Huddled beneath the Alcazabar, the Roman theatre in Málaga only opened for visitors in 2011, although its presence had been known since the 1950s. In 1951 the gardens attached to the Casa de Cultura were being developed when workers found the first signs of archaeological remains. Excavations commenced. In 1995 the Casa de Cultura was demolished since it sat over a good portion of the site. Once excavated, restoration started, made more difficult by the fact that much of the masonry now formed part of the construction of the neighbouring Alcazabar. Despite problems, researchers managed to put together a detailed history of the theatre.
The Teatro Romano was built in the 1st century BC while Emperor Augustus was in power. Crowds were entertained there for two hundred years with music, plays and concerts. Probably around the 3rd century AD and certainly by the time the Romans left Andalucia, the theatre fell into disuse. In the mid 8th century AD the Moors had taken over the area and used the stone from the theatre to construct their homes and later the Alcazabar. Once again abandoned, the theatre accumulated dirt and rubble, and was forgotten until the mid 20th century.
At the entrance to the theatre, the long box-like structure is now the Visitors Centre. During the excavations and later restoration, it had been the workplace for the archaeologists. It contains very little information about the theatre itself, mainly concentrating on the work involved in re-opening it to the public after nearly two thousand years but there is an interesting display of masks used during the performances. Players held different masks in front of their faces to indicate the part they were now playing.
The theatre itself has been well restored. Semi-circular in shape, the theatre is divided into three parts, the general seats or Cavea, the VIP seats or Orchestra and the stage, Proscaenium. The semi-circular Cavea is divided into three sections by aisles to give the Inma Cavea, the Media Cavea and the Sunma Cavea. The audience entered and exited via separate Vomitorio, (a word that means spew forth). With a touch more sensitivity we would call them covered passageways. The VIPs were seated in the Orchestra, which was between the Cavea and the slightly raised Proscaenium. The Proscaenium has a wooden parquet floor, as it would have had originally.
In its heyday, wooden poles were erected around the circumference of the theatre between which was draped muslin to shade spectators from the sun. Thousands of years later muslin is still draped between the eaves of buildings along shopping streets in the main cities of Andalucia for the same purpose.
Today the theatre is once again in use. On its opening night in September 2011 the first performance for two thousand years was from Andrés Mérida, Daniel Casares, and Carlos Álvarez, reading from Juvenal Soto and the poetry of Pablo Picasso and Manuel Alcántara. I think Augustus would have been pleased.
Go to Romans in Andalucia series of articles
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Nick has lived and worked in Andalucia for over 20 years. He and his partner, Julie Evans, have travelled extensively and dug deep into the history and culture, producing authoritative articles on all aspects of the region. Nick has written four books about Andalucia and writes articles for other websites and blogs.
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