Roman theatre (Mérida)
|Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida|
|Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List|
|Type||Roman Theatre of Mérida|
|UNESCO region||Europe and North America|
|Inscription||1993 (17th Session)|
The Roman Theatre of Mérida is a construction promoted by the consul Vipsanius Agrippa in the Roman city of Emerita Augusta, capital of Lusitania (current Mérida, Spain). It was constructed in the years 16 to 15 BCE.
The theater has undergone several renovations, notably at the end of the 1st century or early 2nd century CE (possibly during the reign of Emperor Trajan), when the current facade of the scaenae frons was erected, and another in the time of Constantine I (between 330 and 340) which introduced new decorative-architectural elements and a walkway around the monument. Followin the theatre's abandonment in Late Antiquity, it was slowly covered with earth, with only the upper tiers of seats (summa cavea) remaining visible. In local folklore the site was referred to as "The Seven Chairs", where, according to tradition, several Moorish kings sat to decide the fate of the city.
The theatre is located in the archaeological ensemble of Mérida, one of the largest and most extensive archaeological sites in Spain. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993. The theatre was located on the edge of the Roman city adjacent the city walls. Some of the seating was built into a hill called the Cerro de San Albin.
Constructed by faithfully following the principles laid out in the treatise of Vitruvius, the building shows similarities with the theaters of Dougga (Tunisia), Orange (France) and Pompeii (Italy). The building corresponds to a typical Roman model, as previously established in the buildings of Pompeii and Rome, with the diameter of the cavea (seating area) being about 86 meters (282 feet).
The grandstand consists essentially of a semicircular seating area (cavea), with capacity for 6,000 spectators eventually divided into three zones: the lowest tier called the ima cavea (22 rows), the medium tier called the media (5 rows) and a top tier called the summa, the latter in very poor state at present.
The bottom, where the wealthier social classes sat, is excavated and supported by the slope of the land itself, without artificial supports, according to Greek tradition, and like other theaters in Spain. This part is divided into five radial sectors (cunei) delimited by stairs for circulation, and horizontally, along a corridor (praecintio) that separates it from the stands above, supported by a complex system of arches and barrel vaults.
The orchestra was a semicircular space paved in white and blue marble. Here on three steps, originally of marble, were placed movable seats of the senators and top officials attending the theater. The orchestra was separated from the seats above by a parapet of marble, of which there are fragmentary remains.
The rectangular proscenium, the stage or pulpitum and finally the front of the scene (scaenae frons) are the most spectacular view of the theater property, is 7.5 m wide, 63 long and 17.5 in height. It is formed by two Corinthian columns with bases and cornices of marble, adorned with sculptures in the spaces between columns and in it there are three doors, a central door (valva regia) and two side doors (valvae hospitalia). Severe setbacks are visible in the arrangement of the blocks, consistent with the structural and compositional dynamism of the scene. It is unknown how the original stage front was, as the present seems to have been built under Emperor Trajan.
Excavation and restoration
Until the late 19th century, the only visible remains of the theater were the so-called "Seven Chairs", remains the top of the bleachers, formed concrete base covered with granite blocks that made up the facade of the building. The excavations of the theater began in 1910 to be directed by archaeologist José Ramón Mélida, with limited resources and a methodology is not entirely adequate to reconstruct the evolution prevented from leaving the theater until the late nineteenth century, was exhumed most of the building, documented numerous columns, horn, statues and other building materials, especially the front stage.
In the 1960s and 1970s the front stage was rebuilt under the direction of the architect and archaeologist José Menéndez Pidal y Álvarez.
Besides being the most visited monument in the city, since 1933 home to the development of the Festival of Classical Theatre of MÃ©rida thus returns to its original function and transcends the mere ornament.
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