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Ancient Theater of Larissa I

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The splendid First Ancient Theatre of the city was built at the southern foot of the “Frourio” (“Fortress”) hill, on which the fortified ancient acropolis stood, and was oriented south, towards the so-called free ancient agora which, according to secure archaeological evidence, was situated in the centre of the modern city.

The theatre had a six-century lifespan, from the early 3rd c. BC to the late 3rd or early 4th c. AD. After the 2nd c. BC, apart from theatrical performances, it was also used for open-air meetings of the supreme administrative body of the Thessalians, the famous “Thessalian Koinon”. While the theatre was visible, parts of it were systematically looted for stone to extract building material in various periods. The demolition of the epitheatre in particular continued after the liberation of Thessaly in 1881. During that time, single-storey houses and shops were built in the filled-in theatre, with shallow foundations but deep cesspits, several of which damaged the marble. In 1910 a road was built right over the monument; this was “Acropolis Street”, which provided the inhabitants of Larissa with access to the weekly market next to the local Turkish Bezesteni (covered market). Until 1950, the damage caused to the monument by the buildings constructed on it was insignificant, almost negligible. From that decade onwards, however, and particularly during the 1960s, the damage caused by the new buildings which replaced the old became extremely serious. The foundations of blocks of flats were sunk into the monument, septic tanks were dug over the cunei, footings were laid on the marble cladding of the walls and the apex of the stage, old single-storey shops were surrounded by reinforced concrete columns and converted, as part of their refurbishment, into two-storey apartments with basements. In 1952 the Town Clock was erected on the epitheatre, to be inaugurated with much fanfare and celebrations the following year. The ancient theatre has a long excavation history, beginning in 1910 in the time of Apostolos Arvanitopoulos. The then Ephor of Antiquities excavated part of the stage, which he expropriated and fenced off. The recent excavations have shown that this area was not the proscenium, as Arvanitopoulos supposed, but the stage itself. In 1968 the digging of foundations for a building on private land revealed a section of the cavea. The then Ephorate of Antiquities of Volos excavated the plot and revealed three cunei, one of which had 14 rows of seats. This plot of land was built up in 1970, with a permit for a two-storey building, and so the marble seats were imprisoned in the foundations. The building was eventually expropriated and demolished in December 1981, and the cunei of the ancient theatre, injured by the metal bars and concrete, gazed out at the Thessalian sky once more.

Of critical importance to the full excavation of the monument in recent years has been an extensive Ministry of Culture expropriation programme. The buildings expropriated, together with the Town Clock and the old Bishop’s Palace, were demolished at the expense of the prefectural government and the Municipality of Larissa. The first demolition took place in 1992, the second in 1996, the third in 2000 and the fourth in December 2008. The project was incorporated in parts II and III of the Regional Operational Programme of Thessaly and cost approximately €5,900.000.

With the work of recent years, the picture of the monument is almost complete. It is a huge marble monument. The cavea was formed by the hillside itself, which had been stepped for the placement of the marble seats. The white marble of the seats comes from the ancient quarry at Kastri Agias. A 2-metre-wide passageway, the diazoma, divides the cavea into the lower or main theatre and the epitheatre, which is mostly destroyed. It consisted, however, of 22 cunei with perhaps 14 or 15 rows of seats in each, and 20 staircases. The sides of the epitheatre were narrower, providing enough space for a ramp or staircase for the spectators.

The main theatre was divided by 10 small staircases into 11 cunei with perhaps 23 or 25 rows of seats in each. The end of the main theatre on the side of the orchestra was built of cubical blocks of marble, which served to buttress the cunei. When the theatre was converted into a Roman arena, in the 1st c. BC, the two or three front rows of seats were removed in order to widen the orchestra by approximately 4 m.

The removed front-row seats were placed under the doorframes to reinforce them. In front of the lowest part of the main theatre and running around the orchestra was discovered a built drainage duct 1 m wide, covered with polished marble slabs. The duct pierces the foundations of the stage with two exits, and would have turned toward the River Pineios somewhere behind the stage.

The two parodoi, together with their retaining walls, are preserved in excellent condition and consist of polished cubical blocks of white marble. The retaining wall of the right parodos has been revealed to a length of 40.86 m, a height of 4.50 m and a width of 3.55 m. The corresponding wall of the left parodos is preserved to a length of 24.75 m, a height of 3.55 m and a width of 3.16 m.

The stage building, with three building phases, is the best-preserved part of the theatre. It is 37 m in length and consists of 4 rooms, with 3 entrances between them. The first phase is dated to the first half of the 3rd c. BC and coincides with the construction of the theatre. Its walls are built of dressed poros stone. The two inner rooms communicate via internal doors and were used for the actors’ preparations.

During the second phase of the stage building, in the first half of the 2nd c. BC, the proscenium was constructed in front of the stage, on the side of the orchestra. It is 20 m long in total and 2 m wide. It consists of a row of 6 jambs and 6 monolithic Doric semi-columns, set on a marble euthynteria (top course of the foundations). The proscenium colonnade supported a Doric entablature. The proscenium supported a wooden platform, the logeion.

During the third building phase of the stage, in the reigns of the Roman Emperors Octavian Augustus (28 BC – 14 AD), Tiberius (11 AD – 37 AD) and Germanicus (37 AD – 41 AD), the façade of the side rooms was faced with cubic blocks of marble and Doric semi-columns, once the front course of poros-stone blocks had been removed. A second storey was also added, although evidence on its form is still scanty. At this time the theatre had already been converted into an arena and its gradual profanation had begun. Holes were pierced in the seats for the placement of awnings, and the names of the people who had rented the seats were written on them.

At the back of the stage was discovered a huge mass of architectural members, mainly of poros stone, such as column capitals, shafts and bases, reinforcing the hypothesis that a stoa had stood on that spot.

The presence of six massive shields carved in relief is impossible to interpret as yet. The question arises whether one of the two parodoi may have contained a shield monument which has not yet been excavated or has been completely destroyed. The bases of statues in honour of famous gladiators or victors of the Panthessalic Games were also placed in the parodoi or at the back of the stage.

This splendid monument still needs much work in order to be fully revealed, and may be restored in the immediate future. Further expropriations are obviously necessary for the full excavation of the parodoi, as are certain specialist studies. Of course the work so far has paid off with an abundance of finds and scientific data, both on the structural development of the monument itself and on the history of Larissa in general. Thousands of inscriptions and a large number of sculptures have come to light.

Athanasios Tziafalias
Archaeologist

Further information – Ephorate of Antiquities of Larissa (public organisation-official department of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports)

Ancient Theater of Larisa – NSRF 2007-2013, O.P. Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (2016)

Produced for the "Special Service for the Sector of Culture" and the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports. The project "Actions of Information and publicity for cultural works" is co-financed by Greece and the European Union - European Regional Development Fund - O.P. "Technical Support for Implementation" - National Strategic Reference Framework 2007-2013

Monument Name

Ancient Theatre of Larissa I

Category

Theatre

Brief Description

The theatre has the characteristic tripartite form of Hellenistic theatres: cavea, orchestra and stage building.

Images - Plans

There is full photographic documentation, drawings and photogrammetric plans, both of the monument as a whole and of its separate parts (stage building, parodoi, epitheatre and cavea).

Documentation - Bibliography

1. Ussing, Griechische Reisen und Studien, 1857, 36

2. Γεωργιάδης Ν., Θεσσαλία, Βόλος 1894,161.

3. Αρβανιτόπουλος,Α. ΠΑΕ 1910, 174.

4. Sthälin, F., Das Hellenische Thessalien, Stuttgart 1924, 97.

5. Φαρμακίδης, Ε. Η Λάρισα, Βόλος 1925, 10.

6. ΒυΙΙe, Η. Untersuchungen an Griechische Theater, Athens 1806, 120,

7. Bequignon, Υ., Le Theatre de Larissa en Thessalie, «Mélanges Offerts a Μ. Octave NAVARRE» Τoulouse 1935, 1 – 10.

8. Αξενίδης, Θ. Η Πελαγίς Λάρισα και η αρχαία Θεσσαλία, Β 181.

9. Χουρμουζιάδης Γ. , ΑΑΑ II (1969) 167.

10. Τζιαφάλιας Α., Το Αρχαίο Θέατρο Λάρισας πρακτικά Συμποσίου «Λάρισα: παρελθόν και μέλλον» Λάρισα 1985, 162.

11. Περιοδικό Αρχαιολογία, 34 (1990) 50.

12,Τζιαφάλιας Α., Δεκαπέντε χρόνια ανασκαφών στην αρχαία Λάρισα. Πρακτικά Διεθνούς Συνεδρίου, Λυών 1990, 153.

13. Περιοδικό Les dossiers d’ Archeologie 159 (1991) 50.

14,Τζιαφάλιας Α. Το έργο της ΙΕ’ ΕΠΚΑ. Πρακτικά Συνεδρίου «Τo έργο των Εφοριών Αρχαιοτήτων καi Νεοτέρων Μνημείων ΥΠ.ΠΟ στη Θεσσαλία και την ευρύτερη περιοχή της» Βόλος 2000, 85.

15. Τζιαφάλιας Α. Αρχαίο Θέατρο Λάρισας; Πώς ένα όνειρο έγινε “πραγματικότητα. Πρακτικά 1ου Διεθνούς Συνεδρίου Ιστορίας και Πολιτισμού της Θεσσαλίας. Λάρισα 2006, 206

Location

In the centre of the city of Larissa.

Dating

The monument was built in the early 3rd c. BC and remained in use until the late 3rd or early 4th c. AD.

General Description of Monument

The splendid First Ancient Theatre of the city was built at the southern foot of the “Frourio” (“Fortress”) hill, on which the fortified ancient acropolis stood, and was oriented south, towards the so-called free ancient agora which, according to secure archaeological evidence, was situated in the centre of the modern city. The theatre had a six-century lifespan, from the early 3rd c. BC to the late 3rd or early 4th c. AD. After the 2nd c. BC, apart from theatrical performances, it was also used for open-air meetings of the supreme administrative body of the Thessalians, the famous “Thessalian Koinon”.

While the theatre was visible, parts of it were systematically looted for stone to extract building material in various periods. The demolition of the epitheatre in particular continued after the liberation of Thessaly in 1881. During that time, single-storey houses and shops were built in the filled-in theatre, with shallow foundations but deep cesspits, several of which damaged the marble. In 1910 a road was built right over the monument; this was “Acropolis Street”, which provided the inhabitants of Larissa with access to the weekly market next to the local Turkish Bezesteni (covered market). Until 1950, the damage caused to the monument by the buildings constructed on it was insignificant, almost negligible. From that decade onwards, however, and particularly during the 1960s, the damage caused by the new buildings which replaced the old became extremely serious. The foundations of blocks of flats were sunk into the monument, septic tanks were dug over the cunei, footings were laid on the marble cladding of the walls and the apex of the stage, old single-storey shops were surrounded by reinforced concrete columns and converted, as part of their refurbishment, into two-storey apartments with basements. In 1952 the Town Clock was erected on the epitheatre, to be inaugurated with much fanfare and celebrations the following year.

The ancient theatre has a long excavation history, beginning in 1910 in the time of Apostolos Arvanitopoulos. The then Ephor of Antiquities excavated part of the stage, which he expropriated and fenced off. The recent excavations have shown that this area was not the proscenium, as Arvanitopoulos supposed, but the stage itself. In 1968 the digging of foundations for a building on private land revealed a section of the cavea. The then Ephorate of Antiquities of Volos excavated the plot and revealed three cunei, one of which had 14 rows of seats. This plot of land was built up in 1970, with a permit for a two-storey building, and so the marble seats were imprisoned in the foundations. The building was eventually expropriated and demolished in December 1981, and the cunei of the ancient theatre, injured by the metal bars and concrete, gazed out at the Thessalian sky once more. Of critical importance to the full excavation of the monument in recent years has been an extensive Ministry of Culture expropriation programme. The buildings expropriated, together with the Town Clock and the old Bishop’s Palace, were demolished at the expense of the prefectural government and the Municipality of Larissa. The first demolition took place in 1992, the second in 1996, the third in 2000 and the fourth in December 2008. The project was incorporated in parts II and III of the Regional Operational Programme of Thessaly and cost approximately €5,900.000.

With the work of recent years, the picture of the monument is almost complete. It is a huge marble monument. The cavea was formed by the hillside itself, which had been stepped for the placement of the marble seats. The white marble of the seats comes from the ancient quarry at Kastri Agias. A 2-metre-wide passageway, the diazoma, divides the cavea into the lower or main theatre and the epitheatre, which is mostly destroyed. It consisted, however, of 22 cunei with perhaps 14 or 15 rows of seats in each, and 20 staircases. The sides of the epitheatre were narrower, providing enough space for a ramp or staircase for the spectators. The main theatre was divided by 10 small staircases into 11 cunei with perhaps 23 or 25 rows of seats in each. The end of the main theatre on the side of the orchestra was built of cubical blocks of marble, which served to buttress the cunei. When the theatre was converted into a Roman arena, in the 1st c. BC, the two or three front rows of seats were removed in order to widen the orchestra by approximately 4 m. The removed front-row seats were placed under the doorframes to reinforce them. In front of the lowest part of the main theatre and running around the orchestra was discovered a built drainage duct 1 m wide, covered with polished marble slabs. The duct pierces the foundations of the stage with two exits, and would have turned toward the River Pineios somewhere behind the stage. The two parodoi, together with their retaining walls, are preserved in excellent condition and consist of polished cubical blocks of white marble. The retaining wall of the right parodos has been revealed to a length of 40.86 m, a height of 4.50 m and a width of 3.55 m. The corresponding wall of the left parodos is preserved to a length of 24.75 m, a height of 3.55 m and a width of 3.16 m. The stage building, with three building phases, is the best-preserved part of the theatre. It is 37 m in length and consists of 4 rooms, with 3 entrances between them. The first phase is dated to the first half of the 3rd c. BC and coincides with the construction of the theatre. Its walls are built of dressed poros stone. The two inner rooms communicate via internal doors and were used for the actors’ preparations. During the second phase of the stage building, in the first half of the 2nd c. BC, the proscenium was constructed in front of the stage, on the side of the orchestra. It is a 20 m long in total and 2 m wide. It consists of a row of 6 jambs and 6 monolithic Doric semi-columns, set on a marble euthynteria (top course of the foundations). The proscenium colonnade supported a Doric entablature. The proscenium supported a wooden platform, the logeion. During the third building phase of the stage, in the reigns of the Roman Emperors Octavian Augustus (28 BC – 14 AD), Tiberius (11 AD – 37 AD) and Germanicus (37 AD – 41 AD), the façade of the side rooms was faced with cubic blocks of marble and Doric semi-columns, once the front course of poros-stone blocks had been removed. A second storey was also added, although evidence on its form is still scanty. At this time the theatre had already been converted into an arena and its gradual profanation had begun. Holes were pierced in the seats for the placement of awnings, and the names of the people who had rented the seats were written on them. At the back of the stage was discovered a huge mass of architectural members, mainly of poros stone, such as column capitals, shafts and bases, reinforcing the hypothesis that a stoa had stood on that spot. The presence of six massive shields carved in relief is impossible to interpret as yet. The question arises whether one of the two parodoi may have contained a shield monument which has not yet been excavated or has been completely destroyed. The bases of statues in honour of famous gladiators or victors of the Panthessalic Games were also placed in the parodoi or at the back of the stage.

This splendid monument still needs much work in order to be fully revealed, and may be restored in the immediate future. Further expropriations are obviously necessary for the full excavation of the parodoi, as are certain specialist studies. Of course the work so far has paid off with an abundance of finds and scientific data, both on the structural development of the monument itself and on the history of Larissa in general. Thousands of inscriptions and a large number of sculptures have come to light.

Current Situation

Excavations - Interventions

During the funding period of the 3rd Community Support Fund (2000-2006) 7,500 pieces of marble were restored and a large-scale conservation of the whole monument was carried out. The architectural members not in situ were also documented, identified and classified. Over 15,000 pieces of marble were moved using cranes.

Permitted Uses

The monument can easily be seen from the pedestrian area of Venizelou Street, where visitor information signs in three languages have been set up. With the permission of the Ministry of Culture, the Larissa authorities held the official welcome for the Olympic Flame in the orchestra of the monument in both 2004 and 2008.

History of Modern Uses

Latitude

39.640628°

Longitude

22.415317°

NameDateAmount (€)
Myr. Papakonstantinou20.00
Diazoma Association7.198.58
FREZY DERM ABEE3.720.00
JM KAPLAN FUND, 50.000 USD for the restoration study of the ancient theatre of Larissa42.158.52
Vassilios Mavridoglou1.000.00
Total
€54.097.10

Expenditures

ExpenditureDateAmount (€)
Ancient theatre of Larisa 90% 3rd Study’s installment payoff26.159.71
Ancient theatre of Larisa A – Study’s 4th installment payoff20.798.06
ANCIENT THEATRE OF LARISA A 28/2/18 3rd part of study’s1.059.79
Ancient theatre of Larisa Site164.80
Ancient theatre of Larissa – Hosting domain – website 07/10/201477.36
Ancient theatre of Larissa A Website cost257.67
Ancient theatre of Larissa A Website2.460.00
Total
€50.977.39
Balance
€3.119.71
DescriptionBudgetTargetRemarks
Website design and development2.460.0020.000.00
Funding promotional activities regarding the monument15.000.0020.000.00
  • The project “Maintenance, restoration and promotion of the ancient theater of Larissa” was included in the N.S.R.F with funding of 1,500,000 Euros.
  • Within the framework of the N.S.R.F. for the period of 2007-13, works were carried out aiming at the immediate stabilization and preservation of the surface of the marble and the porous front parts in the main theater, the scenery, as well as the perimeters of the orchestra.
  • Meanwhile, the aesthetic restoration of the architectural pieces was achieved and visually a better monumental assembly was created.
  • In addition, works have been carried out to improve the projection, recognition and the highlighting of the monument.
  • On May 21, 2014, a contract concerning the “Creation of a website for the ancient theater of Larissa” was signed at the offices of “DIAZOMATOS” The contract was signed by the president of “DIAZOMATOS”, Mr. Stavros Benos and Mr. Lynn Patchett.
  • The total funding allotted for the ancient theater of Larissa through the N.S.R.F amounts to 2 million Euros.
  • Through a programming contract between the Ministry of Culture and Sports of the Municipality of Larissa and the Region of Thessaly, the completion of the works has been financed for the renovation of the seats in the main theater, as well as some of their placements in their original positions.
  • The restoration assignment of the studies of the ancient theater (main theater, preserved section of the aisle and of the upper theater, the retaining walls, as well as the stage building) was commissioned, with a sponsorship of 100,000 Euros from the PAVLOS & ALEXANDRA KANELLOPOULOS FOUNDATION and $ 50,000 by the JM KAPLAN FUND FOUNDATION.
  • The planning of the study is in progress.
  • The Municipality of Larissa is promoting the urban expropriation of two building blocks adjacent to the ancient theater of the city.
  • A proposal has been made for the ‘pedestrianization’ of Venizelos Street and the restoration of the facades of the apartment buildings in the city center, which are adjacent to the ancient theater. This proposal has been made in order for the project to be included in the program “Visual interventions on the facades of public buildings of the Region”. This project will be funded by the Business Program “Transport Infrastructure, Environment and Sustainable Development” of the MINISTRY OF ENVIRONMENT AND ENERGY.
  • On Monday, 2 November 2020, the Ministry of Culture approved the study entitled “Restoration of the skene of the Ancient Theatre of Larissa I – Phase 1” and the corresponding maintenance study prepared by the Ephorate of Antiquities of Larissa.
  • The study recommends the completion of certain stone rows in the surrounding walls and the restoration of part of the skene’s stoa (portico) so that the shape of the building be better discernable.Dynamic and exemplary progress of the monument’s restoration works. (CURRENT STATE)
  • Completion of the monument’s restoration works. (NEXT STEP)