Smyrna Theatre

Smyrna Theatre is “one of the most beautiful marble theatres ever to have existed in Asia."

The Romans built Smyrna Theatre in the 2nd Century BC on the slope between Agora and the Acropolis hill to host political, cultural, and religious activates.

Recent excavations and research show that it was expanded during the reigns of Emperors Trajan (98-117 AD) and Hadrian (117-138 AD) – including the addition of a two-storey stage behind the proscenium. It is highly probable that it took on its final form after the great earthquake of 178 AD via minor repairs and reinforcements.

The theatre’s site was fully exposed by 2014 upon the demolition of houses that had sat atop it. A 12-line inscription dating to the 2nd Century AD was also discovered during that period. This talks about how Marcus Claudius Proclus – the abbot of the Imperial temples in Smyrna – had had a fountain repaired as an offering to the gods and emperors on behalf of the city, and that its water originates from the theatre.

During excavations of the stage building, archaeologists managed to recover many a sculpture and relief fragment. Among the most remarkable of their finds were mask frieze blocks and a relief of Satyros. Both give us an idea about just how grandiose the theatre’s original façade must have been like.

Numerous items of graffiti were also found on the limestone blocks that lined the stage’s walls. Archaeologists also found oil lamp fragments that date back to the 5th and 6th Centuries AD. They indicate that the stage building began to serve multiple functions by that point, and even transformed into an industrial facility of sorts. 

Over time, it gradually became buried beneath soil flowing down from the slopes of Kadifekale. Eventually, the Byzantines and Ottomans both used it as stone and lime quarry. Another remarkable find from a later excavation is a coin belonging to Aydınoğlu Umur Bey (1334-1348), the man who declared İzmir the capital of his principality. To put that into perspective, the first Ottoman coins emerged during the reign of Sultan Bayezid I (1389-1402).

Excavations work is still ongoing. Thought to have been able to seat up to 20,000 people, countless scholars agree that Smyrna Theatre is “one of the most beautiful marble theatres ever to have existed in Asia.”

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