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Italian Theatres


By Hugh Denard



Date Visited: 11 Nov 1999

Karina's Documentation

Date: 2nd-1st century BC (turn of century)
'Theatrical space' below porticus summa cavea.  But present day cavea is a reconstruction

View of 'cavea' as it is today.

No space for a scaenae frons.  (Coarelli suggests a raised wooden structure used)
Behind and above adjoining porticus summa cavea is a tholos temple to Fortuna Fertility.
In right niche of lower terrace looking West is a well of Fortuna Chthonic (oracular).
Visible within Barberini palace on site of porticus summa cavea are foundations of tholos and surrounding wall in opus reticolatum c. 1.5 ft. between the two, and a deep channel.
Surrounding wall:
    a retaining wall, including (later?) drainage apertures into channel from hillside.
    and/or demarcates temenos
    and/or: is external wall and/or colonnade section of tholos (in which case, visible foundations are inner wall and/or earlier, smaller tholos)

Niche (medieval) carved into v. rough foundations.
two-thirds of the way up the opus retic. wall is a stratum of foundation-type material.  Is possibly the level at which opus retic. wall links to inner wall (as in museum's model).
Some earthquake / landslip damage visible in opus retic. wall.
Central columns of double-porticus summa cavea are visible through museum floor.
Foundation includes apse and broader curve (mirrored by / mirroring that of) opus retic. wall (intersected by later wall to North of apse.)

Question: Did temple have 1 or 2 levels?  (i.e. would it have been visible from below porticus summa cavea?)  (Karina notes: There are two different ways of reconstructing the building.)

Below cavea is highly orgnised and architecturally unified series of terraces, apses, ramps, buildings.

Significance re. TPP
Combination of cavea, porticus summa cavea, temple (at 'apex' of cavea) in pyramid-like vertical formation.
Theatre and porticus summa cavea and temple are at summit of unified architectural complex.
Ambiguity of 'theatrical space' akin to ambiguity re. fn. of TP cavea: theatre, or steps up to the temple?

Cicero De Divinatione II.41 re. rites.
Cicero Pro Plancio XXVI and XXIII re. use of theatrical space.

Model of architectural complex at Palestrina, in museum housed in porticus summa cavea.

Views of the model of the architectural complex at Palestrina
Views of the model of the architectural complex at Palestrina
Views of the model of the architectural complex at Palestrina

Notes from Teatri Greci e Romani

Regio I, Latium et Campania

Structure in the form of a theatre cavea.  Urban, it belongs to the sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia.

It dates to the 2nd century B.C.  The steps, which were destroyed in the fourteenth century, were partly reconstructed in the seventeenth century, when the monument was transformed into a building.  The construction of the well at the centre of the 'orchestra' is also attributed to this transformation.

The 'cavea' rises over the 'curtain' terrace.  A monumental facade level with the wall of the analemmata forms a link between the level of the 'curtain' terrace and that of 'the orchestra', and goes on to join the porticoes enclosing the terrace.  Sic barrel vaults open onto the facade.  In the centre the facade is thought to have been occupied by a flight of steps providing access to the 'orchestra'.  The cavea ends higher up with a portico in summa gradatione with two rows of colunms covered by concentric barrel vaults, under which there ran a cryptoporticus.  Behind this, on a central axis, there is a circular templet.  There was no constructed stage building.

Some scholars (Coarelli) consider the structure to be a theatre proper and believe that a wooden scaena must have been assembled each time (this is also confirmed by Cicero, Pro Plancio 26, 23).  This interpretatoin, which finds support in the many theatre caveas bereft of a fixed stage building, is contradicted by the lack of space available for assembling the scaena and for the actors to perform.  The semicircular area of the orchesta is suddenly interupted and preceded only by a flight of steps providing access.  It is more probable that this complex consisted of a simple monumental tier of steps in the form of a theatre cavea (as Fasolo, Gullini and Hanson maintain) that could indeed be used for sacred ceremonies but not for theatrical performances.

State of preservation:
restored, it is used as a flight of steps providing access to the museum.  Remains of the portico in summa cavea can be seen inside Palazzo Barberini.  The cavea steps are restored, and the orchestra is partly ocupied by a well.

diameter of the cavea: 59 m.

Current utilisation of the theatre:
it is used for occasional cultural events in the summer.

Current capacity:
500 seats.

F.FASOLO, G. GULLINI Il santuario della Fortuna Primigenia a Palestrina, Roma 1953, pp. 183-192.
J.A.HANSON, Roman theater-temples, Princeton 1959, pp.34-36.
G. FORNI 1970, s.v. Teatro.
F. COARELLI, Lazio, Bari 1984, pp.144-146.

Further Bibliography
F. COARELLI I santuari del Lazio de eta republicana Rome 1987, p.35 ff.
H. KAHLER Das Fortuna helligtum von Palestrina, Praeneste (Publ?) 1958
H. KAHLER Recensione a Fasolo - Gullini.  "Il santuario della Fortuna Primigenia a Palestrina" Gnomon XXX fasc. 5, 1958, pp.366-383.



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