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Theatre of Aptera

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The Theatre of Aptera is located at the Paliokastro site, in Suda Municipality, Chania Prefecture.

It was built in two phases: the first is dated to Hellenistic times and the second to the 1st c. AD. Modifications undertaken after the completion of the monument are visible in parts of the stage building.

The monument has the characteristic layout of Hellenistic theatres: cavea, orchestra and stage building. It is built of the local limestone, which has been used for the monuments of the city in general.

The systematic excavation of the monument began in July 2008 and is currently in progress. To date, the visible features of the first building phase are the lines of the Hellenistic parodoi and the rainwater drainage ducts. The retaining wall of the stage and part of the cavea has been located, built in the fortification style of large stone blocks, similar to those of the Hellenistic fortifications.

The drawing of the cavea was realised with the aid of a centrepoint in the orchestra. Six radiating staircases divided it into five cunei. There appear to have been 13 rows of seats, although it is obvious that the upper rows have not been preserved due to modern interventions designed to level the area for agricultural cultivation.

The modern form of the stage, the proscenium and the postscenium belong to the second building phase, with some later modifications to parts of the stage. At the lowest row of seats is preserved the Roman rainwater drainage duct with some of the cover slabs in situ.

The cavea of the theatre has been severely damaged because a limekiln operated in its centre, in which a large number of seats was calcined. In the west parodos, however, the destruction layer of 365 AD is preserved intact and rich in building material, which can be restored.

The east parodos has not yet been excavated. Of the stage building, the east parascenium has not yet been revealed, but its state of preservation, especially that of the proscenium, is quite good.

Work on the Theatre of Aptera is ongoing, while studies are being prepared on the preservation of the plaster and the architectural members damaged by the operation of the limekiln. A file is also being prepared regarding separate rescue restoration works.

The archaeological site is open to the public and the theatre already attracts large numbers of visitors.

Vanna Niniou – Kindeli
Archaeologist

Monument Name

Theatre of Aptera

Category

Theatre

Brief Description

The Theatre of Aptera is located at the Paliokastro site, in Suda Municipality, Chania Prefecture. It was built in two phases: the first is dated to Hellenistic times and the second to the 1st c. AD. Modifications undertaken after the completion of the monument are visible in parts of the stage building. The monument has the characteristic layout of Hellenistic theatres: cavea, orchestra and stage building. It is built of the local limestone, which has been used for the monuments of the city in general.

Images - Plans

There is full photographic documentation of the section which has been revealed, drawings of parts of the orchestra, the stage building, the west parodos and part of the east parodos, and ¾ of the cavea. These have been deposited in the archives of the 25th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities. Work is in progress, undertaken by the 25th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities with funding from the 3rd Community Support Fund-Regional Operational Programme of Crete. The Ministry of Culture-Archaeological Receipts and Expropriations Fund is also in the process of expropriating the adjacent field, into which the east part of the monument extends.

Documentation - Bibliography

Only references, the main one being: Ηeinrich Drerup, “Palaeokastro – Aptara, Bericht über eine Untersuchung und Vermessung des Standgebietes” in: F. Matz, Forschungen auf Kreta 1942, Berlin 1951, pp. 93-94.

Location

Paliokastro site, Megala Chorafia area, Chania Municipality, Chania Prefecture.

Dating

The monument was built in two phases, the first in the Hellenistic period and the second in the 1st c. AD. Later modifications are apparent in parts of the stage building.

General Description of Monument

The monument is built of the local limestone, which has been used for the monuments of the city in general. It has the characteristic layout of Hellenistic theatres: cavea, orchestra and stage building. To date, the visible features of the first building phase are the lines of the Hellenistic parodoi and the drainage ducts, while the retaining wall of the stage and part of the cavea has been located, built in the fortification style of large stone blocks, similar to those of the Hellenistic fortifications. The drawing of the cavea was realised with the aid of a centrepoint in the orchestra. Six radiating staircases divided it into five cunei. There appear to have been 13 rows of seats, although it is obvious that the upper rows have not been preserved due to modern interventions designed to level the area for agricultural cultivation. The modern form of the stage, the proscenium and the postscenium belong to the second phase, with some later modifications to parts of the stage. At the lowest row of seats is preserved the Roman rainwater drainage duct with some of the cover slabs in situ.

Current Situation

The theatre of ancient Aptera is built on a natural slope, facing south with an uninterrupted view of the White Mountains. It is situated near the south wall of the city, close to its southeast entrance. The form of the theatre today dates from the Roman phase, although traces of the earlier, Hellenistic phase can be seen. Forty-three seats were revealed in situ, mainly in the central part of the cavea around the later limekiln. Part of the central staircase is preserved, with steps carved into the seats. The seats are set into stepped masonry of undressed stones, each level of which is coated in a thin layer of plaster for setting the seats into.

The 13 lowest foundation bases have come to light, although it is clear that the upper ones have been destroyed by later interventions to level the area for cultivation. Below the first row of seats is a step 39 cm high intended as a footrest, consisting mainly of architectural members in second use. Below the footrest was a wide passageway formed of two rows of trapezoid slabs, with cambered edges converging on the centre of the orchestra, many of which are preserved in situ. The first row on the cavea side also function as the covering slabs for a built semicircular duct 52 cm deep and 61 cm wide.

The floor of the orchestra is made of beaten earth. At its centre was discovered the stone foundation of a circular altar. The orchestra and cavea were laid out on a single centre. The radius of the orchestra is 5.45 m to the stone passageway and 7.25 m as far as the footrest.

The retaining walls of the cavea did not withstand the great pressure of the earth and collapsed, as is the case with most ancient theatres, probably in the great earthquake of 365 AD which levelled the ancient city. Their architectural members fell in successive courses, from top to bottom, so that what were originally the upper members now lie under the lower ones.

The walls of the parodoi extend approximately 20 m east and west respectively, where there are strong corners, symmetrical to the axis of the theatre. This forms a cavea 54.68 m in diameter, corresponding to 26 rows of seats. However, the east perimeter wall is not laid out in a circle on the centre of the theatre but extends north, enlarging the central part of the theatre.

Five metres south of the centre of the theatre is the façade of the proscenium, with a total length of 20.50 m. The proscenium wall was clad with rectangular limestone slabs set upright on a wall base (toichobate). The wall was crowned with a wavy cornice. The height of the proscenium from the floor was 1.66 m. There are three niches in the façade of the proscenium: a semicircular one in the centre, on the axis of the theatre, and two rectangular ones below. Narrow monolithic staircases leading to the wooden floor of the stage (pulpitum) were set at each end of the wall next to the parascenia.

The front of the stage (scenae frons) has three large niches corresponding to three entrances. The central niche has curved narrow sides while the two below are rectangular. Good-quality architectural members from the decoration of the scenae frons were found fallen north of the wall. Cornices, lintels and bases were discovered, probably from the columns forming the façade. East and west of the proscenium are the parascenia, while south of the stage wall rises the strong external south wall of the stage.

The older Hellenistic theatre underwent radical modification during the Roman period in order to adapt it to the new audience needs. The seats were removed, a new built base was constructed and the seats were replaced. The old Hellenistic stage was replaced by the more imposing Roman one and its architectural members reused. Elements of the Hellenistic building phase preserved in situ include the two sections of duct whose extensions converge, north of the proscenium, forming the extension of the earlier perimetric duct of the orchestra; the 7-metre-long mud wall south of the proscenium, which probably formed the inner wall of the Hellenistic stage; and the strong retaining wall uncovered south of the north wall of the stage, which is probably the outer wall of the Hellenistic stage.
Roughly in the centre of the surviving cavea is a limekiln. It is circular and built of rough stones held together with mud, and incorporates architectural members of the theatre, one of which is inscribed and dated to the Hellenistic period. The limekiln was presumably the main cause of the destruction of the ancient theatre, as the limestone seats were used as raw material for lime production.

Excavations - Interventions

Work undertaken in the framework of the Regional Operational Programme of Crete (July 2008 to June 2009).

Work began in July 2008 based on the study approved by the Central Archaeological Council, with funding from the ROP of Crete. The work was completed in the greater part of the theatre, in the expropriated field, up to the end of 2008, and continued in 2009 in the east section of the cavea, stage and proscenium, on the neighbouring property which is in the process of expropriation.

The work included:

– Removal of the rubble covering the cavea and the orchestra, the result of many years’ operation of the limekiln and use of the neighbouring olive grove.

– Collection, identification, photographing, drawing and recording of the 450 scattered archaeological members.

– Excavation of the larger part of the theatre (apart from a small part of the cavea in the field to be expropriated).

– Conservation, photographing and entry of finds in a database.

– Topographical mapping of the field and theatre, and addition of this to the wider mapping of the Aptera archaeological site.

– Detailed drawing of the monument at a scale of 1:20 in plan, section and elevation.

– Covering of the fragile built foundation of the seats with a protective coating of pure crushed stone, geotextile fabric and a final, visible layer of sterile soil.

– Construction of a walkway of crushed stone and rough stones, leading from the site guard’s office to the theatre.

– Tidying up the area and replacement of the old fencing.

– Drawing up a study for the conservation of the damaged stone members, the plasters and the fragile walls, by conservators A. Galanou and G. Dogani in collaboration with Professors Ν. Kallithrakas-Kontos and P. Maravelaki of the Technical University of Crete.

Rescue work is vital for parts of the theatre which are close to collapse:

– Conservation of the burnt stone seats. These are 11 seats which have been damaged by fire, cracked and broken, and are temporarily held together with metal scaffolding to prevent collapse.

– Conservation of the walls of the proscenium and parascenia. These must be pointed and coated immediately with a sacrifice layer where possible.

– Conservation of the plasters of the stage.
The study for the restoration of the ancient theatre is already underway and will be completed by February 2010.

Permitted Uses

Archaeological site visit.

 

History of Modern Uses

The monument already attracts large numbers of visitors.

Further Information

The monument belongs to the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture/25th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities. Entrance is free of charge.

Intellectual Rights

 

Jurisdiction

Ministry of Culture/25th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities.

Latitude

35.46157°

Longitude

24.141153°

NameDateAmount (€)
Eleni Deinaki30/03/201850.00
D. Babanis50.00
Diazoma Association100.00
Stefanos Tsolakidis100.00
Antonios Athanasakis150.00
2nd Gymnasium of Chania200.00
Gymnasium Speliou Rethymno50.00
Total
€700.00
Balance
€700.00
DescriptionBudgetTargetRemarks
Maintenance and restoration of the monument (described in the Sponsorship Contract)2.439.998.00

The project of restoration acceded to the NSFR.

Supplementary Works10.000.0010.000.00

This amount will be useful for supplementary works that will arise. An expropriation of a property was completed from the Archaeological Receipts Funds, of budget 508.620,00€.

PHASE A: DESCRIPTION OF THE WORK OF THE 3rd C.S.F. (Community Support Framework) – P.B.P (Peripheral Business Programs) (07-2008 to 06-2009)
• Work commenced in July 2008 after the approval by the H.S.A. (Hellenic Society for Archaeology)for research (Ministry of Culture / ΔΑΑΜ / 56/40285 / 22-4-2008) and financing, amounting to 900.450 Euros from the 3rd C.S.F. – P.B.P Crete.
• The work was completed in most of the theater until the end of 2008 on the expropriated field and continued in 2009 in the eastern part of the theater, stage and foreground, which is situated on the adjacent property and which is in the advanced stage of expropriation.
PHASE B: INCORPORATION IN THE N.S.R.F.
• The project was incorporated in the 2nd phase of the N.S.R.F., with the financing of 2,475,000.00 Euros for the completion of the restoration and reconstruction works of the monument.
• The expropriation of the property by the A.R.F. (Archaeological Receipts Fund) was declared (Government Gazette 273 AAP / 21-10-2011), with a budget of 508,620.00€.
The work is in progress. In more detail:
The excavation has revealed most of the theater, focusing now on revealing the west passage way and investigating the elongated terraced building north of the theater in order to understand its function.
Simultaneously, stone and mortar maintenance works are carried out, which include: cleaning of the external surfaces, sealing of cracks and small voids, and the welding of peelings with mortars compatible with hydraulic lime-based antiquities.
The restoration of the theater seats includes the repositioning of collected seats in homologous positions and the construction and placement of new ones made of natural stone.
All the work is accompanied by the necessary documentation with a calendar of restoration and maintenance dates, as well as architect’s memos and architectural drawings.
Maintenance of the masonry of the stage and the revelation of the passage ways with the removal of the fallen stones is being carried out while the restoration of the foreground is being planned. The mild configuration of the area and the organization of the route tours will materialize upon the completion of the revelation of the perimeter of the monument and the passage ways. Advantage will be taken of the ancient road, the relief of the terrain and the vegetation of the area.
On 12 December 2015, the ancient theater of Apteras was given to the public. The project included the restoration of the theater, the registration of the sensitive stone foundations of the seats, the re-setting of the stones on the passage ways to their original positions, the maintenance and restoration of the scenery. In addition, the contour of the theater and two paved streets that served to access the monument were revealed.

Theater attached documents