The Theater of Dionysus, situated at the foot of the Acropolis Hill‘s south slope, is the birthplace of European theater. As early as in 534 BC famous Greek tragedies and comedies were performed here.
Many plays from famous Greek writers premiered here during the Dionysia, a theater festival dedicated to the god Dionysus, after whom the theater was named. Dionysus was considered the patron god of theater.
The Early Years
In its early days the Theater of Dionysus was very modest, with seating constructed of wood and clay set around a rectangular area known as the orchestra. During the fifth century BC Greek tragedies and comedies were performed here, created by the renowned writers of the time: Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides and Aristophanes.
A Stone Theater
In 342 BC Lycurgus, a high ranked official who had a preference for grand buildings, had the theater rebuilt in stone and expanded so it could seat an estimated 17,000 spectators. Sixty-seven marble seats with backs at the front row were intended for prominent guests and the priests of Dionysus. The center of the theater – the orchestra – was now circular instead of rectangular.
In the Roman era the theater was further modified and embellished. During the reign of Emperor Nero in the first century AD, a mosaic floor was added. Later reliefs depicting the myth of Dionysus were created and the orchestra was made semi-circular.
The romans used the theater to hold gladiatorial duels and fights with wild animals so a balustrade was built around the orchestra to protect the spectators from the violence on the stage.
A podium, known as the Bema of Phaidros, was added in the fifth century AD. The reliefs that adorn the podium were taken from an earlier monument.