The 5 Coolest Ancient Amphitheaters In Anatolia
The Great Theater of Ephesus
The date is 56 AD. A silversmith by the name of Demetrius is livid, a man bringing a new religion to Ephesus is stirring up trouble, and more importantly, affecting his business. You see, Demetrius sold statues of the god Artemis, whose temple was nearby and is considered one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. This newcomer to the city was preaching a new religion, and he wanted to enter into the Great Theater, which held 25,000 people, to preach his gospel.
Demetrius and his companions started a riot in the city, preventing this newcomer from entering and banning him from the city. The newcomer, whose name was Paul, never did manage to enter the theater. But he would go on to write to these citizens in Epistle to the Ephesians, the 10th book of the New Testament.
This massive theater was first erected in the 3rd century B.C. It was added onto in subsequent centuries and is the largest theater in all of Asia Minor.
And, remarkably, this incredible theater STILL holds some of the greatest concerts you’ll find anywhere in Asia Minor or all of Europe. Some of the acts to play recently include Elton John, Mikis Theodorakis, Joan Baez, Ray Charles, Sting, Diana Ross and many others, who’ve graced this stage that’s seen some of the world’s most incredible performances for more than 2,000 years.
The Theater of Pergamon
In 2018, the biggest concert halls see maybe a performance a week. A game one week, a concert the next. Maybe an opera or play the following week. Pergamon? A packed house of 10,000 people (!!!) every night of the week.
Pergamon was a city known for its inventors, maybe the "Silicon Valley" of the ancient world, only a little more learned – there’s a reason Marc Antony gifted the library of Pergamon to his beloved Cleopatra! And all that ingenuity went into this stunning theater. When you go, have a friend sit in the farther corner of the top row while you stand on stage. If the wind is light that day, your friend can hear you WHISPER all the way from the stage. Or, if you have 10,000 friends, bring them all – each one will be able to hear you as you whisper sweet nothings on into the night.
This theater is the steepest of all the ancient theaters. It also housed no space for a circular orchestra, which allowed for the view to the Temple of Dionysus to be clear. When you sit here you’ll marvel at the beauty of the whole city and feel the weight of sitting in one of the greatest theaters built in all of human history.
Aspendos is the best preserved ancient theater in the world, so it's no surprise that it still acts as a major destination for concerts today. Legend has it that the city's ruler organized a competition for who could build the greatest structure that would bring the city prosperity and joy, with the prize being the leader's famously beautiful daughter's hand in marriage. The first architect constructed the stunning aqueducts which provided water for the whole city. Overjoyed, the leader pledged his daughter to him but when sitting in the theater built by the second architect he heard a whisper, “choose the theater-builder.” He looked up, and there on the stage was the architect Zenon, who’d built a theater where even whispers from stage sounded like they were from the gods. Zenon won the competition.
While the legend is likely massively embellished, Zenon is inscribed as the architect and this theater is truly a magnificent work of art. Every year the Aspendos International Opera and Ballet Festival is held here, where acts come from all over the world to play in what is still one of its greatest theaters. Come during the summer and make sure to catch a performance the likes of which you’ll find nowhere else in the world.
The Theater of Miletus
From Aristotle to Bertrand Russel, there is agreement on where the founding of modern philosophy stems. From a city in Asia Minor called Miletus, where a young man named Thales reveled in the burgeoning intellectualism and arts forming in the town center.
Foremost of these arts was the incredible theater, which at its height held up to 15,000 people. The original theater was built over 2,000 years ago, right on what would at the time have been the seafront. Audiences delighted in watching the latest spectacles against one of the most stunning backdrops of any theater in the world.
Because sea trade (and sea warfare) was so important to the city, the theater’s eastern harbor is guarded by 2 lions, who helped protect the city and its growing import in the Roman Empire.
Theater(s) of Knidos
One of the most striking modern locations for any ancient theater belongs to that of Knidos, located right on the edge of the Datça Peninsula. What is especially striking is that this town achieved such a degree of prominence that it housed TWO theaters in the city, both still standing.
The "little" theater, which faces you as you arrive by boat in what is truly a magical way to discover the city, held a maximum of 5,000 people. The larger theater provides views overlooking the whole city and held over twice that amount.
This city was truly a home to the arts and its location at the edge of the peninsula made it a bustling town of great importance in its day. Sitting in either of its theaters and looking out over the rippling waves beneath you allows you to appreciate how amazing the past must have been.