The Roman Theatre of Terracina (Latina, Italy)

The Roman theatre represents, without a doubt, the real archaeological dream of Terracina.
A Spasso con Sara to discover this unique archeological site!

 

The theatre of Terracina, located along the northern front of the ancient Forum Aemilianum, occupies an area of about 70 meters by 60 in the area of the square Urbano II (nowaday it doesn’t exist anymore). The location in that specific section of the ancient city was dictated by purely practical reasons. At that point, in fact, it was possible to place a large part of the steps on which the spectators sat (cavea) on the natural slope of the ground.

 

Position of the Roman theatre complex in Terracina (Credits: Google 2018).

 

The building technique (for experts, opus incertum) places it among the oldest in Lazio region. Its original nucleus is, in fact, datable between 70 and 60 BC.

Roman Theatre of Terracina. The red arrow indicates a wall in opus incertum referring to the first phase of construction.

During the first century AD, the complex was affected by a radical restructuring that enhanced its appearance. Refined and coloured marbles, coming from the most remote corners of the empire, replaced the previous local limestone. The modest white mosaic, which was the floor of the first theatre, was replaced by large slabs of marble, some of which are still preserved. Significant changes also affected the stage building. These works, which began under the reign of Augustus (27 BC -14 AD), were probably completed in the phase of his successors (14 AD, the year of establishment of Tiberius – 68 AD, the year of Nero’s death and the end of the Julius-Claudian dynasty).

 

 Roman Theatre of Terracina. The first floor of the complex made of white mosaic.

The maintenance of the theatre was constant throughout the Flavian age (second half of the first century AD) and continued until that of the Severi (late second – early third century AD). Some traces, found in the more recent layers, document, however, a violent fire after which the environments, heavily damaged and left without maintenance, were abandoned. The curtains of the curtain fell and a new story began.

 

You can see…

Archaeological excavations, which have been going on for several years now (the first conference was organized more than 10 years ago), have brought to light a large part of the eastern sector of the theatre and have also traced its western border, obliterated by the presence of modern buildings. During the research, the demolition of a modern house in dilapidated condition and the stratigraphic removal of other buildings, without medieval walls, has allowed the rediscovery of other parts of the complex.

Roman Theatre of Terracina. Image from above and illustrative scheme of the archaeological excavation (The image was shown by Dr. Nicoletta Cassieri during the last conference on the excavations).

 

Climbing along the current Via S. Galba (the small road that runs along the four-sided arch leading to the Foro Emiliano) and continuing along the stairs, looking to the left, you will have a beautiful view from above over the excavation of the theater. There are 14 perfectly preserved rows of steps on which we can imagine the richest citizens of Terracina (the places reserved for the plebs and women are not visible as obliterated by a water preserve already in the eighteenth century and a cobblestone road then traced by the ramp that we walked to get to the top of the excavation). In fact, the places closest to the orchestra were intended for them, the semicircular space, decorated with precious marbles, reserved for musicians and separated from the stage by a long horizontal wall. Beyond this wall, there are a series of septa on which were placed the wooden boards of the stage, the space in which the actors, with expressive masks, staged tragedies and comedies. Behind them, the architecture of the scene was raised, with statues, marbles and columns.

Roman Theatre of Terracina. Explanatory overview of the visible remains.

 

Reconstructive drawing of a Roman theatre (Credits: digilander.libero.it/sarotheatres/intro.html)

 

A large portico opened behind the scene (it is the cd porticus post scaenam). Surrounded by columns on four sides, arranged around an open central space, it was the place where spectators could shelter themselves in case of rain or walk during the intervals of the shows. It was directly accessible from the Appian Way and from the piazza del Foro Emiliano, from which it is still visible today.

 

Roman Theatre of Terracina. The porticus photographed by the Aemilian Forum (now Piazza Municipio). Below, in the photo, a stretch of the ancient Via Appia (decumanus maximus).

 Roman Theatre of Terracina. Remains of the columns of the porticus.

Archaeological Findings

The findings made within the complex have given important emotions to archaeologists and citizens. Togated statues, male portraits, heads of divinities, architectural elements such as frames, columns, capitals and fragments of marble, give an idea of how the building should look in ancient times.

 

Roman Theatre of Terracina. Fragment of a fresco that decorated the eastern entrance of the theatre (the photograph was shown by Dr Nicoletta Cassieri during the last conference on the excavations).

 

The most significant finds have been found near the scene. Worthy of note are two female marble statues, headless and larger than life. Perhaps, judging by their dress and hair, they are two priestesses of Isis. Famous are the fragments of a monumental male statue more than two metres high and made of ancient yellow (a precious marble). It represented an oriental barbarian, as can be deduced from his clothing: tight trousers, short tunic, belt under the chest and Phrygian cap.

 

Roman Theatre of Terracina. One of the female acephalous statues at the time of their discovery (the photograph was shown by Dr. Nicoletta Cassieri during the last conference on the excavations).

 

Perhaps you don’t know that…

Inside the theater was found a marble altar dedicated to Jupiter Anxur, the god who has always been attributed the famous shrine of Monte Sant’Angelo that stood on the artificial platform visible from every corner of the city. This is a fundamental discovery. The find is, in fact, the first epigraphic attestation of the existence of the cult of Jupiter Anxur in Terracina, previously known only through literary testimonies.

 

Roman Theatre of Terracina. The altar with dedication to Jupiter Anxur at the moment of its discovery (The photograph was shown by Dr. Nicoletta Cassieri during the last conference on the excavations).

 

Posted by Sara Pandozzi

Leave a Reply