Tag Archives: architecture

Rune Frederiksen, Elizabeth R. Gebhard & Alexander Sokolicek (eds.), The Architecture of the Ancient Greek Theatre, Monographs of the Danish Institute, Volume 17 (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press and The Danish Institute at Athens, 2015)

From early festivals honoring Dionysus staged on a stamped earthen orchestra space surrounded with improvised wooden bleachers, the Greek theatre evolved into one of the most significant architectural forms and civic works in the ancient Greek city.  Often crafted into a sloping site to form a natural auditorium or theatron (“viewing place”) which allowed the audience to connect with the surrounding landscape, the theatre provided a true “stage” for numerous public engagements:  Dramatic performances, festivals and spectacles, political and public assemblies, and more.  No Greek city could be considered a true city without a theatre.

The Architecture of the Ancient Greek Theatre publishes twenty-six research papers presented at a two day international conference held in January 2012, which focused specifically on the architecture of the Greek theatre.  The intent of the conference, and the resulting papers published here, was to present new material and researches about the history of Greek theatre architecture, particularly “. . . its form and function, from the earliest theatral arrangements through the Classical period and the architectural development in Hellenistic times.”  It also includes the impact of Roman theatre traditions and interventions on Greek works during the Imperial period.  The papers included in the volume are specifically focused on the architecture of the Greek theatre and its evolution, and “. . . less on its role within the community or the production of plays.”

The scholarship presented is rigorous, extensive and deep, ranging from overviews of Greek theatre architecture of various periods, to examination of the development and evolution of specific spatial and building elements of the theatre (e.g., cavea, ikria, koilon, orchestra, parodos, proskenion, and skene), to building and construction methods and processes, and to detailed inspection of specific theatres throughout the Greek world.  A number of the theatres under discussion have been recently excavated or undergone a more current re-examination.  The editors “Introduction” outlines the content of the papers while weaving together the current issues and directions in Greek theatre architecture research.  In addition, several essays propose relevant directions and topics for future research.

Beginning with Hans Peter Isler’s “Studies on Greek Theatres:  History and Prospects”, the first part of the volume examines early Greek theatres, including:  Christina Papastamati-von Moock’s “The Wooden Theatre of Dionysos Eleuthereus in Athens:  Old Issues, New Research”; Rune Frederiksen’s “Early Greek Theatre Architecture: Monumentalized Koila Before and After the Invention of the Semicircular Design”; Alexander Sokolicek’s “Form and Function of the Earliest Greek Theatres”; Elizabeth R. Gebhard’s “The Sunken Orchestra:  Its Effects on Greek Theatre Design”; Jean-Charles Moretti and Christine Mauduit’s “The Greek Vocabulary of Theatrical Architecture”; and Fede Berti and Nicolò Masturzo’s (with Manuela Vittori) “New Studies of the Theatre at Iasos:  50 Years since the First Excavation.”

The evolution and developments of theatre architecture and building elements during the Hellenistic period are well examined in:  Martin Hofbauer’s “New Investigations in the Ephesian Theatre:  The Hellenistic Skene”; Chris Hayward and Yannis Lolos’  “Building the Early Hellenistic Theatre at Sikyon”; Georgios P. Antoniou’s “The Theatre at Dodona:  New Observations on the Architecture of the Cavea”; David Scahill’s “The Hellenistic Theatre at Corinth:  New Implications from Recent Excavations”; Petros Themelis’ (with a contribution on the masons marks by Kleanthis Sidiropoulos) “The Theatre at Messene:  Building Phases and Masons’ Marks”; Christine Wilkening-Aumann’s “The Hellenistic Theatre in the Sanctuary of Hemithea at Kastabos (Asia Minor):  New Evidence and Reconstruction”; Chryssa Karadima, Costas Zambas, Nikos Chatzidakis, Gerasimos Thomas, and Eirini Doudoumi’s  “The Ancient Theatre at Maroneia”; Walter Gauss, Rudolfine Smetana, Julia Dorner, Petra Eitzinger, Asuman Lätzer-Lasar, Manuela Leibetseder, and Maria Trapichler’s “Old and New Observations from the Theatre at Aigeira”; Clemente Marconi and David Scahill’s “The ‘South Building’ in the Main Urban Sanctuary of Selinunte:  A Theatral Structure?”; Poul Pedersen and Signe Isager’s “The Theatre at Halikarnassos – and Some Thoughts on the Origin of the Semicircular Greek Theatre” (with an appendix “The Inscriptions from the Theatre at Halikarnassos”); and John Richard Green, Craig Barker, and Geoff Stennett’s “The Hellenistic Phases of the Theatre at Nea Paphos in Cyprus:  The Evidence from the Australian Excavations”.

The impact of Roman architectural intervention on Hellenistic theatres is discussed in Stefan Franz and Valentina Hinz’s “The Architecture of the Greek Theatre of Apollonia in Illyria (Albania) and its Transformation in Roman Times”; Marco Germani’s “Boeotian Theatres:  An Overview of the Regional Architecture”; Valentina di Napoli’s “Architecture and Romanization:  The Transition of Roman Forms in Greek Theatres of the Augustan Age”; Arzu Öztürk’s “Was Dörpfeld Right?  Some Observations on the Development of the Raised Stage in Asia Minor”; Nathalie de Chaisemartin’s “The Carian Theatre in Aphrodisias:  A Hybrid Building”; Katja Piesker’s “’Traditional’ Elements in the Roman Redesign of the Hellenistic Theatre in Patara, Turkey”; Gudrun Styhler-Aydin’s “The Hellenistic Theatre of Ephesus:  Results of a Recent Architectural Investigation of the Koilon”; and Hans Peter Isler’s “Traditional Hellenistic Elements in the Architecture of Ancient Theaters in Roman Asia Minor”.

Each of the essays is soundly written, well-illustrated, thoroughly documented, and includes a bibliography referencing all works cited in the piece.  The volume concludes with an impressive “Thematic Bibliography” that reshuffles all the referenced works into themes that include general and regional studies, specific places and sites, architectural topics and building elements, and specific theatre complexes.

Without question, The Architecture of the Ancient Greek Theatre is an essential, significant and substantial work updating the scholarship and investigations that have recently occurred in the field.  As a volume its assists in our understanding the current state of scholarship and excavation, while informing and clarifying our knowledge of the development and evolution of Greek theatre architecture.  While illuminating issues concerning a number of Greek theatres, yet, as a number of essays allude to, there is still more work to be done.

Dom Holdaway & Filippo Trentin (eds.), Rome, Postmodern Narratives of a Cityscape (London & Brookfield: Pickering & Chatto, 2013)

Rome qua its sprawling peripheries, immortalised by Italian literature and cinema in their bleakest and most dramatic aspects (e.g. Pier Paolo Pasolini), has also become a well-known aesthetic trope, which is itself parasitic upon Rome’s paradigmatic historic centre, whose time-honoured beauty and wealth stand in stark contrast to the more recent peripheries. Whilst the former aesthetic reception of Rome is tied indissolubly to the classical age and later classicism, the latter is a standard case of modernity qua urban phenomenon, i.e. the pre-modern city centre being surrounded and eventually dwarfed by ever-growing circles of newly populated areas marking the inexorable advent and advance of the modern age.

The contributors of the volume hereby reviewed attempt to overcome this aesthetic dichotomy and present a postmodern understanding of the city, drawing primarily from architecture, psychoanalysis, art history and film studies, the book’s cinematographic references spanning from Enrico Guazzoni’s 1913 Quo vadis to Michele Placido’s 2005 Romanzo criminale. Whereas classical and modern narratives aim at establishing fixed points of reference and final evaluations, a postmodern one contents itself with their plurality, which reveals implicitly the irreducible variety of perspectives characterising human affairs and the incessant flow of human life, individual as well as collective, which no abstract concept or conception can truly grasp once and for all.


The first three essays in the book pursue their postmodern interpretation of Rome by focussing upon: (1) the ever-changing urban landscape around, against, through, within, beneath and upon the Aurelian Walls (“Between Rome’s Walls: Notes on the Role and Reception of the Aurelian Walls”, by Marco Cavietti); (2) the impressionistic and idiosyncratic depiction of ancient and modern Rome in Federico Fellini’s cinema, which has itself become part of the internationally shared imagery of the city (“The Explosion of Rome in the Fragments of a Postmodern Iconography: Federico Fellini and the Forma Urbis”, by Fabio Benincasa); and (3) the further expansion of the re-presented Rome in recent Italian films, which bear witness to the gradual cultural acceptance of more and more sections of the modern city in the same imagery (“Centre, Hinterland and the Articulation of ‘Romanness’ in Recent Italian Film”, by Lesley Caldwell).

The second lot of three essays focuses instead upon specific places and notable artefacts in Rome, the fame of which may often hide the very different meanings that they have had in the course of their history or with regard to their observers. The chosen items are: (1) a number of famous buildings, monuments and neighbourhoods in Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1979 film entitled La luna (“Topophilia nd Other Roman Perversions: On Bertolucci’s La luna”, by John David Rhodes); (2) the 2nd-century equestrian bronze statue of emperor Marcus Aurelius and emperor Augustus’ 1st-century BCE Ara Pacis (“Marcus Aurelius and the Ara Pacis: Notes on the Notion of ‘Origin’ in Contemporary Rome”, by Filippo Trentin); and (3) the gigantic gas holder built in the Ostiense area in the 1930s to provide the citizens of Rome with cooking gas and street illumination (“A Postmodern Gaze on the Gasometer”, by Keala Jewell).

The concluding three essays discuss Rome’s two-way links with foreign architectural experiments. Specifically, they address: (1) the growingly innovative and daring architecture of the churches built outside Rome’s historic centre in the 20th and 21st century, especially after the 1962-5 Second Vatican Council, in line with analogous developments in Glasgow (“Ecclesiastical Icons: Defining Rome through Architectural Exchange”, by James Robertson); (2) the thirty-year-long international success of the itinerating architectural exhibition called Roma interrotta, in which twelve architects from different countries reinterpreted Giambattista Nolli’s seminal 1748 Great Plant of Rome (“’Roma Interrotta’: Postmodern Rome as the Source of Fragmented Narratives”, by Léa-Catherine Szacka); and (3) the influence of Rome’s architectures on two of the most influential 20th-century American architects, i.e. Charles W. Moore and Robert Venturi (“Las Vegas by Way of Rome: The Eternal City and American Postmodernism”, by Richard W. Hayes).


The volume edited by Holdaway and Trentin is the second instalment of the Warwick series in the humanities and it offers an engaging exploration of Rome as an evolving cultural hub of important significations for architects and artists, well beyond the firmly established waves of classicism that, recurrently, have swept the shores of Western creativity. Also, it offers a convincing example of coherent application of “postmodernism” as a useful hermeneutical tool and an established category of academic thought. Although the level of scholarly detail of the chapters is not homogenous, the overall quality of the volume is noteworthy, since this book offers many a refreshing perspective over a city about which countless perspectives have already been offered. Moreover, interesting considerations about the city’s demography, politics and economic life punctuate the chapters and make this book even more appealing. Above all, a genuine fascination with Rome’s vast and complex architectural and artistic history informs the whole endeavour, turning the book into an erudite act of love for the city. The reader who has never visited Rome will feel compelled to do it. The one who has already visited it will wish to do it again, in order to savour it in a new way.