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Théâtre Antique & Musée d’Orange

May 6, 2013 @ 5:57 pm
posted by Sandra Sheridan
Roman theatre, provence

Théâtre Antique d’Orange – © Gromelle Grand Angle

On the UNESCO World Heritage and acknowledged to be the best preserved theatre in Europe, the Théâtre Antique & Musée d’Orange is a jewel in the heart of the Rhône Valley.  The Roman Theatre of Orange is unquestionably one of the finest remnants of Ancient Rome and the Roman Empire in all of France and one where you can enjoy enchanting performances.  But first a bit of history.

King Louis XIV appropriately described the theatre’s exterior façade as, “The finest wall in my kingdom”.  The sheer size of the wall is staggering – nearly 103 meters in length, 1.80 meters thick and 37 meters high (338 feet x 5.9 feet x 121 feet).  The 3-level façade includes stage and secondary doors and a blind arcade with arches in line with towers at either side of the stage.
The stage wall design was critical to proper sound direction and includes the theatre’s only distinct architectural décor.  Some of the theatre’s magnificent features include a frieze decorated with centaurs and niches with statues of Augustus and Apollo.

Roman Theatre Orange

Stunning Les Chorégies performance

Profiling the background of a place that has been around since 36 BC requires pick-and-choose fact paring and a PhD in history, but I’ll do my best!  A few years after Julius Caesar conquered all of Gaul, veterans of his 2nd Gallic legion founded Orange.

In the 1st century AD, the Theatre of Orange was constructed under the reign of Emperor Augustus.  The fact that such buildings still remain throughout France is a testament to Roman architectural and building expertise.  The Romans hollowed out an existing hillside to build the theatre terraces against Saint-Eutrope hill.

The traditional theatre design included tiered seats, an orchestra, stage and stage wall. Seating for theatre performances was in strict accordance with rank and status, with VIPs in civic and military life closest to the stage, and persona non grata at the back.

Theatre show days literally were just that – all day presentations of mimes, poetry readings, comedies and pantomimes acting out tragic, epic and farcical stories.  Theatre performances evolved to the spectacular, with increasingly bloody scenes.

And thus came the downfall for all such theatres.  With the advent of Christianity in the 4th century, Emperor Constantine and Theodosius converted to Christianity and made it the official religion.  Rapidly, entertainment and pagan worship were banned, temples demolished and theatres closed. Through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the theatre was pillaged, turned into an outpost and even used as a prison.

It did not return to its original purpose until 1825, when the inspector of Monuments Historiques initiated a mammoth renovation program. From 1869, Roman Festivals attracted more than 10,000 spectators to the shows, which later would become known as “Chorégies” hosting one celebrity after another.  Sarah Bernhardt was said to have given one of her finest performances there in 1903.  In 1971 the “Nouvelles Chorégies” introduced the opera era with the world’s greatest opera singers performing on the famous stage with the fabulous acoustics.

Today, thousands of visitors from throughout the world enjoy performances in the theatre.   day!

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@luxeeuro.com

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