Not all archaeology takes place on the ground. Sometimes, it happens in the sky.

Aerial view of the Acropolis in Athens, with the theater of Dionysos in the foreground

Aerial view of the Acropolis in Athens, with the theater of Dionysos in the foreground

Classical archaeologist Hans Rupprecht Goette has spent years documenting ancient Greek theaters across the Mediterranean by plane—as well as the old-fashioned way, by foot. You can see several of these photos on our Google Map of ancient Greek theaters created for the exhibition The Art of Ancient Greek Theater, which is on view at the Getty Villa, as well as on a wall map in the exhibition itself.

Here’s how Hans explains the project:

Since I was always interested in topographical research and ancient Greek theater, and since I do photography as well, it was only natural for me to take images of theaters. With a Greek friend and a pilot, I flew with a small Cessna plane many times over Greece and took a lot of images from the (open!) window of the plane. By doing that, you get a very good overview of the topographical setting of each place and the context of the site.

Theaters were built in most ancient Greek cities, both in Greece itself and in its many colonies, which ranged from Italy to Turkey to North Africa. More than two millennia later, these sites range from immense, strikingly well-preserved structures to small semi-circles of stones that only hint at theater’s immense cultural significance in the ancient Greek world.

But every theater, however few its stones, has charm. “I love the ‘romantic’ and remote setting of the Amphiareion in northern Attica within a valley surrounded by woods of pine trees, a place with almost no tourists,” Hans said, “but I also like the huge theater of Epidauros with its masses of visitors.”

Aerial view of the Amphiareion in Attica, Greece, surrounded by pines

Aerial view of the Amphiareion in Attica, Greece, surrounded by pines

View of the theater of Epidauros in Greece

View of the theater of Epidauros in Greece

For an archaeologist, this kind of photographic documentation is core to serious research. But that doesn’t mean it’s not fun. “I really love to travel, to visit ancient sites, to study them and take photographs. I’m just now planning a trip to study the theater in Syracuse on Sicily.” We look forward to the photos!

Theater of Pergamon, in present-day Turkey

Theater of Pergamon, in present-day Turkey

Theater of Delos, Greece

Theater of Delos, Greece

Theater of Lato, Crete

Theater of Lato, Crete

Theater of Termessos, in present-day Turkey

Theater of Termessos, in present-day Turkey

All photographs courtesy of H.R. Goette