Arles - Monument
Date: End of the first century BC
Type: Public cultural architecture
Status: Property of the Town of Arles, listed as a national Historic Monument in 1840 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.
The Roman Theatre of Arles, which preceded its famous neighbour the amphitheatre by a century, is less well preserved.
Constructed at the end of the 1st century BC, it dates from the first phase of urbanisation of the Roman colony founded by Caesar in 46 BC.
It was built on the L'Hauture hill and was part of the Roman grid system, on the decumanus (East-West road).
It was fortified in the Middle Ages and lost to encroaching construction work; its material was often reused for neighbouring buildings. Even the original function of the monument is unknown.
This function was rediscovered in the late 17th century and its origin was confirmed over the following centuries thanks to a number of archaeological finds excavated from the ground, including the famous 'Venus of Arles'.
It was not until the 19th century that the site was completely cleared.
All that remains are a few seating rows, the orchestra section, the stage curtain area and two tall marble columns topped with a fragment of entablature.
However, the theatre is once again being used as a performance venue, particularly in summer.
The Roman Theatre in Arles has a diameter of 102 m.
Its 33 rows of seats, many of which have now disappeared, backed onto an outer enclosure consisting of three levels of arches.
The theatre could accommodate 10,000 spectators.
The orchestra section is separated from the cavea by a wall, the balteus, in front of which a 1.2 m wide area was reserved for the portable seats of the colony's nobility.
The pulpitum wall marked the separation between the orchestra and the stage area. It was adorned with decorated niches, including with the altar to Apollo which was found in 1828.
Many other areas of the site have revealed remains of this sumptuous decoration. Two staircases connected the orchestra to the stage.
Excavations and scientific studies have revealed the stage's main features.
It was approximately 6 metres deep and flanked by vast parascenia (wings) The stage wall was highly decorated.
It had three levels of columns and a large statuary, including the colossal statue of Augustus which is currently in the Departmental Museum of Ancient Arles. The famous statue of the 'Venus of Arles' is kept at the Louvre.
In the middle of the wall was the Royal gate, flanked on both sides by two columns; only those on one side are still in place today.
The theatre's outer enclosure comprised 27 arches resting on strong pillars. This façade had three levels, which can today only be seen in the southern section, included in the Tower of Roland, which was built in the early Middle Ages.
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Information provided by OT Arles
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