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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.

  • The Prefectural Authority of Heraklion, provided funding of € 7,000.00 through a Programming Agreement of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism for the implementation of Geophysical Research, which has already been completed.
  • Through the Programming Agreement, the Periphery of Crete provided funding of 400,000, 00 € for the revelation of the monument.
  • € 200,000.00 (year 2011) and an additional € 200,000.00 (year 2012) have already been absorbed.
  • The excavations have shown spectacular results.
  • The modification of the last Programming Agreement was signed.
  • On 02-06-2014 the modification of the contract as well as an increase in its initial budget by 60.000,00 € was signed in order for it to be included in the program and for the required restoration assignments to be studied.
  • On 29-07-2014, a notice was published for the recruitment of highly qualified scientists and craftsmen through the Programming Agreement. The work was resumed.
  • On Wednesday, February 25, 2015, the following studies were carried out by the Ephorate of Antiquities of Heraklion for the restoration of the Roman theater of Gortyna:
  1. “Techno-geological – Geotechnical Study of the Grand Theater of Gortyna”, to Kritsotakis George, geologist – geo-technician,
  2. “Static Study of Fastening and Reconstruction of the Grand Theater of Gortyna” to the company Hydroment Consulting Engineers SA,
  3. “Architectural study of the restoration and promotion of the grand theater of Gortyna” to Hatzidakis Nikolaos, Architectural Engineer,
  4. The study of “Surveying with Topographic Methods of the Grand Theater of Gortyna” to the company named PERMEL SA
  • The devising of the studies has been completed. They are now expected to be approved of by the Central Archaeological Council.
  • It is necessary to modify the Programming Agreement in order for the additional excavation research of the monument to be included.

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