The theatre of Delphi

The theatre 
© Ephorate of Antiquities of Phocis, Ministry of Culture and Sports

The ancient theatre of Delphi, situated in the NW corner of the sanctuary of Apollo, is the largest building of the archaeological site. It was built in the 4th century B.C., and was restored at about 160/159 B.C. with funds offered by Eumenes ΙΙ of Pergamon. Under Nero, in 67 B.C., the proscenium was removed and replaced by a platform with sculptures in relief depicting scenes from the life of Hercules.

The ancient theatre of Delphi is the largest building of the archaeological site. The cavea (koilon), on the west, leans against the natural slope of the hill, whereas on the east it overrides a little torrent which led the water of the Cassotis fountain right underneath the temple of Apollo.

The theatre was initially constructed in the early 2nd century B.C. An inscription dated in 160/159 B.C. refers to construction and repair works funded by Eumenes II, king of Pergamon. There was a pre-existing construction but not much is known about it.

The design presents peculiarities as, due to its position within the sacred precinct, the flanks of the cavea have been suppressed. The main building material is local limestone. The first three rows of the benches, the crepis on which the first row is founded, and a narrow corridor around the orchestra were constructed with building materials from a destroyed nearby treasury.

The north and west parts of the cavea were formed on the natural terrain, whereas its south and east parts leaned against an artificial mound of earth. It was divided horizontally in two uneven zones by a corridor called diazoma. The lower zone had 27 tiers and the upper one only 8, on which the stone benches were constructed. Six staircases, arranged radially, divide the lower part of the cavea in seven wedges, whereas on the upper part the staircases and wedges twice as many. The theatre had a total capacity of 4,200-4,500 spectators.

The orchestra was initially adjacent to the scene and fully circular with a diameter measuring 7 meters. The rectangular scene building, of which only the foundation is preserved, ended up in two arched openings, whereas access was possible through the parodoi, i.e. the special side corridors. On the support walls of the parodoi large numbers of manumission inscriptions were engraved.
On the occasion of Nero's visit to Greece in 67 A.D., various alterations were made to the theatre. The orchestra was paved and surrounded by a stone parapet. The proscenium was replaced by a low pedestal, the pulpitum; its façade was decorated with sculptures in relief inspired by Hercules' myths. Further repairs and transformations were carried out in the 2nd century A.D. The theatre was abandoned when the sanctuary declined in Late Antiquity.

In 1438, when Cyriacus of Ancona, a Renaissance antiquarian, visited Delphi, the theatre was covered with earth and rocks, but it was still partly visible. Later on, it was overbuilt by the houses of the village Kastri. It was restored after 1910, and theatrical performances took place there in the course of the Delphic festivals organised by Angelos Sikelianos and his wife, Eva Palmer, in 1927 and 1930.

Text - Translation: Dr. Aphrodite Kamara, Historian