The Roman Theatre (Teatro Romano) in Mérida, constructed in the years 16 and 15 BC, is Europe’s best conserved, and after restoration, the only Roman theatre which continues to be used today for live theatre.
The Roman Theatre is next to the Amphitheatre, both of which are located on the slope of a hill. Building on a slope helped to keep construction costs down.
The theatre has a capacity for 6,000 people. The audience was divided into three sections according to social rank:
- Summa cavea
- Media cavea
- Ima cavea
Corridors and barriers separated the areas.
A semicircular space in front of the stage, paved in white and blue marble, accommodated the orchestra. The marble paving is from a later renovation.
The stage is rectangular and has an elaborately decorated permanent architectural feature forming the back wall of the stage (known as the scaenae frons). It is arguably the most beautiful and grandiose ever built in the Roman Empire. It is 7.5 m wide, 63 m long and 17.5 m in height. The scaenae frons comprises two rows of Corinthian columns with bases and cornices of marble. Sculptures adorn the spaces between the columns. As is the norm in Roman theatres, there are three entrances onto the stage: a central door (valva regia) and two side doors (valvae hospitalia).
Since 1933, the Roman Theatre in Mérida has been hosting the Classical Theatre Festival. Regretfully, I have not been to a performance; however, I would very much like to go. I believe that seeing a play performed at the Teatro Romano must be a truly unique and unforgettable experience.