If you’re starting to feel old and need to put your age into perspective, try visiting Greece. Wow, that place has some history. It’s staggering to realize that the U.S. in official form is only 242 years old, but Greek civilizations were organized into city-states as much as 2900 years ago and began employing democracy not long after that.
Our family made time to visit Greece last month, and there were many experiences that gave us a new appreciation for its contributions to our world: it’s the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy, Western literature, historiography, political science, major scientific and mathematical principles, and Western drama, as well as the Olympic Games (thank you for the summary, Wikipedia).
I visited dozens of ancient sites and modern museums and took hundreds of photos, but today’s pictorial history lesson is all about THEATER…
In the 6th century BC, the earliest origins of drama developed in Athens, where ancient hymns were sung in honor of the god Dionysus. The City Dionysia festival featured competitions in music, singing, dance and poetry, and attendance at the festival as an audience member or as a participant in the theatrical productions was an important part of citizenship.
Sometime in the next century the first theater structure, the Theatre of Dionysus, was first carved into the side of the city’s biggest hill (the Acropolis). It underwent rebuilding a few times over the years but was largely unchanged after the 1st century AD.
When we visited the Acropolis and Theatre of Dionysus, it felt pretty awesome to walk in the footsteps of the ancient Athenians and to give context to a place that I’d only learned about through Theatre History classes!
Check out the high-tech security ropes right behind me, to keep people off of the stage area and protect this treasured site. The guy under the white umbrella blew a whistle if anyone crossed the barrier. That’s it. Greeks seem pretty mellow.
Only about 200 yards from the Theatre of Dionysus is another theater that originally seated 5000 people and is still used today… The Odeon of Herodes Atticus, from the 2nd century AD, was restored in the 1950s and is now home to the months-long annual Athens Festival (Sting was featured this year) and many other major performances.
About 5 days after we originally visited the Acropolis and these two theaters (in addition, of course, to the Parthenon on the top of the hill), we were taking an evening walk and realized that the “backstage” area of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus was only 10 minutes from our hotel. This is where the public now enters for events, so of course this area has modern lighting and decor that included several plastic “terra cotta” urns.
Theatre of Dionysus and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus were the only two specific theater facilities that we saw in Greece, but I will round out this history lesson with just a few other special sites that were certainly “dramatic”… Enjoy!