Restoration due for little theater at Epidaurus

As soon as the performances for Musical July come to an end, work will begin on restoring the little theater at Epidaurus to some of its former glory. Research work on the site has revealed the successive building phases of the monument and the different uses to which it was put in antiquity. The theater was apparently in operation for several centuries, undergoing many changes. It was not just a theater, but also a place where meetings and ceremonies were held. Last Thursday, the Central Archaeological Council (KAS) approved the study for stabilizing, restoring and highlighting the little theater and the nearby monuments. When work is complete, the theater will be able to seat an additional 250 spectators. The study – presented by civil engineer Evangelos Kazolias and archaeologist Spyros Petrounakos – deals with a series of problems. Repairs The seats are to be restored and put back into place where necessary. Work will be carried out on the orchestra, which floods after rain. Rainwater will be channeled into the ancient draining system. Other work includes repairs to supporting pillars, walls and the floor of the stage, and retrieving seats from the top of the hill for use in the theater. The Epidaurus Monuments’ Conservation Committee (ESME) will begin implementing the study in August. Research on the monument shows four principal stages: Classical and Hellenistic, early Roman, middle Roman and late Roman. The area surrounding the theater has been expropriated, and there are plans to expropriate more land and change the course of the road so as to uncover the whole monument. Excavations begun in 1972 uncovered part of the stage, the orchestra and part of the city wall. It took another 23 years to form a team to undertake the protection of the monument, and another year to decide on its use in 1996. Until then, work on the monument involved reassembling seats and rebuilding the infrastructure on the upper tiers. But when ESME took over, systematic excavation brought much to light. The inscriptions on the seats showed that the theater was first built in the fourth century BC. «Construction was in stages and took at least two centuries,» explained the authors of the study. What remains from the original phase is the cavea, the rows of seats made from limestone, the wall of the stage, the retaining wall of the front row and the drainage channel of the orchestra. «Of these, both the seats, the rows in the cavea and the stage wall were partially reassembled in the following Roman period and were consequently not preserved in their original layout.» But the pipe which drains water away from the monument remains in its original position. The city wall, which surrounds the peninsula, also dates from the fourth century BC, and is probably contemporaneous with the theater, according to the researchers. The theater also underwent reconstruction in the imperial era (second-third centuries AD), when a covering was added to the stage and proscenium. «At that time, apparently, the seats of the cavea and the front row seats with backs were reassembled and relocated in new positions.» A Roman bath found south of the theater belongs to the middle Roman period. At the end of the fourth century AD, fear of invasion or looting forced the residents to abandon the theater and to fortify the top of the hill, using many of the seats to build a wall. The monument was covered with earth. In the late Roman phase, the residents rebuilt the theater, putting a masonry altar in the orchestra. Among the finds was an iron ring, apparently used to tether animals that were to be sacrificed at the altar. There is every indication that during that period, the theater was used for meetings and ceremonies.