Volterra Roman Theater

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roman_theater_small_signed The Roman Theater in Volterra was built at the end of Ist century BC, during the Augustan period, consulship of Aulus Caecina Severus. It was built within the perimeter of the Etruscan/Roman defensive walls, against steep slope. Theater capacity is estimated on 2,800-3,500. The diameter of the cavea is 63m (210 ft.)

The theater was modified II/III AD: the quadriporticus was constructed, the proscaenium was demolished and the orchestra was enlarged. The theater was abandoned at the end of III AD. The baths (the ruins of which are part of the theater complex) were built III/IV AD, when the theater was no longer in use. The site of the theater was used as a source of building material during the middle ages for other buildings in the city. It was also gradually covered up by the city waste. In XIX century there was still strong awareness of the presence of the theater on the site, which is documented on the maps and writings from the period.

Roman Theater in Volterra was excavated during several years starting in 1958 thanks to the energy and dedication of one man, Enrico Fiumi. The most prominent feature of the current image of the theater has been actually rebuilt, to accommodate the columns found on the site in the realistic setting, and to give people at least some idea about the theater form.

 

The digital 3D reconstruction presented here represents the theater as it might have looked around II/III AD, before the construction of the baths (which were built after the theater was no longer used), but with the original proscaenium and pulpitum and with the quadroporticus. The digital reconstruction was created by Prof. Wladek Fuchs Ph.D from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Architecture, from 2008-2009. Despite the significant amount of research, this virtual reconstruction makes no pretense to historical accuracy, and should be treated solely as an artistic vision.

 


The general view of the ruins of the Roman Theater in Volterra:

Volterra_roman_theater_gen_view2

Photo by Wladek Fuchs

Digital reconstruction renderings of the theater:

Volterra_Theater_01

Volterra Roman Theater – Virtual Reconstruction rendering by Prof. Wladek Fuchs, Ph.D

Volterra_Theater_03

Volterra Roman Theater – Virtual Reconstruction rendering by Prof. Wladek Fuchs, Ph.D

Volterra_Theater_04

Volterra Roman Theater – Virtual Reconstruction rendering by Prof. Wladek Fuchs, Ph.D

Google Earth aerial view of Volterra, with the location of the theater marked.

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General plan of the Roman Theater in Volterra. Scroll down to see the explanation of the numbered parts of the theater.

site_roman_theater_plan_with_numbers

 

 

Number Description Image
1 Cavea – Seats for audience surrounding the orchestra. Divided into three distinct levels:
ima cavea (lower audience) reserved for the most distinguished members of the society
media cavea (main/central audience) for common citizens, as long as they wore white toga
summe cavea (upper audience – not preserved, was located above the #8 ambulacrum) for the lowest social class.Upper image shows the general view of the cavea. Lower image shows the top part of the media cavea, and the wall of the ambulacrum (see below) with visible entrances into the cavea.
The general view of the cavea.

cavea3

2 Orchestra – the semicircular space in front of the main stage. In Roman theaters this was the area reserved for the most prestigious guests.
3 Proscaenium – the elevated stage. In Volterra theater the proscenium was demolished (possibly in II or III century AD) to enlarge the orchestra. Also clearly visible is the trench of the auleum (the curtain system in roman theaters)
In the photograph the shape of the proscaenium has been outlined in white
proscenium1
4 Scenae frons – permanent stage decorations. In Volterra theater there were two levels of Corinthian columns, organized in three groups. The left side of the scenae frons in Volterra (lower image) has been restored from the elements found on site. scenae_frons1
scenae_frons2
5 Porticus post scaenam – Arcade of the (behind) stage building. porticus1
6 Quadriporticus – Arcades around on open courtyard between the theater and the valley. There is no evidence of the wing of the quadriporticus opposite the theater quatriporticus1
7 Basilica – a foyer type of space on the side of the scenae building. The photograph shows the construction details of the basilica. basilica
8 Ambulacrum – covered walkway, distributing spectators around the cavea. The summe cavea (three or four rows of seats) was on top of the ambulacrum. ambulacrum1
9 A rectangular structure with three niches, of unknown purpose. There is a possibility that the structure was originally at the base of a temple above the theater, and the niches were the places where the citizens made their offerings. niches1
10 Baths, built in III/IV century AD in the open space of the quadriporticus, not included in the digital restoration. baths

All materials presented in this article, unless otherwise noted, are copyrighted by Wladek Fuchs, 2009