A Brief History of the Roman Theatre in Amman

Roman Theatre - Amman © watchsmart
Roman Theatre - Amman © watchsmart
Photo of Ginin Dunia Rifai
26 February 2017

Amman is a modern city, built on the sands of time. Hiding beneath cultural diversity, modern establishments and Western developments, lies a rich history of an age-old heritage. The capital of Jordan is known for its many iconic monuments and attractions, but deep in the heart of this magnificent city nestles the Roman Theatre, Amman’s most famous archaeological artefact. Here’s a brief background to the epic landmark.

Amman_Roman Theater | © krebsmaus07

Under Roman rule, Amman was chosen as the glittering capital of the Roman Empire, but the city was then called Philadelphia, after its Ptolemaic ruler, Philadelphus.

The theatre was built in the period 138-161 CE, which dates back to the reign of Roman emperor Antoninus Pius. The sole centrepiece of the city, the magnificent masterpiece was designed to be northerly-oriented, to keep the sun off its spectators, and could seat up to 6,000 people on its steep stairs.

Like any other Roman Theatre in the world, it was constructed upon the same three building blocks: the cavea, the orchestra and the scaenae frons. The cavea is nothing more than the seating space that contained the largest number of spectators. The highest rank was known as ‘the gods’; although far from the stage, this section offered a good view, thanks to the lofty position and steepness of the stairs. The orchestra, on the other hand, is the area directly in front of the stage, reserved for VIPs to ensure they didn’t miss a split second of the action. The two stories rising from the stage upwards are the saenae fons, and were used as a backstage space of sorts.

It’s important to point out that spectators were intentionally separated by status, gender and nationality. The Romans had major control over the social hierarchy, and it was illustrated in all their archaeological works later on.

The government of Jordan started restoring the theatre in 1957. Sadly, none of the original material was used in the process, yet the final outcome was magnificent nonetheless.

Folklore Museum, Amman 1 | © afcone

After marvelling at this timeless masterpiece, don’t forget to check out the two rooms near the entrance, housing the Jordan Museum of Popular Traditions and the Jordan Folklore Museum.

Al-Balad Music Festival 2013 | © al-balad.org

The Roman Theatre is always open for visitors, and also hosts many local events such as Al-Balad Music Festival. So be sure not to miss out on this dreamy combination of history and art.

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