Ancient Theatre of Catania
Everything's waiting to be discovered in Catania, a place that is at once exciting and contradictory, with its bold baroque opulence that nevertheless shyly enchants you with unexpected spots. This is how you'll find the oldest theatre in the city: the archaeological site of the Roman Theatre and the Odeon.
Hidden in the nineteenth-century part of Catania, and a witness to the distant past, the theatre was built in the first century CE over a pre-existing Greek building, traces of which have recently been found which date from the fifth to the fourth century BCE. It's a place where Alcibiades may have delivered his famous speech to the Katanaioi to push them to ally with Athens against Sparta and Syracuse during the Peloponnesian War.
The theatre was designed to accommodate about 7000 spectators. It’s refined, elegant and equipped with a stage decorated with marble columns. This was later enriched with niches and, thanks to visual tricks, gives the illusion of a much wider depth. It’s equipped with an orchestra with a diameter of about 22 metres and a large auditorium consisting of twenty-one rows of seats that are divided into sections by volcanic rock stairs. It was designed so that the waters of the Amenano river could be channelled to bring the water features to life or to move the sets’ mechanical gears. Here, this was the magnificent theatre that greeted the gaze of people living at that time.
After the end of the Roman Empire, the building unfortunately lost its stature and splendour, so much so that the marble that decorated it was used to construct the cattedrale di Sant’Agata and, incredibly, other buildings were constructed over it.
Thanks to the enlightened Prince, Ignazio Paternò di Biscari, and the archaeological excavations he wanted and directed in 1770, the buildings constructed inside the theatre were demolished, allowing the monument to be brought back to light and regain its original appearance, to a certain extent.
A little higher than the theatre, on the west side, is the Odeon, which is also from the Roman era and has a capacity of about 1500 spectators.
It’s characterised by an original architrave made of square blocks in volcanic rock. The architrave has no supportive role and is purely decorative and was where artistic musical and dance shows were held. Perhaps the rehearsals for shows that would then be performed in the largest theatre were even held there.
It’s a wonderful custom that has started up again in recent years, offering summer performances that allow the site to regain its ancient function as a stage.
Find out more about the tour that will lead you to discover the Archaeological and Landscape Park of Catania and the valle dell’Aci.
Listen to the izi.Travel audio tour.
Watch the trailer for the virtual reconstruction of the ancient Theatre of Catania.