The Teatro di Marcello is one of Italy's most significant sights, located in the historical part of Rome (Roma), on the right bank of the Tiber River (Tevere), near Piazza Venezia. It is the famous predecessor of the Colosseum (Colosseo) and one of the largest buildings in Ancient Rome.
History: Caesar's Idea
Spectacular buildings were actively erected during the Roman Empire: it was the easiest way to gain the popularity of the people and distract them from politics.
The idea of building a grand theater building came to Julius Caesar (Caius Iulius Caesar): he wanted to build a theater, superior in size built in 55 BC. e. Caesar's sworn enemy - Pompey (Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus).
Choosing a place for construction, Caesar ordered to clear the site, destroying several secular buildings and several religious buildings on the Campus Martius, including the Temple of the Goddess of Piety (Tempio della Dea Pietas).In 44 BC e. construction began, but could not be completed due to the death of the great emperor.
Design of Augustus
In 17 BC e. the Roman emperor Octavian Augustus (Caius Iulius Caesar Octavianus Augustus) decided to implement Caesar's project, but on an even larger scale.
Octavian Augustus ordered the clearing of the additional territory of the Field of Mars, so it was necessary to demolish the circus of Flaminia. Piles were dug at the construction site to give strength to the foundation of the building. Then a 6.35 meter thick concrete foundation was installed on the piles.
After preparing the site, Augustus ordered the construction of a large theater in memory of his nephew, the son of his sister Octavia, Mark Marcellus (Marcus Marcellus), who was married to the daughter of Augustus and was supposed to be his successor, but died of a serious illness.
In 12 BC e. the construction of 3 tiers, accommodating 12,000 seated spectators and 2 thousand standing, was ready. The amphitheater amazed contemporaries in size:
- 30 meters in height;
- 130 meters in diameter;
- The scene is 90 meters long;
- 41 arches;
- 42 half columns.
Admired not only the size, but also the stylistic decision:
- The building on the foundation of concrete is built of tuff, lined with panels of white travertine;
- The first tier is designed in the Doric style (columns tapering upwards without a decorated base, capitals in the form of half-disks);
- The second floor is decorated with columns of an ionic order (with columns on curly bases, with characteristic curls of capitals, with decor on the ledge of the tier);
- The main element of the third tier was the colonnade with the capitals of the Corinthian order;
- Inside the theater, there was the chapel of the divine goddess Carmenta;
- A portico was added to the amphitheater in honor of the sister of Octavian Augustus - Octavia.
Augustus ordered that the interior design of the theater surpass all previous buildings in its splendor. The Marcellus Theater was decorated with:
- Marble statues;
- 36 large vases of bronze, placed around the perimeter to enhance the sound;
- Masks of heroes of comedies and tragedies.
The inner part consisted of three tiers of marble steps, divided into sectors for noble citizens, places for women, a separate territory for ordinary people and slaves. Separately from the seats for the audience was the emperor’s box.
Opposite the rows for the audience was a room for props and for preparing the actors for the exit - a stage (skena). From this building, the actors went to the orchestra - a round platform in front of or above the stage. The choir accompanying all the dramatic action was also located there.
Interestingly, to protect the audience from the sun in ancient theaters used an awning that could be pulled over the entire amphitheater.
Judging by the old plans and remnants of the theater, the stage with extensions on the sides overlooked the Tiber. The semicircular amphitheater was facing the city. In the arches of the amphitheater, warehouses and shops were located inside.
Two millennium history
The Marcellus Theater has undergone restoration twice:
- In the 1st century under the emperor Vespasian (Titus Flavius Vespasianus);
- In the III century under the emperor Alexander North (Marcus Aurelius Severus Alexandrus).
In the IV century AD e. the theater was no longer used for its intended purpose, local residents began to disassemble it for building houses, repairing city bridges, it turned out to be abandoned. In the Middle Ages, the building was used as a fortified defensive structure.
In the XII century, a fortress on the ruins of an ancient theater was built by members of the Favvi family. In the 13th century, the Savelli clan converted the fortress into a palace. In the 16th century, the remains of a theater, a medieval fortress and a palazzo became the basis for the construction of the residence of the noble and wealthy Orsini family, which remained the owner of this building from the 30s of the 20th century. The space under the powerful arches was rented by the owners of shops and workshops.
In 1926, by order of Benito Mussolini, the arches were freed from shops and apartments, and the restoration of the theater began, which lasted until 1932.
The Marcellus Theater is the only surviving theater from the time of Ancient Rome built before our era. Now we can observe 16 well-preserved arches of the first tier, in which concerts and festivals are held, fragments of the second tier, and instead of the third tier, elements of a 12th-century medieval superstructure and modern residential buildings appear in front of the audience.
We recommend reading:
- Arena di Verona
- Theaters in Rome - theater guide
How to get there
The Marcellus Theater is located at Via del Teatro di Marcello. It can be reached on foot from Circo Massimo Metro Station.
Nearby are other famous attractions - the Capitol, Usta Truth, Circus Maximus, and the Jewish ghetto area.