The ancient theater of Taormina is the second-largest ancient theater in Sicily, after the Greek theater of Syracuse.
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The original structure dates back to the third century BC. This is documented by the remains of the isodomic block wall, incorporated into the scene building and three seats with an inscription from the cavea. The cavea (Latin for “enclosure”) are the seating sections of Greek and Roman theatres and amphitheaters. The remains of the small sacred building at the top of the cavea date back to the same period. The original structure was linked to a small sanctuary, the base of which remains on the belvedere overlooking the auditorium.
The first reconstruction of the building took place in the Republican age or the first Roman Empire, perhaps under Augustus. It was expanded in the first half of the 2nd century AD. The building reached a maximum diameter of 109 meters, with an orchestra with a diameter of 35 meters, for a capacity of about 10,000 spectators.
The building was adapted to host the venationes (fighting shows between gladiators and ferocious beasts): the orchestra was changed into an arena by replacing the lower tiers with a vaulted corridor that connected to a hypogeum in the center of the clearing, where the stage machines allowed the “special effects” of combat. Finally, in late antiquity, the portico was built behind the scene. It was abandoned probably during the siege of the Vandals and the consequent decline of the Empire.
During the Middle Ages, the scenic building and the two stairways were reused to create a private palace. In 1787 Goethe visited the theater and was delighted by the beautiful panorama that could be admired from the cavea.
The theatre was carved into the rock and the scene has the Ionian Sea and Mt. Etna as a background. The auditorium is divided into nine sectors with eight stairways that allow spectators access. The auditorium is surrounded, in the upper part, by a double-arched gallery supported on the outside by simple pillars and on the inside by marble columns. The back of the scene, from the Roman period and partially open in the center, is delimited by a wall in the background of which some residual marble columns are placed which make us understand how it should have been originally. The theater, today, has an accessible capacity of 4500 seats.
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