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Large Theatre of Gortys (Acropolis)

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The Gortys archaeological site is located in Gortyna Municipality, in Crete. The Large Theatre of Gortys has been carved into the southeast slope of the hill of the Acropolis, on the opposite side of the River Lethaeus, where the Odeion and the Agora stood. According to Belli there was no portico, which is probably confirmed by the fact that the theatre is very close to the River Lethaeus.

The cavea of the theatre, with a circumference of 140 m, internal diameter of approximately 40 m and external diameter of 88 m, had a carved channel along its rear side which served as a rainwater drainage duct during the winter, and also provided access to the upper cavea via five openings in the outer wall.

The two ends of the cavea were not carved into the rock of the hill but were supported by vaulted structures which had arcaded façades. Within the outer wall and above the uppermost row of seats ran a circular passageway (ambulacrum) with a colonnade 2 m in width, while there was also a wider passageway 3.60 m in width which divided the upper from the lower cavea. The lower cavea was larger and probably had 18 rows of seats, while the upper cavea had 11 rows.

According to Sanders, the greater part of this theatral structure is preserved, in rather poor condition, and is overgrown.

Where the rock had not been used, the theatre was built of concrete faced with brickwork, while at the base large sections of columns have been used for greater stability.

Our information on the stage building, which was probably destroyed in the 19th century, comes from Onorio Belli’s descriptions. The stage building was 120 m long, while the proscenium (scaenae frons) covered about 70 m. The proscenium was uniform and the motif also continued uniformly in the parodoi, which had rectangular platforms with a curved niche in the rear side. Each platform was separated from its neighbours by a pair of columns on bases. There were three doorways in the postscenium (the area behind the stage), of which the central one was flanked by columns. According to Belli the scaenae frons had five rows of Ionic columns of white marble, 5.4 m in height and 0.53 m in diameter. Sanders considers the number of column rows exaggerated. An inscription referring to Julia Augusta was set into the scaenae frons. We do not know which of the imperial Julias was referred to, but according to Belli the inscription was in second use. Spratt mentions that the theatre also contained a sculpture group of the 1st c. BC representing the Rape of Europa, now in the British Museum, but this was probably not its original location.

Systematic excavations have not been carried out in the Large Theatre of Gortys.

The archaeological site may be visited by arrangement with the competent Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities.

Maria Bredaki
Archaeologist

Monument Name

Large Theatre of Gortys.

Category

Theatre

Brief Description

The Large Theatre of Gortys has been carved into the southeast slope of the hill of the Acropolis, on the opposite side of the River Lethaeus, where the Odeion and the Agora stood.

Images - Plans

Plan by O. Belli

Documentation - Bibliography

1. Α. Taramelli, AJA VI (1902), 108 ff. 2. I. F. Sanders, Roman Crete, Warminster 1982, 63. 3. A. di Vita, V. La Rosa & M. A. Rizzo (eds), Ancient Crete. A Hundred Years of Italian Archaeology (1884-1984), Roma 1985, 59. 4. Α. Κάντα, Φαιστός, Αγία Τριάδα, Γόρτυνα, Athens 1998, p. 141.

Location

The archaeological site of Gortys is located in Gortyna Municipality.

Dating

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

General Description of Monument

The Large Theatre of Gortys has been carved into the southeast slope of the hill of the Acropolis, on the opposite side of the River Lethaeus, where the Odeion and the Agora stood. According to Belli there was no portico, which is probably confirmed by the fact that the theatre is very close to the River Lethaeus.

The cavea of the theatre, with a circumference of 140 m, internal diameter of approximately 40 m and external diameter of 88 m, had a carved channel along its rear side which served as a rainwater drainage duct during the winter, and also provided access to the upper cavea via five openings in the outer wall, which was 2.2 m thick. The two ends of the cavea were not carved into the rock of the hill but were supported by vaulted structures which had the usual arcaded façades.

Within the outer wall and above the uppermost row of seats ran an ambulacrum with a colonnade 2 m in width, while there was also a wider passageway 3.60 m in width which divided the upper from the lower cavea. The lower cavea was larger and probably had 18 rows of seats, as opposed to the 11 rows of the upper cavea.

According to Sanders, the greater part of the theatral structure described above is preserved, albeit in poor condition and overgrown. Where the rock had not been used, the theatre was built of concrete faced with brickwork, while at the base large sections of columns have been used for greater stability. The stage building was 120 m long, while the proscenium (scaenae frons) covered just 70 m.

We known of it only from Onorio Belli’s descriptions in the 15th century, and it was probably destroyed in the 19th century. The scaenae frons was uniform and the motif also continued uniformly in the parodoi: rectangular platforms with a curved niche in the rear side. Each platform was separated from its neighbours by a pair of columns on bases. There were three doorways in the postscenium (the area behind the stage), of which the central one was flanked by columns. According to Belli the scaenae frons had five rows of columns, 5.4 m in height (probably the shorter ones) and 0.53 m in diameter (Sanders considers the number of column rows exaggerated). They were of white marble in the Ionic order.
An inscription referring to Julia Augusta was set into the scaenae frons (it is uncertain which of the imperial Julias was referred to). According to Belli, however, the inscription was in second use. Spratt notes that a sculpture group of the 1st c. BC representing the Rape of Europa, now in the British Museum, was found in the theatre, but even this was probably not its original location.

Current Situation

No conservation work has been carried out.

Excavations - Interventions

The monument has never been systematically excavated. In 2009 the Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas (FORTH) carried out a geophysics study and mapped the ancient theatre, following the collaboration of the Prefectural Administration of Heraklion and Prefect E. Schinaraki with the 23rd Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities and its Director Μ. Bredaki.

Permitted Uses

The archaeological site may be visited by arrangement.

History of Modern Uses

NameDateAmount (€)
Evangelia Kafetzidaki10.00
Elli Platsiouri30.00
Preeschool & Primary School of Vagionia40.70
Gymnasium of Agioi Deka40.70
Gymnasium of Pompia40.70
High School of Agia Varvara40.70
Gymnasium of Vagionia40.70
Preeschool & Primary School of Agios Thomas40.70
Primary School of Agia Varvara of Agia Varvara40.70
Iosif of Georgios Pirounakis50.00
Ioannis Zochios50.00
Students of Atsipopoulo Rethimnis Gymnasium90.00
Nikolaos Schinarakis100.00
Diazoma Association200.00
Model Experimental Senior High School of Heraklion100.00
Rena Tyllianaki100.00
Stefanos Tsolakidis100.00
Stavros Xilouris100.00
Eleni Vougiouka200.00
52 primary school of Heracleion, Creta50.00
Total
€1.464.90
Balance
€1.464.90
DescriptionBudgetTargetRemarks
First Phase of the instant operations for monument's exposure as it is described in Sponsorship File400.000.0050.000.00
Assignment for the research about monument's conservation and the restoration0.0050.000.00
Additional Operations and Researches0.0050.000.00

The amount taken from the Donations will be used in order to finance additional operations and researches.

  • In November 2008 the President of Diazoma Mr Stavros Benos visited the ancient theatre of Gorty in the framework of his tour of the ancient theatres of Crete, and held meetings with local agencies. (see here)
  • ‘DIAZOMA’ has opened a “piggy bank” (an electronic bank account) for the ancient theatre of Gortys. (see here) The pupils of the Municipality of Gortys have “adopted” the ancient theatre and hold an annual Student Festival there. (see. here)
  • In 2009 the Prefecture Local Government of Heraklion made available through a Planning Contract to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism €7000.00 of funding for the implementation of a Geophysical Plan, which has been completed.
  • In July 2010, the Region of Crete made available through a Planning Contract €400,000.00 in funding to reveal the monument. The object of the contract is:
    • clearing the vegetation from the monument,
    • removing fallen structural materials,
    • small exploratory cuts at selected points of the monument,
    • initial survey of the monument’s outline,
    • implementation of protection measures for the revealed outline of the monument,
    • construction of new fencing. (link)
  • The excavation works produced spectacular results.
  • In October 2012 the amendment regarding the time of the most recent Planning Contract was signed.
  • In June 2014, the amendment to the contract was signed, along with an increase to the initial budget by €60,000.00, in order to incorporate the required restoration plan assignments into the funding programme. (link)
  • In February 2015 the Ephorate of Antiquities of Heraklion directly assigned the following plans for the restoration of the Roman Odeion of Gortys:
    • ‘Technical-Geological – Geotechnical Plan for the Large Theatre of Gortys’ to Georgios Kritsotakis, geologist – geotechnician,
    • ‘Structural Plan for the Fixing and Restoration of the Large Theatre of Gortys’ to the enterprise with the trade name Hydroment Consultant Engineers S.A.,
    • ‘Architectural plan for the restoration and promotion of the large theatre of Gortys’ to Nikolaos Hatzidakis, Architect Engineer,
    • ‘Survey with Topographical Methods of the Large Theatre of Gortys’ Plan to the enterprise with the trade name PERMEL S.A.
  • Implementation of the plans has been completed.
  • The plans were forwarded for approval to the Central Archaeological Council.(CURRENTLY)
  • Approval of the plans from the Central Archaeological Council and the incorporation of the monument’s restoration into a funding programme are pending. (MOVING FORWARD)

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