Antiquities, Architecture and Design

Ancient Greek Theaters, Seen from the Sky

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

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  1. Deborah
    Posted November 8, 2010 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    Since a few are in pretty good shape were they ever used by anyone else, other than ancient times when they were built?

  2. BWR
    Posted November 9, 2010 at 1:20 am | Permalink

    These are wonderful photographs! They make me want to pack up and return to Europe ASAP! By the way, one of my old Archaeology professors once mentioned a colleague of his who contracted with the Russian Space Agency to get satellite photographs of an area he was seriously considering for a dig. I think that conventional aircraft couldn’t get the entire view of the area he was surveying. On the other hand, satellite photos couldn’t possibly convey the sense of place that one gets looking at the theaters nestled into their landscapes.

  3. middlebrowculturalist
    Posted November 9, 2010 at 3:15 am | Permalink

    @Deborah I guess you have never seen Yanni Live at the Acropolis…

  4. David
    Posted November 9, 2010 at 5:15 am | Permalink

    To Deborah: A number of the ancient Greek theatres (those in better states of preservation, like the theatre at Epidauros) have been used in modern times to host performances of Classical plays. There are a number of Roman theatres too, which often are in better states of preservation, that are used today.

    It’s difficult to determine from the distant photograph, but the theatre on the slopes of the Acropolis is actually in a decent state of preservation. I don’t recall if it’s been used for modern performances, but if anywhere, it seems likely on the Acropolis slopes.

  5. babur kafadar
    Posted December 17, 2010 at 5:04 am | Permalink

    thank you for you beautifull a professional guide and have question about ancient theatre.i read many articles about theatres but still couldnt find out which one is the largest and where is it?

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