Alternative amphitheatres

We’ve all heard of the Colosseum, but what about Caesarea?

Pula, Croatia

You can’t miss Pula’s enormous Roman Amphitheatre – it’s the sixth biggest in the world (after Rome, Capua, Verona, Syracuse and Arles, since you ask), and has the most complete outer walls of any still standing.

Pula amphitheatre Istria Croatia by © Croatian National Tourist Board
© Croatian National Tourist Board

Started under Augustus, and continued under Flavian, it was enlarged and completed to its present 130m-by-105m ellipse under Vespasian (whose lover Antonia, it’s said, came from Pula) in the second half of the 1st century AD.

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

The Roman Theatre is perhaps the greatest of Plovdiv’s attractions. During the summer there is a season of opera and classical music concerts here.

Plovdiv Amphitheatre, amphitheatres, Bulgaria by meunierd Shutterstock
© meunierd, Shutterstock

It seats over 4,000 spectators in a semicircle of 11 tiers, set into the hillside. The backdrop to the stage is a façade of Ionic columns and statues which is, of course, a work of restoration but sympathetically done.

Epidavros, Greece

Most people have heard of the theatre at Epidavros. This visually stunning amphitheatre is a cleverly designed masterpiece of Classical Greek architecture. The theatre really comes into its own during the annual Hellenic Festival where it is used for its original purpose.

On a balmy midsummer evening it is possible to catch a performance of a Classical play performed in modern Greek, and while you may not understand a word, the atmosphere alone is enough to make it worth your while.

Epidavros Epidauros Peloponnese Greece by S-F Shutterstock
It is not unusual for impromtu concerts to take place in this impressive theatre © S-F, Shutterstock

Most tourists flock only to the the theatre, but it is a shame to miss touring the rest of this impressive sanctuary, dedicated to Asklepius, the son of Apollo. It is easy to see why the Greeks built a sanctuary of healing here. The setting is lovely, and the ruins still exude an air of peace, especially after the crowds that normally throng the theatre have left.

Don’t miss the temple dedicated to Asklepius, and the various other ruins, including those of a bathhouse, gymnasium and stadium, as well as the restoration workshops, where if you are lucky enough you may witness some skilled workmen engaged in valuable restoration work.

Caesarea, Israel

This theatre in Israel has become the symbol of Caesarea and has been fully restored to its former grandeur. Seating up to 4,000 people, it once again hosts concerts, operas and summer events and has been designed so that audiences have a view over the Mediterranean Sea behind.

Caesarea, amphitheatres, Israel by ImagineStock, Shutterstock
Under Herod the Great the coastal city of Caesarea exploded on to the scene as one of the world’s most cruicial seaports © ImagineStock, Shutterstock

At some point after its original construction, the theatre was extended to form a quasi-amphitheatre, where it is likely gladiatorial battles would have taken place. It is located south of the Crusader city near the Herodian south wall.

Durrësi, Albania

The huge Roman amphitheatre, which is one of Durrësi’s main attractions, was built in the early 2nd century AD. The largest in the Balkans, it is elliptical in shape, about 130m at its longest point, with the arena itself measuring about 60m by 40m across.

Durrës Amphitheatre Albania by Hons084, Wikimedia Commins
© Hons084, Wikimedia Commons 

On the terraced seats there would have been room for about 15,000 spectators, about a third of the capacity of the Colosseum in Rome.

Ohrid, North Macedonia

The Roman theatre near the Upper Gate in Ohrid is just over 2,000 years old, but had been buried for centuries until, in the early 20th century, trial excavations confirmed its location. The next few decades of turmoil put the full excavation on hold, until in the 1960s the excavations finally got going again.

Roman amphitheatre, amphitheatres Ohrid North Macedonia by ColorMaker Shutterstock
Try to catch a performance at the impressive Roman theatre in Ohrid town © ColorMaker, Shutterstock

By the 1990s the amphitheatre was fully uncovered and is now once again being used in the summer as in days of old for outdoor concerts and performances. If you manage to attend a concert here, take a close look at your seat to see if you can decipher the name of the season ticket holder who owned that seat thousands of years ago.


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