Thirty years of excavation work underneath a Muslim cemetery brought to light this well-preserved Roman Theatre in Alexandria. It encompasses galleries, patches of mosaic flooring and marble seats for up to 800 spectators.
Inscriptions and other findings suggest that the area was once a pleasure garden and may have been roofed to host musical performances. Graffiti on some of the seats confirms that in Byzantine times gladiator contests and chariot races took place, while the northern side of the theatre may have been part of Alexandria’s ancient university.
The Roman theatre was shaped with a half circle or orchestra space in front of the stage. Most often the audience sat here in comfortable chairs. Occasionally, however, the actors would perform in this space.
The audience was usually more interested in their favorite actors than the play itself. The actors would try to win over the audience’s praise with decorative masks, costumes, dancing and mime. If the play scripted an actor’s dying, a condemned man would take the place of the actor at the last moment and actually be killed on stage. The Romans loved the bloodthirsty spectacles.
During the Renaissance a prominent Italian family built their home on top of the Ancient Theatre for added protection.