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Once Again, A Working Theatre


[image ALT: A Roman theater repaired with reinforced concrete, and with iron railings along the aisles up; surrounded by a church and a two-story cloister.]

You are standing in the Piazza della Libertà looking due west.

The theatre of Spoletium is said to date to the early part of the 1c A.D. and has been much repaired over the years, starting in Roman times, when the ground gave way under it. It then rapidly wound up buried under medieval construction: Spoleto was a very important place from the 6c on, the capital of a Lombard then a Frankish duchy, before being destroyed by Frederick Barbarossa in 1155. Eventually the theatre disappeared for the most part into the monastery of S. Agata, the apse of whose church you see on the right.

The theatre looks very neat, but the ruins were only vaguely recognized for the first time in the 16c, and sketched, by the Sienese architect Baldassare Peruzzi (locally involved in the building of S. Salvatore about 3 km from Spoleto); and it wasn't until 1891 that they were identified as a theatre. The ex-monastery of S. Agata was at that time being used as a prison, so it wasn't until the prison closed in 1954 that serious restoration was done, including a major consolidation involving a footing of reinforced concrete and the reconstruction of the E seating section, seen here in the foreground.

You noticed the roped-off orchestra. It is not the seating area that is being protected, but the marble pavement of the orchestra, which is original: one of the few extant Roman orchestra floors in the world.


[image ALT: A Roman theater repaired with reinforced concrete, and with iron railings along the aisles up; surrounded by a church and a two-story cloister.]

This type of floor paving scheme, of geometrically fitted sections of different types of stone, is known as opus sectile. Here you see a fairly straightforward rectangular tiling, but much more complex patterns are not infrequent.

After over a millennium of burial, depredation and neglect, the Roman theater is in use again, serving as a venue for ballet performances at the Spoleto Festival. 
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Page updated: 11 Jan 07