Theatre of Dionysus
Where is the Theatre of Dionysus
Cut into the southern cliff face of the Acropolis of Athens, the Theatre of Dionysus is the birthplace of Greek tragedy and was the first theatre built of stone.
Aeschylus, Sophokles, Euripides and Aristophanes all had their plays performed here, during the dramatic contests of the annual Dionysia festival, when it was little more than a humble wood-and-earth affair.
The theatre was rebuilt in stone by the Athenian statesman Lykourgos in 342 BC to 326 BC, but the ruins that can be seen today are in part those of a much bigger structure built by the Romans, which could seat 17,000. They used it as a gladiatorial arena and added a marble balustrade with metal railings to protect spectators.
Above the theatre, there is a cave sacred to the goddess Artemis. This was converted into a chapel in the Byzantine era, dedicated to Panagía i Spiliótissa (Our Lady of the Cave) and was the place where mothers brought their sick children.
Two large Corinthian columns nearby are the remains of choragic monuments erected to celebrate the benefactor’s team winning a drama festival. The Sanctuary of Asklepios to the west, founded in 420 BC, was dedicated to the god of healing.
What was the Theatre of Dionysus Used For
Evidence points to the enormous popularity of theatre in ancient Greek society, from competition for scarce seating to the expanding number of festivals and performances to theatre lovers touring the Rural Dionysia.
It is also clear from fragments of audience reaction that have come down to us that the public were active participants in the dramatic performances and that there was reciprocal communication between performers and spectators.
It is possible, for example, that laws were enacted in the late fifth century to curtail comic outspokenness, such was the offence taken by some of the views expressed on the stage.
One anecdote that illustrates the fraught nature of this highly partisan audience reaction is recorded by Plutarch, who writes that in 468 BC when Sophocles was competing against Aeschylus, there was so much clamour Kimon had to march his generals into the theatre to replace the judges and secure Sophocles’ victory.
While ancient drama undoubtedly excited passion in contemporary spectators, the question of to what degree did they value or appreciate the work before them? Aristotle’s Poetics remarks: “there is no need to adhere at all costs to the traditional stories, around which tragedies are constructed. To try to do this would be ridiculous since even the well-known materials are well-known only to a few, but nevertheless delights all.”
While the plays of the time are addressed to the adult male citizen class of the city it is apparent that metics, foreigners and slaves were also in attendance, the cost of tickets was underwritten by the Theoric Fund.
Much more controversial is whether women were also present. All arguments on the subject are not available since there is no direct evidence that women attended the Theatre of Dionysus.
See a play at the Theatre of Dionysus.
Marvel at the incredible architecture of the theatre.
Watch the sunset over the Acropolis from the theatre.
Take a tour of the theatre to learn about its history.
On your way up towards the Acropolis, there are many spots to take photos looking down onto the theatre.
From the Acropolis and looking down onto the theatre.
In the theatre itself.
Capture one of the Acropolis in the background. You will need to get very low down to ensure you get the theatre in the foreground.
The Theatre of Dionysus is located on the Acropolis of Athens and therefore has the same opening hours.
Summer (April 1st to October 31st)
Monday – Sunday 08:00 – 20:00
Winter (November 1st to March 31st)
Monday – Sunday 09:00 – 18:00
January 1st, March 25th, May 1st, Easter Sunday, December 25th and 26th