The Theater of Dionysus

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The Theater of Dionysus

The Theater of Dionysus was Europe's first theater, and stood immediately below the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. It was originally built in the late 5th century B.C. The theater was an outdoor auditorium in the shape of a great semicircle on the slope of the Acropolis, with rows of seats on which about eighteen thousand spectators could comfortably seat. The front rows consisted of marble chairs, and were the only seats in the theater that had a back support. The priests of Dionysus and the chief magistrates of Athens reserved these rows. Priests claimed 50 of the 67 front row seats, then came the officials, the guests of honor, then finally the ordinary citizens of Athens. Beyond the front row, stood a circular space called the orchestra where the Chorus would sing and dance, and in the center of which stood the alter of Dionysus. The orchestra level was around 3 meters higher than the shrine. Behind the orchestra, there lied a heavy rectangular foundation known as the stage on which the actors would perform their section of the play. The back of the stage had a building painted to look like the front of a temple or a palace. Here, the actors would retire when they were not needed on stage or would go to when they had to change their costumes. Above lay the deep blue sky, behind it was the Acropolis, and seen in the distance was the olive colored hills and lush green of the forests that surround.

The theater was built as a result of the Athenian's religious practice in honor of the god, Dionysos, who personified both wine and fruitfulness. Long before the theater itself was built, an annual ceremonial festival was held for Dionysus in the same spot. This ancient ceremony was performed by choruses of men who sang and danced in the god's honor. Spectators would gather in a circle to watch these dancers; that was the way that the theater took its circular shape. When the theater was built, the performers only sang and...
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