The ancient theater under the Acropolis of Athens where the most famous plays of antiquity were first performed nearly 2,500 years ago is to be partially restored to allow seating for an estimated 4,000 modern spectators. Under a decision late on Wednesday by a board of senior Culture Ministry architects and archaeologists, work will initially be carried out on the central three – and best preserved – of the 13 blocks of stone seats in the cavea of the Theater of Dionysus. In theory, the restoration, which will use 75 percent ancient material and 25 percent new additions, could be finished by the end of next year. Providing ministry officials are satisfied, work will then continue on the rest of the theater – which in ancient times could seat up to 17,000 people. The first Theater of Dionysus, where Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides would have seen their tragedies performed, could date back to the late sixth century BC and was probably preceded by a circular structure in the Ancient Agora. Initially nothing fancier than a plain half-cone with earthen banks hollowed out of the southern slopes of the Acropolis, it served as a venue for theatrical productions and public meetings. There may have been some wooden stands, and possibly a few stone thrones for officials. Toward the end of the fourth century BC, as part of a generalized building program carried out throughout the ancient city under the energetic leadership of the orator Lycourgos, the banks were sheathed in 64 rows of limestone seats and an ornate marble stage was set up. In Roman times, another 14 rows were added on top and the orchestra was surrounded by a marble parapet. Some archaeologists believe this was to allow the orchestra to be flooded in order to stage mock sea battles.