The Roman Theater

21 Mar

When Rome ruled Lecce the city was wealthy, a “sister city” of Rome. Her wealth came in great part from olives. Lamp grade olive oil was prized throughout all of the Roman Empire. The oil burned without smoke and without odor, a marked improvement over other sources of light. At its height in the first and second centuries, more than 8000 Apulian citizens were involved in the production and processing of olive oil in Lecce, a large percentage of the population of the region.

And with this great wealth came an explosion of culture. In the Roman amphitheater it was the gladiators and daily executions. But very close to the Amphitheater was the Roman Theater playing an essential role of the society of Lecce.

Roman theater unlike Greek “theater in the round” from which it evolved, has a stage with a proscenium arch, three entrances and a semi-circular apron. The seats (for an audience of up to 6000) were in banks to the top of the three-story theater. Today only a remnant of this theater “house” remains.

The actors were distant from the majority of the audience. They used large symbolic gestures of the body, arms and hands and signatory masks to express codified emotions to the audience. The masks had built in voice amplifiers to reach the viewers in the back of the house.

At its pinnacle thousands and thousands of Lecce citizens watched traditional tragedies and comedies here. Today the theater ruins sit quietly in the sun.

4 Responses to “The Roman Theater”

  1. paul March 23, 2022 at 12:53 pm #

    I could sit quietly in the sun in that theatre every sunny day, and want for nothing. (Until gelato time.)

  2. Terrence Murphy March 22, 2022 at 5:06 pm #

    Looks like much of the city has built over this edifice. I suppose that there is considerably more underneath the buildings we see in the last photograph. There is an archaeology museum in the city? And, are the masks originals? Terry

    • Jill and Dana March 22, 2022 at 5:24 pm #

      Hi Terry, The masks are not original. I assume they are reconstructed from fragments of the originals using molds. Apparently Carlos V oversaw the leveling of Lecce to redesign the city in the admired style at the time, Baroque. Many of the buildings sit on Roman and Messapian ruins. There is an archeology museum at the University of Salento. We have gone several times but so far they have been closed, even during the posted hours. We are finding this true in a number of cases, not sure if it is Covid or the “off season.”

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