With its seating capacity of about 25,000, the Great Theatre at Ephesus is the largest Roman theatre in Anatolia and is believed to have been the second biggest in the ancient world after the Colosseum in Rome, which had a capacity of 50,000. Built into the side of Panayir Hill and measuring some 300 x 150 metres, it is the most magnificent structure in the city and is easily visible from the main Kuşadası to Selçuk Road.
The theatre was first built in the third century BC during the reign of Lysimachos in the Hellenistic period and then later, under the Romans, enlarged to its present size and form. The semi-circular seating area, or cavea, has sixty-six rows of seats divided into three sections by two horizontal walkways, or diazoma. The lower section, which had seats with marble backs and contained the Emperor’s box, was reserved for important people. The audience entered from the back of the cavea into the top section of seats. The stage was three stories and 18 metres high and decorated with columns, windows, niches and statues. Ephesus Tours There are five doorways opening to the orchestra area, the middle one being wider than the others to enhance the appearance of the stage, making it seem larger and more monumental.
The theatre was used not only for concerts and plays but also for political, religious and philosophical discussions and for gladiatorial fights.
The gladiators were the sporting superstars of their day. Most were slaves who were given their freedom if they survived three years of combat. Others were sons of rich or noble families who fought for excitement and fame. A gladiator cemetery was discovered in Ephesus in 1993 and examination of the bones showed that many had survived multiple wounds and some appeared to have received extensive (and probably expensive) surgery. Some of the retired gladiators lived into their nineties.
The Great Theatre was the scene of the riots against St Paul instigated by the silversmiths of the Temple of Artemis, who made their living by selling images of the goddess and whose livelihood was threatened by his preaching.
The theatre is still in use today, being used to hold classical music concerts and also occasional celebrity appearances. Celebrities who have performed there include Diana Ross, Joan Baez, Chris de Burgh, Bryan Adams, Elton John, Sting, Julio Iglesias, and Luciano Pavarotti.