The First Theatre of Athens
This theatre is the most prestigious of the two, as it was here that classical works by the most famous Greek poets, Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus and Aristophanes were performed for the first time in the 5th Century B.C.
Legend tells us that in 534 B.C. the Attican actor and poet Thespins performed for the first time in Athens. Though only fragments remain of his work, he lives on to this day in the word “thespian”.
Before the development of the ancient theatre at this site, there was already a sanctuary that was dedicated to Dionysus Eleftherius, which was constructed in the 6th Century BC during the rule of Peisistratos.
The original theatre and stage would have been constructed of a simple wooden structure, with stones seats. It was in approximately 330 BC that the stage was replaced with a stone one. These changes also led to an alteration of the orchestra, which until then had been round. The orchestra was actually the area on which the chorus danced around, and not an orchestra as in the sense we would think of today.
The shape of the theatre and it's positioning against the face of the Acropolis, meant that it was ideal for acoustics. The theatre was able to hold close to 17,000 spectators, which was considerably more than the theatre of Epidaurus in the Peloponnese which held approximately 12,000. These 17,000 spectators would have been seated in 64 rows, divided into three tiers, around the stage area of the theatre. However, only 25 rows of these remain. Spectators at the time would have brought with them their own cushion.
The most notable seats that can be seen today are the ones closest to the stage. These seats can actually be described as marble thrones, and were reserved for officials or VIPs attending the performance. The Dionysos priest would have sat in the middle, which was the finest seat in the entire theatre. This seat was embellished with satyr reliefs as well as several animals. On the right of the priest, the Delphic Oracle would have been seated.
Though visitors to the theatre today may be slightly disappointed with its condition when compared to other ancient theatres around Greece, this is one of the most significant in the country. It's role in ancient Athens was on immense importance, and with a little imagination, one can picture the setting for the performances by the Greek poets and writers all those years ago.