Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Roman Theatres of Gerasa. ( I ) The Southern Theatre.

My travel through Jordan in February 2004 was full of surprises, Jerash (or Gerasa, its ancient name) was one of them. I knew was going to visit a well preserved Roman City but I have to accept I didn’t know anything about that place, I only was interested because I had read Jerash had two theatres (both brilliant pieces of Architecture) and for me that was worth the journey. Now I can say I was very lucky visiting them.
Gerasa located 48 km north of Amman and nestled in a quiet valley among the mountains of Gilead, is the grandeur of Imperial Rome being one of the largest and most well preserved sites of Roman architecture in the World outside Italy. It’s a city complex that once was a prosperous commercial zone and part of the Decapolis (we already know about the Decapolis, if not see the post about the theatre of Gadara). Built in the 2nd century BC the city was conquered in 63 BC by the Roman General Pompey. The grand theatres and spacious public squares, plazas and baths, the Roman Cardo (The Colonnade street) running 700 meters north from the Oval Plaza and pass sky-piercing columns flanking from both sides in Gerasa make this site truly an archaeological park.
The Crusaders described the city as uninhabited, and it remained abandoned until its rediscovery in 1806, when Ulrich Jasper Seetzen, a German traveler, came across and recognized a small part of the ruins. The ancient city was buried in sand. It has been gradually revealed through a series of excavations, which started in 1925, and continue to this day.

The Southern Theater.

The construction of the theatre begun at the end of the 1st century AD (During the reign of the Emperor Domitian) and was completed in the early 2nd century. On its completion, it became one of the most splendid civic monuments in the developing city and certainly the finest of its type in the whole province. It was so famous than its novel design directly influenced the builders of the Trajanic/Hadrianic theaters of Taormina and Benevento. The theater at Taormina used illusionistic column effects closely similar to those used in Gerasa.
Located In the western-North side of the Zeus temple in the complex, with outer diameter of 70.5m the southern theatre shows an impressive image of Roman Architecture. Two arched passages lead into the orchestra, and four passages at the back of the theater give access to the upper rows of seats. Some seats could be reserved and the Greek letters which designate them can still be seen. Climbing more steps, the top row of seats affords an excellent view of the Jerash ruins.
The cavea of the auditorium was divided into two sections, with a wide terrace (diazoma) describing the full half circle between them. The lower half was built into the side of the hill. While the top half was built above it. Although the auditorium has survived remarkably well, the top rows of seats are missing, and one cannot be sure of the exact original number.

The acoustic is remarkable, it allows a speaker at the center of the orchestra floor to be heard by the entire auditorium without raising his voice.
The front of the stage decorated with pediment and arched niches was divided into four sections with pedestals between them. Each section has a central pedimental niche flanked by arched niches. These elaborate architectural compositions are a common feature of Roman theatres. The wall rising behind the stage, the Scaenae Frons is pierced by three doors used by the performers to enter and exit the stage from the sides. The Scaenae Frons would have had second storey repeating most of the decorative and architectural elements of the lower level.

The Theater seats more than 3000 spectators and serves today as the primary venue for the Jerash Festival of Culture and Arts, that means part of the theatre has been rebuilt. Much of the outer (north) wall of the theater is a modern reconstruction. People who know about it say the rebuilding of the rear wall behind the scaenae frons must be regretted and run the risk of endangering the validity of the whole structure. Happily, the greater part of the theatre is completely genuine.
A curious note about the site museum: not much to see because most of the greath pieces are in Amman, but they have in exhibition some ancient theatre coins-tickets (see photograph).

Some data comes from internet sites and from the next article:
ANCIENT THEATRES IN JERASH. CIPA 2005 XX International Symposium, 26 September – 01 October, 2005, Torino, Italy

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