A Tourist in Rome - Theatre of Marcellus

Location:41.89196, 12.47996 On Via del Teatro di Marcello, near the Tiber River
Metro:Colloseo, or Circo Massimo and Bus #160, or see it on my To the Forum Boarium and Beyond Walking Tour instead
Time:about 30 minutes
Hours:Freely visible from the road at any time of the day or night, and beautifully lit at night, but the grounds are opened during the daytime to allow a closer view

The Theatre of Marcellus is the best preserved of several ancient open-air theaters in Rome. At first it might look like the Colosseum, but don't be confused -- it's at the wrong location. The grounds contain the Temple of Apollo Sosianus, and the Porticus Octaviae is nearby. The theater was built in the final years of the Roman Republic; the space where the theater was built was cleared by Julius Caesar, but he was murdered in 44 BC before construction could begin. It was completed in 13 BC and inaugurated by Augustus in 12 BC. It was named after Augustus' nephew, Marcus Marcellus, who lived only to the age of 20 and died 5 years before its completion.

Theatre of Marcellus and the three columns of the Temple of Apollo Sosianus
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Model of the Theatre of Marcellus in the Museum of Roman Civilization
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Theatre of Marcellus and the three columns of the Temple of Apollo Sosianus at night
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The theatre was built mainly of tuff (1st photo below) and concrete (right half of 2nd photo below), completely sheathed in white travertine (left half of 2nd photo below, and 5th photo below). The theater was used for performances of drama and song. It was 365 feet in diameter and its capacity was 11,000 people, making it larger and more elaborate than not only Pompey's Theater but any ever built in the Roman Empire. It was three stories tall: the lowest story had arches with Doric columns between them and were used as entry/exit gates, like the Colosseum later would; the second story had arches which would have displayed statues with Ionic columns between them, like the Colosseum also does; the third story is unknown since it collapsed during the middle ages, but presumably had Corinthian columns. The Colosseum was obviously patterned after the Theatre of Marcellus, in an attempt by Vespasian to associate himself with Augustus. During the middle ages the theater was used as a fortress. The third floor was rebuilt in 1525 as a mansion, which has been turned into apartments in modern times. Up to the late 1800s the theater's ground floor was half buried by the rising ground level, but excavations have re-exposed that ground floor. Only about 1/3 of the lower two levels of the original 44 arches around the exterior curve are still visible; another 1/3 of the curve is substructure for adjoining buildings. The theater is still used for concerts and special events during the summer. The view of the theater when walking west off the Campidoglio downhill through the gardens is reputed to be quite good, but I haven't seen it from that point of view (yet). I quite liked the view from the porch part way up the Victor Emmanuel Monument, and from the top of that monument.

Tufa substructure of the Theatre of Marcellus
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Theatre of Marcellus - Travertine on the left, Concrete on the right
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Theatre of Marcellus, from the west
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The Theatre of Marcellus, with moon
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Detail of the Theatre of Marcellus - Ionic columns on the second story of travertine facing
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See also:
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