Epidravros is in a beautiful, peaceful location, the air heavily scented with pine resin and oleander flowers, the classic mixture that immediately recalls Greece.
The theatre is on part of a much larger site at the top of a slope reached by pine shaded steps. It is smaller than I imagined and it has an amazing symmetry. You can distinguish quite clearly between the two parts of the seating: the lower set of tiers of 30 or so rows of the original theatre were built by the Greeks in the 4th century BC, and the upper 20 tiers were added by the Romans. The Roman part seems to me to be more roughly finished, as if they could not quite equal the mastery of the original builders, but overall the theatre is a remarkable feat of engineering.
All of the seats are made out of local limestone and are amazingly regular.
The exception to the use of limestone are the seats at stage level which are made from a red rock (or perhaps limestone with a red colour to it) and were used by dignitaries.
The stage is a large circular space made of beaten earth in the centre of which is a disk that marks the original site of an altar to Dionysos. Behind the stage area is a space that was used as a backdrop and to store materials.
Beyond the stage area is a magnificent panorama of countryside and mountains: it must have been hard at times to concentrate on what was happening on stage.
One of the remarkable features of the theatre is its acoustic. When we were there visitors obliging stood on the stage and clapped or declaimed poetry, so it was easy to discover that wherever you sit in the theatre, not only do you have a clear view of the stage but you can hear sounds very distinctly too. Apparently tests have shown that the limestone used to build the tiers of seats has a peculiar property: it filters out low-frequency sounds (eg from the audience) allowing the actors on stage to be heard more clearly. In addition the masks used by the actors allowed them to project their voices so that they could be heard clearly round the theatre. It is strange to think that the theatre was only discovered again in the nineteenth century.
But why build such an elaborate theatre capable of holding over 10,000 spectators out in the middle of nowhere? I’ll cover that in my next post…