I was wondering the other day whether there were any Ancient Greek theatres that weren't built on the side of a hill. Normally we associate them with having a curved, raised seating area. The purposes are threefold, so far as I can tell:

  • Auditory - people at the back need to hear the actors and chorus clearly.
  • Visual - people at the back need to see the actors and chorus clearly.
  • Beauty - somewhat more vague; the seating channels the surrounding beauty of the location so people don't miss it. (Standing on a hill, for example, gives a wide panorama of beautiful things to see. Delphi is particularly beautiful to stand at the top of. That sort of idea.)
The original Greek theatres, from my research, probably had little more than a raised hill at the back for standing on and looking down at the actors. Over time this developed into wooden benches, then stone etc.

Now I know that Greece is a very mountainous place, but there were Greek speaking peoples spread all around the Mediterranean. There must presumably have been places they settled in that were not mountainous or hilly. So my question is - did the Greeks ever build a theatre where they provided the 'lift' (i.e. Instead of building on a hill, they built their own structure), or did they develop a theatre which didn't rely on this elevation, and therefore is a completely different design?

  • Why on earth would you choose to build where you have to move the earth rather than taking advantage of the natural slope?
    – MCW
    Sep 11, 2017 at 15:18

2 Answers 2


As far as I know, the answer is no. Let's look at the list of famous Ancient Greek Theaters:

  1. Theater of Dionysus: Athens-(the oldest Greek Theater, as well as the oldest surviving Theater in the world).

  2. Theater at Delphi

  3. Theater at Dodona: Northwest Greece

  4. Theater at Epidaurus-(The best preserved of all the Ancient Greek theaters): Northern Peloponnese

  5. "Greek Theater" Taormina, Sicily-(Eastern Sicily)

  6. The Great Theater at Ephesus-(Where Saint Paul preached, though this might have been a Roman Theater): Turkish Aegean coast

  7. The Theater in Myra-(Saint Nicholas/(Santa Claus' town): Turkish Aegean coast

  8. The Theater in Aspendos-(The Romans may have added a significant design to the theater's exterior/facade): South Turkish coast

All of these above mentioned Ancient Greek Theaters were built on a hilltop/ slope. Greece is a predominantly mountainous country, as is much of Turkey, as well as much of Sicily-(remember Ancient Greece once incorporated both Sicily and Turkey/Anatolia/Asia Minor into a "Greater Greece", more commonly known as, "Magna Graeca").

The only possible exceptions might be the Theater of Philippi in Northern Greece and The Theater of Syracuse in Eastern Sicily. From what I remember, both these towns have a distantly mountainous backdrop and panorama, though the theaters were not built on the traditional hilly slope. I could be wrong, though my memory is usually pretty accurate.

  • 2
    Is it possible that theaters were built on flat land, but that they were less likely to survive to the present day? Perhaps "flat-land" theaters would consist of wooden bleachers and not survive the ages. Or perhaps the flatter land they were built on would be more desirable to later generations, and so the old structures would be torn down. May 17, 2018 at 22:10

A couple exceptions do in fact exist where the site is relatively flat and the theatre is not built into the slope of a hill or ravine but entirely built up from level ground. One such exception is Metapontum in Basilicata.

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