuals hauling large columns up the mountain to encircle the stage.

The Greek Theatre was carefully designed to accommodate dramatic and musical performances. It featured an orchestra at the lowest level of the theatre and a spacious stage area where actors and dancers would perform. The cavea, or auditorium steps and seats, were arranged in a way that ensured all 5,400 spectators could hear the performances from wherever they were seated.

Under Roman rule, the theatre underwent reconstruction, most likely during the time of Hadrian or Trajan. In the 3rd Century AD, the theatre was remodeled, transforming the orchestra into an arena and removing the stage. With a diameter of 107 meters, the theatre could accommodate around 10,000 spectators. It became one of the oldest theatres in Magna Graeca to feature a curved cavea design, rather than the older trapezoidal shape. The cavea was divided into nine sections and flanked by basilicas on either side of the skene. Remnants of another Hellenistic structure have been discovered beneath the Roman cavea.

After the Punic Wars, the Romans conquered Sicily, displacing the Carthaginians. Despite the region retaining its predominantly Greek culture, the Roman settlers expanded the theatre and repurposed it for Roman entertainment, including gladiatorial games. They enlarged the orchestra and added columns, statues, and coverings to enhance the grandeur of the theatre. During the Middle Ages, the magnificent Corinthian-style columns were removed and repurposed to adorn palaces and places of worship, including the Cathedral.

Today, over two millennia later, the Taormina Amphitheatre continues to serve as a social space for watching performances. It hosts the annual arts festival Taormina Arte and offers a range of entertainment such as theatre, concerts, symphonies, operas, ballets, and the David di Donatell awards. While the modern seating at the theatre has received mixed reviews, it allows this remarkable site, which has withstood the test of time, to continue functioning as it was originally intended. It's worth noting that the site may not be easily accessible for those with mobility challenges. However, those who venture to the theatre are rewarded with breathtaking views of Mount Etna, adding to the overall charm of the experience.

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