Ancient Roman Theaters
There are a great number of Roman ruins in the world, none more famous or iconic than the classic theaters. Sadly most of these theaters are gone or in ruins, but some are still in fantastic condition, easily allowing you to see how they must have looked thousands of years ago when they were still being enjoyed by the Romans.
This article covers the following 10 ancient Roman theaters that are still in use today:
- Arles Amphitheater, France
- Jerash Theater, Jordan
- Verona Arena, Italy
- Pula Arena, Croatia
- Aspendos Amphitheater, Turkey
- Arena of Nimes, France
- El Jem Amphitheater, Tunisia
- Xanten Amphitheater, Germany
- Benevento Theater, Italy
- Merida Theater, Spain
1. Arles Amphitheater, France
Suetonius described Arles as “the little Rome of Gaul,” and during the times of the Roman Empire, the city was an important strategical point. The Arles amphitheater was built in the 1st century AD, and in those days it was able to give seats to 20,000 visitors.
The theater was originally used for gladiator fights and bloody hunting performances, though these days it serves more peaceful purposes, holding musical concerts and plays regularly. Arles amphitheater has 120 arches and the original Roman architecture is still very well preserved, which makes it one of the most popular touristic destinations in France, and one of the most favorite cultural places for the locals.
2. Jerash Theater, Jordan
The ancient city of Jerash in Jordan is a very well-preserved archeological site, where among the ruins some ancient Roman buildings and constructions can still be seen in a very good condition.
One of the most impressive and beautiful buildings in this ancient town is the amphitheater of Jerash, also known as the "South Theater." The magnificent building which has seats for 3,000 people still holds music concerts, performances showing traditional Jordan culture, and little plays from time to time.
3. Verona Arena, Italy
Verona Arena is one of the most well-known ancient Roman amphitheaters in Italy. The arena was built back in the 1st century AD and is still in very good condition, holding musical performances mostly, and many world-known singers and musicians used to have their concerts in this historical building.
The theater originally had seats for about 30,000 people, though these days the owners only allow about 15,000 inside. The candles are lit when night falls, which makes the experience absolutely unforgettable, and lets you easily imagine which emotions the ancient people had while they were visiting this place.
4. Pula Arena, Croatia
The Pula Arena in Croatia is one of the most well-preserved Roman theaters in the world, and a very unique one, for it not only managed to save its original shape but also some very specific architectural elements which the other theaters of its kind have lost through time. It is about 30 meters high and used to have seats for about 23,000 visitors in ancient times.
Originally a little wooden arena, it was replaced with the huge stone building during the reign of Emperor Claudius and was used to accommodate gladiatorial fights mostly. These days the Pula Arena is still being used for entertainment, such as musical concerts, and many Croatian celebrities have been performing on its stage.
5. Aspendos Amphitheater, Turkey
Originally a Greek city, Aspendos later became a Roman colony and has both elements of ancient Greek and Roman architecture. The theater of Aspendos was built by Greeks as well, but during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the Romans replaced it with the structure seen today.
Despite its ancient origin, it still looks very beautiful and impressive, which attracts tourists from around the world. The theater originally had seats for about 15,000 spectators, though archeologists still argue about how many it could possibly entertain. It has very well-preserved backstage structures, and little architectural decorations can be very easily seen as well.
These days the theater serves for cultural purposes as well, holding Turkey’s Opera & Ballet Festival every September. The theater still has little less-important performances from time to time, though they are no less impressive and can still make you feel the fascinating Roman atmosphere of this place.
6. Arena of Nimes, France
The Nimes Amphitheater of the Arena of Nimes is the other very well-preserved and often-used theater built by the ancient Romans in France. The arena was built in the 1st century AD during the reign of Emperor Augustus and was a place that could house up to 24,000 people during the impressive performances held there.
These days the arena allows about 16,000 spectators and is still open for people to enjoy its great atmosphere. Many very well-known music bands and performers had their shows in this ancient theater, though one of the most interesting things about it is that it still holds the ancient Roman reenactment shows from time to time. If you ever have a chance to see one, don’t miss it, for the experience is truly impressive and unique.
7. El Jem Amphitheater, Tunisia
The El Jem Amphitheater in Tunisia may not be as well-preserved as some other ones in the other countries, but it is still one of the biggest ones ever found and the largest one in North Africa. The building was constructed in the 3rd century AD and could hold 35,000 people during ancient times—very few amphitheaters in Roman Empire were bigger than that.
These days the building is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Program and reconstruction work is being held there from time to time. Although it doesn’t prevent the theater from holding plays and musical performances in it. The International Festival of Symphonic Music takes place in this theater every year and during every performance, the structure is surrounded by candlelight, and this makes it absolutely gorgeous to visit after the sun sets down.
8. Xanten Amphitheater, Germany
Xanten was originally a little Roman town for soldiers, built on the place of a former military camp. As the city was growing bigger during the reign of Emperor Trajan, the theater was built, and the settlement became an important trading port. The theater in Xanten is naturally not very big and was carefully reconstructed in the 1980s, basically being restored from ruins to serve the purpose of entertainment again.
These days the theater gladly hosts reenacted gladiator fights and Roman-looking shows. People who saw them usually enjoy the experience so it may be a pleasant place to visit for you.
9. Benevento Theater, Italy
Benevento Theater was built in the 2nd century AD during the reign of Emperor Hadrian, and it is said that it was able to give shows to about 10,000 spectators. It has 25 archways and it is said that it probably used to have a good acoustic during Roman times.
These days, much to the joy of visitors, the theater is still in use: having plays, musical performances, and festivals. It may not be that well-preserved, but this fact won’t ruin the impression of the authentic Roman feeling if you decide to visit it.
10. Merida Theater, Spain
The Roman theater of Merida was built in 15 to 16 BC and later was renovated several times, notably during Emperor Trajan in 2nd century. It was originally an entertainment place for 6,000 citizens, though now it is only about 3,000.
The building is very beautiful and despite it being excavated quite recently (at the beginning of 20th century) it soon became the most fascinating touristic attraction of the city and even restored its original function of entertaining people.
These days the theater in Merida proudly holds musical festivals and lots of other performances, giving a unique experience to the tourists and local visitors.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Lin (author) from USA on November 30, 2015:
aesta1, I would love to visit one of them to enjoy something Roman-styled one day. And they really add to the atmosphere to the modern shows too, so the experience must be amazing.
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on November 30, 2015:
I have visited Jerash in Jordan, Merida and Verona and it is astonishing that they still are used today. I would love to be in Verona for the performance.