We took the kids out of school 2 weeks early before summer break, but luckily every day is a history lesson in Europe. Today’s lesson was two thousand years old -a bigger than life hands-on exploration of Roman life at La Théâtre Antique d’Orange. This open air theater was built early in the first century AD during the reign of Augustus in the French town of Orange, which had been a Roman colony called Arausio at the time.
We visited the theatre during the intense summer afternoon heat, but my kids were still enthralled with the massive building. Walking into the theatre, our jaws dropped as we looked up, up, up at the stone wall which stands guard behind the enormous stage, both still original.
You can see the statue of Emperor Augustus, and remnants of columns, niches, and porticos here, which have been periodically restored or replaced during its 2000 year lifespan (you can just imagine the various traumas that would fall on such a prominent building over that time period, including many wars about religion, politics and the shifting beliefs around public gathering and entertainment). Performers would enter the stage from the many niches, balconies, and doorways.
Let’s talk numbers here because the sheer size of this theatre is incredible: the wall is 121 feet high and the stage is 338 feet long. Basically the Romans built a 12 story structure by hand with a massive stage and seating for 7,000-9,000 people. Sitting in the seats, we could almost picture actors, dancers and jugglers performing for the thousands of spectators crowded onto the tiered seats. I’ve never seen anything like it!
The 12 story wall allows fantastic acoustics to this day, and the Théâtre d’Orange remarkably still holds performances. In fact, as we toured it, there were workers setting up cables and equipment for an upcoming festival. You can just see the tiny people setting up way down there!
We followed the audio tour to learn about the back and forth history of the theatre. My 8 year old looks bored, but he’s actually holding the audio pod as close to his ear as possible. He listened to every word and kept getting left behind as he clicked the buttons for additional information at each station.
The audio tour was included with entry, and you just followed the commentary as you walked and climbed to the different vantage points around the theatre at your own pace. We absolutely loved the tour, even in the heat, and it was really something to stand within the walls of something so historic and old!
Apparently, shows in Roman times could last 24 hours, or even days. Because of this, the theatre had small cavelike niches within the back hallways behind the seats for spectators to go and get out of the heat. We did the same!
Our timing wasn’t right to actually attend a concert, but I recommend looking into the performance schedule if you ever travel to this area. Here’s a photo from the theatre’s website of a recent performance showing just how huge it all is:
Today, the Roman Theatre of Orange is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage historic site. There’s lots more fascinating information about this theatre for all you history buffs, as you can imagine Europe’s largest remaining Roman monument would have, but I’ll let you click away at your leisure. For us, it was a great history lesson and adventure that I’m fairly certain our family won’t forget.
The Théâtre Antique d’Orange’s official website
And here’s a quick little video I found of the theatre