"Be amazed by the scale of Orange's Roman theatre!" Top 5 Page for this destination Orange Things to Do Tip by CatherineReichardt
Orange Things to Do: 42 reviews and 101 photos
Orange?s major claim to fame is its stupendous Roman theatre ? with a stonking great 9,000 seater capacity, which makes you realise what a populus and important town Orange must have been two thousand years ago.
Southern Europe is happily sprinkled with Roman theatres in varying states of repair, but what is so extraordinary about the one in Orange is that the stage wall is still completely intact (a distinction it shares with only two others, one of which is in Turkey, and the other in Syria).
The theatre and was the focal point for entertainment in what must have been a bustling Roman town of Colonia Julia Firma Secundanorum Arausio ("the Julian colony of Arausio established by the soldiers of the second legion") - usually called Arausio for obvious reasons - and dates back to the first century AD (or CE if we're being politically correct). In line with the Roman policy of laying on "bread and games" to keep the populus happy, it hosted a range of entertainment including mime, poetry recitals and pantomime, all of which were free to citizens and paid for by a tax levied on wealthier citizens.
The Church forced its closure in 391 AD on account of its opposition to the sort of 'pagan' entertainment on offer and the theatre slowly fell into disrepair during the Dark Ages. During a period of religious conflict in the 16th century, townsfolk took refuge in the theatre as a place of relative safety, building houses directly on the stage and seating area.
The theatre would probably have become just another picturesque ruin had it not been for the attention lavished on it by the Director of Historic Monuments, Prosper Mérimée, who lovingly supervised its restoration over almost half a century between 1825 and 1869. On completion it became the venue for a regular Roman Festival - Les Chorégies d'Orange - an opera festival which takes place during the summer season (see website below for more details). It must be absolutely extraordinary to see opera performed in a venue that has been used for two millenia, and to sense the ghosts of legendary performers such as the Divine Sarah Bernhardt, who performed Phèdre here in 1903.
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