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The theater

by Francesco Tarlano

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The theater, located in the southwest sector of the urban area, represents, together with the amphitheater, the best preserved monument, on a raised level and in plant, of the whole center. Nevertheless, in the past sometimes was erroneously considered as an amphitheater by local scholars.

Grumentum, founded in a period in which it was still not used to provide the city with an area for performances, shows the two main buildings for shows at the two extremities of the city. While the amphitheater was built in a marginal area, the theater is not far from the forum, and, like all the major monuments of the area, with the exception of the amphitheater, overlooking the main decumanus.

The building was not expected at the time of the urban Republican plan, indeed it is situated in the middle of two blocks.

Plan of Grumentum theater

The first systematic excavations on the theater were made in the biennium 1956-57 by Pellegrino Claudio Sestrieri, which has brought to light the whole scaenae frons, "intact with its three valvae and versurae" and half of the auditorium, of which are preserved, in part, the last steps. The external construction is in reticulated work (opus reticulatum) of very accurate execution, with buttress that had to support the arches. In fact, during that excavation campaign were found on the ground several blocks of limestone and some cornices shutter of the arches.

View of pulpitum and stage of Grumentum theaterThe scene is made with bricks and tuff, while the versurae are built with large river stones of elongated shape arranged obliquely and interspersed with lines of bricks.

About the dating, Sestrieri believes that the monument was made at the turn of the Augustan age and Tiberius age.

Between 1964 and 1967 it began an extensive restoration work, under the direction of the Superintendent of Basilicata Antiquities in that period, Dinu Adamesteanu. Following the collapse of the vaults of the external ambulatory arcade, in fact the perimeter spurs were in danger, while the curtain in opus reticulatum was in total decay.

Adamesteanu, therefore, dealt with the consolidation of the external spurs and restoration of reticulated work . Moreover were restored the collapsed vaults, as well as the collapsed walls of the stage. During the clearance of the material collapsed, were found several brick stamps, and the foot of a large statue in gilded bronze, some specimens of lamp of African style and several blocks of the auditorium (some of them provided of fixing pins).

One of the galleries of Grumentum theater According to the Rumanian archaeologist, the facilities of auditorium and ambulatory are dated back to the first century A.C.; the stage can be dated to the second century A.C., but there are clear traces of remaking dating to the beginning of the fourth century A.C.

In 1970 the architect Theodorescu directed a detailed architectural study from which sprang the complete reliefs of the monument and a reconstruction of its original appearance.

The theater of Grumentum, as Roman theater in general, consists of three parts, which are closely linked to form a solid centripetal body: the auditorium, the orchestra and the stage. Among these three parties, it seems to be a chronological difference.

The assumptions about the dating of the monument are discordant: however, all are based solely on the observation of construction techniques used. More precisely, the structures of the auditorium are characterized by a facing in reticulated work in pyramidal blocks of light-gray stones, pretty smooth; in this stage on the other hand there is a opus vittatum with river pebbles split and arranged following regular horizontal rows, leveled at a certain height by a band of brick. It is attested that the current stage is subsequent compared to the auditorium, more than this diversity of construction techniques, by coming to surface, below the stage, of structures built in the same kind of reticulate work than the auditorium. Sestrieri dates the auditorium at the end of Augustan age, while Dinu Adamesteanu dates it at the first century A.C. About the dating of the current stage Sestrieri dates the rebuilding at the Tiberian period, while Adamesteanu postpones the chronology to the second century.

The entrances to the bleachers (vomitoria)Some surveys carried out in 1971 just on the north of the theatre scene one side have confirmed the chronology of the Rumanian archaeologist, defining precisely towards the early Severian age, on the other hand, have emphasized the complexity of the situation, because as much as in the auditorium than in the stage we can find numerous restorations, and so multiple construction phases, which have accompanied the history of the monument since Augustan age until his departure, occurred around the fifth century. Of purely Roman style, the theater, which was built on a traditional Hellenistic structure, has a semicircular auditorium, 46.40 meters wide, and welded to the scene with covered parodoi. The auditorium, self-supporting, was developed entirely in high and then rested on masonry substructures with buttresses. Currently it is preserved in a height (9 meters) corresponding more or less to half of the original height.

The auditorium, whose diameter measures 128 meters had an external view made with a double row of arches, which supported the inclined plane with the seats, stone bleachers, now almost completely disappeared. The access to the seats was by stairs located within the enclosed ambulatory that was placed immediately behind the external porch. Two semi-annular overlapping corridors, covered with groin vaults, allowed the access of viewers to the entire auditorium, split from bottom to up in three rows of seats (lowest, medium and upper auditorium), reserved for citizens of progressively decreasing social rank. Four flights of steps (scalaria) rose from the orchestra and split the auditorium into five wedges. The steps are dated back to the original construction and are supported by a massive structure in Roman concrete.

Other five covered corridors, two parodoi and three vomitoria, fan-shaped arranged across the auditorium, permitted the direct access to orchestra, or to the lower rows of bleachers, separated from the others with a stone balustrade and reserved for the Collegium, or however, for the most important personalities of the city.

The orchestra was probably used in part by the actors, but it could also be an appendage of the auditorium. Munzi in fact believes that on its inside were placed the seats reserved for the most eminent personages of the city (proedria), separated from the bleachers behind by a small wall (balteus). The diameter of the orchestra is 32 meters.

The porticus post scaenam of Grumentum theater (in the background Grumento Nova)In front of the orchestra, and raised about one and half meters from the orchestra, there was the stage, a wooden plank supported by beams. The back wall served as monumental scenery of drama. The stage building, of a kind quite complex, is characterized by the presence of three doors (porta regua at the center and portae hospitales at the sides), which, besides being the back of the stage (pulpitum), were used to put on the latter with the stage and the open area to north; so from these get out the actors. The scaenae frons was divided into three large exedras, in the middle of which opened the three doors.

The prospectus of the stage rose on two floors, and it was covered, together with the stage, by a roof pitched to outside. The original plan imagined on the backstage a porch square (porticus scaenam post), which was later abolished at the time of reconstruction of scenae frons around 198 A.C.

Among other renovations in the scenic building we mention the expansion of basilicae and the opening of two passages between them and the pulpitum.

The present layout of the theater. On the right, the facing in reticulated work (opus reticulatum)According to Sear, the scaenae frons of Grumentum theater, which has three exedras, two slightly semi-circular and one rectangular, shallow, is a variant of scaenae frons typology of Pompey theatre, as after all do also those of the theaters of Benevento, Taormina and Syracuse. Moreover Sear emphasizes the probable contemporaneity of these four scaenae frontes (indicating the beginning of the second century A.C.).

In recent decades, Liliana Giardino, with essays operated inside the building, has clarified several issues relating to the chronology , the building layout and the construction techniques used in its construction.

The theater has recently undergone a restoration by the Superintendence for Archaeological Heritage of Basilicata: the scene has been rearranged with a wooden stage and the auditorium has been equipped with removable seats. The project, completed in 2010, has made the spaces available to host important summer events, such as the season Stone Theatres, during which take place theater performers with directors and actors of international renown.


Copyright text and images (where there aren’t other references) by Francesco Tarlano.