Roman Theatre

Teatro Romano Via Grotte. (Open Map)


The monument, leaning against the southern side of the acropolis hill and built in volcanic materials, is some 102 metres in diameter and was able to accommodate at least 7,000 spectators. Today most of the cavea [the terraces], one edge of the orchestra and a small part of the stage are visible. 

The cavea rests on three high, vaulted corridors designed to facilitate movement of the audience. The middle and lower sections, divided horizontally into three parts by two passages (praecinctiones), are divided vertically into nine wedges by eight stairways. The seats are in limestone, the lower rows of the second and third wedge, however, were dressed in marble, the theatre  being reserved for personages.

The orchestra, too, was paved in marble. Behind the middle cavea stood a high wall which separated the upper section, reached by two stairways on the exterior wall of the theatre. The function of the platform at the centre of this section remains uncertain: perhaps it carried a small temple as in other Italic and north-African theatre buildings. The chronology of the building is much debated. Certainly in use up to the late antiquity for waterworks and perhaps also for drama, in its current form it seems to date to the first decades of the second century AD. 
Architectonic remains relating to at least two prior phases have been identified in various parts of the monument and have been attributed to the first century AD (Julian-Claudian and Flavian Age). lt is likely, furthermore, that the Roman theatre was superimposed on the classical, Greek theatre - the theatre in which Alcibiades spoke to the inhabitants of Catania during the Peloponnese war. Of the earlier  structures belonging to the Greek city, however, no definite remains have yet been identified. 

ln the eleventh century, on Count Roger's orders, the theatre was stripped of its marble dressing, which was used largely in the construction of the cathedral. In the second half of the eighteenth century the Prince of Biscari began the excavation of the monument, recovering among other items inscriptions, marble decorations and statue fragments (now in the Civic Museum). 
The 1935 saw the demolition of some buildings that had invaded the cavea over the course of centuries, an operation that remains incomplete today. Recent decades have witnessed the restoration of some visible parts of the theatre. Finally, in 1979 and 1980 research carried out by the Archaeological Superintendency of Syracuse and the University of Catania, as well as identifying elements useful in the dating of the various phases of construction, also uncovered important remnants of the stage apparatus.