Theatre of Marcellus history
The history of this open-air theatre dates back to the closing years of the Roman Republic. The planning for a new, massive theatre began in mid 1st century BC, under Julius Caesar.
At that time of its construction, the largest theatre was the Theatre of Pompey – dedicated to a rival of Caesar. After Julius Caesar defeated Pompey’s army during the struggle for control over Rome, he wanted to build a theater as impressive as the one of his rival. He annexed a large area and demolished several existing buildings, including two roman temples, in order to clear the ground for the theatre.
However, Caesar never got to see his theatre completed, as he was assassinated shortly was the construction started. As a result of his death, the whole project was put on hold.
Reign of Augustus
The project was restarted more than 20 years later, during the reign of Emperor Augustus. The man who said he found Rome in clay and left it in marble now turned his attention to the theatre. The construction of the massive structure went very fast. The theatre was so far advanced that the first shows could be held just a few years after Augustus took charge.
It was completed in 13 BC and formally inaugurated in 12 BC by Augustus himself. The theatre is named after Marcus Marcellus, Emperor Augustus’s nephew and designated successor. Marcellus died prematurely at a young age, five years before the completion of the theatre, in which Augustus dedicated it to his honor.
The largest in Rome
When completed, the Theatre of Marcellus was the largest theatre in Rome. It was an impressive 111 m in diameter and could hold more than 10.000 spectators. Just like many other Roman theaters in suitable locations, it had openings through which the natural setting could be seen.
The theatre was built mainly of tuff and concrete faced with stones. The outer parts of the theatre were covered in white travertine.
The building originally consisted of three levels supported by columns. Each one of the levels had a different architectural style. The lower levels had arches supported by columns in the Doric Order, while the upper consisted of Ionic columns. Only the two lover levels are still standing today.
The theatre was used for more than 400 year, undergoing several restorations during its lifetime. It offered several theatrical productions to the general public, especially during election campaigns. Like many other entertainment facilities, the theatre proved to be an exceptional propaganda tool.
Post ancient period
After its abandonment, the lower levels became buried under debris and vegetation. The building was, just like many other ancient buildings, used as a quarry for materials during the Middle Age. As you can see today, the ancient theatre is left in a ruinous state.
However, the building was not only used as a quarry, but also as a fortress as it was strategically located near the river. Over the years, it was owned by various Roman families, who expanded the building with living quarters at the top.
Why visit Theatre of Marcellus ?
The Theatre of Marcellus is one of the oldest preserved examples of an entertainment venue from ancient Rome.
A beautiful mix
As the theatre has undergone several modifications over its history, not much is left of what once was Rome’s largest theatre. However, it is also a striking example of different historical eras merged into one building. Visitors can see the high arches of the ancient theatre, the medieval fortified walls and the more elegant additions of the private living quarters. Today, the upper portion of the theatre still serves as apartments.
Theatre of Marcellus location
Theatre of Marcellus is located in Vatican City,Rome, Italy. The theatre can be found on Via del Teatro di Marcello, downhill from the Capitol, on the way to the Mouth of Truth. For the exact location of Theatre of Marcellus, check out the location map to the right.