The ancient and massive Roman Theater of Orange is located in Orange City in Rhone Valley in the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur region in Southern France. Its facade is 1.8 meters thick 103 meters long, and 37 meters in height, and the width of its stage is approximately 130 meters. The Roman Theater of Orange has a seating capacity of 10,000 people. As was the tradition with Roman theaters, it has a large building behind the stage whose size is equal to a modern 10-story building. The Roman Theater of Orange is among the well-preserved of all iconic Roman Theaters in existence.
The Roman Theater of Orange was built at the start of the Christian era in the first century AD, during the reign of Caesar Augustus the ancient Roman Empire's first emperor. In 391 after Emperor Theodosius, I declared Christianity the Roman Empire's official religion the Roman Theater of Orange was abandoned to ruin while other theaters were converted into churches.
In 412 the theater was ransacked, and its monuments looted by Visigoth Barbarians who captured Orange city. The Visigoth Barbarians were led by King Athaulf. During this attack, the theater stage's decorative marble and mosaic elements were destroyed, and its roof was set ablaze. The theater's stone steps were used to make sarcophagi (stone coffins). The barbarians also destroyed the statue of emperor Flavius Honorius who then led the Western Roman Empire.
The Roman Theater of Orange was abandoned until 1825 when renovation work was started by architects Augustin Caristie and later Jean-Camille Formige. In 1869 the partially restored theater hosted Roman festivals organized by Antony Real a writer and composer. It was a great success due to the theater's amazing atmosphere and acoustics. 1902, marked the first time the yearly Chorégies d'Orange festivals were first organized at the theater.
Until 1969 play performances were alternated with musical works, symphony pieces, and operas at the theater. Afterward, only opera was performed at Orange. In 1981 UNESCO designated the Roman Theater of Orange a world heritage site. In 2002 the District of Orange assigned Culturespaces to develop and manage the Roman Theater of Orange. And in 2006 a 1000-meter square roof was installed at 32 meters in height.
The Roman Theater of Orange's design and architecture have all Latin Theatre elements espoused by the Roman architect and engineer Vitruvius. These elements are the semicircular tiers, lateral access, and a stage wall flanked by a wing called parascenia. Throughout its existence, it has undergone several changes and only a few elements of its initial decorations remain. The tiered semicircular spaces (caveat) were built to rest against the elevated Saint Eutrope Hill.
The Exterior Wall
France's King Louis XIV described the postcranium (the room behind the stage) and the theater facade as the finest wall in his kingdom. The wall has three parts the lower part is adorned with 19 Doric order arcades (passageways) running between three gates and above it a smooth wall and the upper level with 21 dummy arcades that appear like they are drawn into the wall.
The Stage Wall
Originally the Stage Wall was adorned with marble slabs, mosaics, statues, stucco, and columns. On the wall were embossed winged victories pulling chariots and the mythological centaurs with offerings. The mythological figures portray the victory of order over chaos. The center niche above the Royal Door has the 3.55 meters in height majestic statues of Augustus. The niche initially had a statue representation of Apollo that was later changed. The statue wore a general's coat and cloak and held a staff. That served as a reminder to preserve peace throughout the Roman Empire and respect its laws. The adorned Stage Wall was protected by a large roof that was sloping. The coffered ceiling, concealed corridors above two wall levels, and tiled roof provided effects visual and sound effects as actors and machine operators moved between them.
The stage is 61 meters and 13 meters deep and to its east and west are two towers in Greek called parascaenia. The floor rests on beams with trapdoors where actors and theater machinery appear instantly. The semicircular section where performances take place is called the orchestra. At the orchestra's end is the straight pulpitum wall adorned with fountain statues. Cables, winches, and counterweight rigs enabled props and actors to be hidden from the audience by an approximate 3-meter high curtain.
These towers were on either side of the stage. Inside them were rooms with a foyer, and during shows actors, chariots, and scenery props gathered there before going to the stage. The high levels of the towers were where decorations were stored.
The semicircular terraces were built on Saint Eutrope Hill which made the construction easier and strong. They were split into sections of 25, 9, and 5 terraces and divided by staircases. The upper section was covered by a portico. When it was rainy or sunny the velum-a large canopy was moved to cover the audience. Beams fixed to corbels were used to move the velum when it was intended to cover the stage or the whole theater.
The orchestra was 19 meters in diameter and was at the center of the terraces and its design was borrowed from the Greeks. This is where the choir sang and danced and commentaries and explanations of drama were done. The orchestra's surface was initially covered with beaten earth and eventually tiles.
Temple Of Nymphs
On the western side of the Roman Theater of Orange is a semicircle that was carved on Saint Eutrope Hill. At the center of the semicircle was a second-century temple that was dedicated to nymphs, spirits of river and running waters. This semicircle was an extension of a natural grotto (cave) that may have had a spring.
The Roman Theatre of Orange is open all year round. The theater opens at 9:30 AM but in different months it may close at 4:30 PM, 5:30 PM, 6 PM, and 7 PM depending on the months if there are rehearsals or performances. The charges start from 4.5 to 18.5 Euros depending on the number of visitors.