BUILDINGS FOR PUBLIC SPECTACLES
 
A numerous and widespread population, now concentrated in big towns, asked for new entertainments and play activities. Spectacles would be used for the greatest glory of Roman leaders and gods. Big buildings were constructed in order to get it. They could house a great number of spectators. Indeed, increasing importance of arts, as theatre or "sport" asked a new kind of building for its practice and performance. That is why theatres, amphitheatres and circus were constructed. Rules concerning architectural design of elements and proportions for these buildings were written in a very important work: "De architectura" by Roman architect and engineer Vitrubius who lived during August age.
 
  • 1.- Roman Theatre.
    Teatro romano según Vitrubio
    Plan and section of a Roman Theatre following Vitrubius

     
    Though its origin is Greek, Roman Theatre has got a semicircular plan instead of a circular one. This change was made in order to form just one structure between scaena and rows. Decoration of the whole is very luxury: marmors, columns, inscriptions... specially on the scaena, where every design of orders is applied by Roman architects.
     
    Design of structure for Theatres could be of two kinds: directly on the floor or through a structure supporting it. The most usual was locating Theatres in concrete areas in order to get that the most important part of the rows was directly fixed on the ground, that is, on the slopes of hills or mountains. Structural parts that could not take advantage from this situation were built with Roman concrete pillars and vaulted walls. The usual was that the upper area from rows: the summa cavea, was based on an artificial structure.
     
    The ways of designing structures did also change. In a first phase vaulted radial walls were built. They gave form to wide inner spaces. Later architects constructed vaulted circular corridors that could be used as walls. Finally they built a mix of both systems. In order to introduce them we can set three well defined areas: scaenae, orchestra and cavea.

    • Scaenae.
      scaenaeThe whole of scene and all the elements and rooms for a right working of performings was placed on a podium that made it upper than the orchestra.
      We can distinguish different parts:
      • Proscaenium: the space for actors to play. It was placed on the podium, between orchestraand scaenae frons. Its part near the orchestra was called pulpitum and was often more elevated. Its surface was usually covered with wood. Below it there was the hiposcaenium, a hidden chamber for decoration and machines. At the orchestra elevation there was a façade called frons pulpiti.
        We can point it out as the scene where actors play.
        Along the centuries different kinds of design were set:
        • Straight plan, with neither exedrae nor niches with a frons pulpiti without decoration or with pillars.
        • Plan with a central exedra, semicircular with two minor rectangular sections at both sides.
        • Plan with three exedrae. They were semicircular with five rectangular inserted next sections.
      • Scaenae frons. It was the monumental wall that limited back part of proscaenium. It is doubtless the most spectacular part of the scaena. It was composed by one or several superposed orders with their columns and entablatures, crowned by a roof with a double function: acoustic and preservative. There were three doors at it: the central one or valva regia and two at both sides: valva hospitalarium.
      • Postcaenium. It is the ensemble of rooms behind the scaenae frons: dressing room, walls, chambers...
      • Parascaenium. Rooms at both sides of the scaenae frons. There two doors could be open: the itinera versurarum that directly communicated with Proscaenium.
      • Porticus postscenium. Outer façade of the scene, with orders of blind archs, often making a back playground.

    • Orchestra.
      orchestraSemicircular surface placed between scaenae and cavea. In its Greek form, it was circular. There stood chorus that participated in dramatic plays.
      Its curved area was surrounded by rows -Poedria- for great authorities in the city: lawyers, senators, judges... They came in through big vaulted lateral walls called -aditus-. Areas for special spectators were placed on them. They were called tribunal.
      At the opposite side, limiting its right zone, raised the frons pulpiti: the façade of the scaenae's podium. It was composed by exedrae and decorated niches with pillars. They often communicated the scaenae with stairs.

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    • Cavea.
      caveaIt is the row for public watching the plays. Because of its general structure it is divided in three horizontal high areas. Each one is made for a kind of spectator: ima cavea, media cavea and summa cavea.
      • Ima cavea is the lower zone. It is close the scene. People in this area belong to high society. It is usually composed by men, though many cities admited women's presence if they came from aristocracy. It was often the area with a greater number of rows, because, as it had a minor radius, each row can contain a minor number of spectators.
      • Media cavea was open for all kinds of people. It was close the imma cavea and often reserved for men. When theatres were not wide enough to offer a summa cavea, women and children could occupy this area.
      • Summa cavea was placed in the upper zone of the scene and was built for women and children. Smaller theatres would not have this area, because it supposed building more sofisticated structures. Indeed, more rom was required.
      These areas used to be separated by small perimetral walls being 1,20 m. high called baltei. They limited horizontal walls: "praecinctia" that communicated stairs and doors. On the last zone of rows -summa or media cavea- there were walls or gateways "porticus" pointing to the inner place and completing the whole of the row.
       
      Vertically, many parts could be marked:
      • Scalaria or stairs to reach the different terraces. They ended by walls or "praecinctia" that communicated with "vomitorium": doors and walls to the rows.
      • Cunei or cuneus, were places with a shape of wedge in wich row was divided. They were separated by stairs.

    Exterior look of Theatres directly depends on orography on wich they are built: they are different whether rows are constructed on a hill or not. Anyway, external part is composed by a series of orders of columns and archs -on first stage- and pillars with blind archs -on upper ones-. They reflect the inner space; not only the cavea but also the frons scaenae.
     
    Classical and political plays were performed on theatres, since they were necessary for people "education".
     
    Teatro romano de Carthago Nova
    Roman Theatre of Carthago Nova
    Press to enlarge.
    More than 20 Roman theatres exist today in Spain. They have been already explored and scholars know about the existence of many others that have been lost because of the evolution of the cities in wich they were built. We can point out to the most important as those of:

    There are others worse preserved, as the Theatre of Acinipo at Ronda la Vieja, Malaga; theatre of Baelo Claudia in Tarifa, Cadiz; theatre of Caesar Augusta in Zaragoza,; theatre of Carteia ien Saint Roque, Cadiz; theatre of Gades in Cadiz; theatre of Pollentia in Alcudia, Baleares Iles; theatre of Urso in Osuna, Sevilla.



 
  • 2.- Roman amphitheatre.
     

    Plan of Roman Amphitheatre following Vitrubius

    It got an oval plan as a result of duplicating theatres joined by the stage. Its name shows it since it comes from a Greek word that means "two theatres" (amphi -two- and theatros). It is not exactly like that, because the result of two semicircular plans -theatre- should be a circumference and not an oval shape. The fact is that the idea was so and was only changed in order to enlarge the area for performance: the arena.
     
    These buildings were never used for performing literary plays nor political speechs. They were rather for spectacles like gladiators fighting against each other or aganist animals and for simulation of battles. They were even used for performing naval fights -naumachias-, including the water inside.
     
    Supporting structures were solved as they did for theatres: sometimes a part of the row laid on a slope and the rest on a structure of radial and circular vaulted walls.
     
    The exterior part was usually composed by orders of pillars or columns with archs, often blind.
     
    Amphitheatre was divided in two different areas: the arena -stage-, and the cavea -rows-.
    • The arena.
      La arena
    • Oval area where plays were performed. It was surrounded by the high wall of the podium that separated it from the cavea. Many doors were open on the cavea. They communicated with rooms or walls behind it. Gladiators and animals came out through them. Bellow the arena of the most important amphitheatres there were many divided rooms for the circulation and staying of animals called fossa bestiaria. It was covered by wood. Over it there was the arena, forming a uniform surface.

       
    • The cavea.
      La cavea
    • It gets the features of a theatre's cavea, but it is built with an oval plan and is elevated on a high podium. It was usually endowed with three horizontal sections in a different level: the ima cavea, the media cavea and the summa cavea.
      • The ima cavea is the inferior area. It is closer to the arena and separated from it by a high podium that sheltered the spectators against weapons and animals. This was the place for higher class from cities.
      • The media cavea, built close to the imma cavea, was made for general public.
      • The summa cavea is the upper part of the scene. It was not constructed in every amphitheatre because of a lack of room or because of its structure. It used to end by a covered gateway.
      Sección de la cavea

     
    They were separated from each other by perimetral walls or baltei that divided horizontal walls or "praecinctia" communicating stairs and vomitorium. These grades to go up and descending formed sections with the shape of a wedge called cunei. Sometimes, depending from the amphitheatre size, cavea was uniform; that is, without horizontal divisions (ima, media and summa cavea). On the cavea boxes were built, often at the center of any of the axes.
    Anfiteatro romano de Emerita Augusta
    Roman amphitheatre of Emerita Augusta
    Press to enlarge.
    At Hispania there are ruins of amphitheatres, being the best preserved:

     
  • 3.- Roman Circus.
    Planta del Circo romano de Nerón
    Plan of Roman Circus of Nero

    A building in wich races -both for charriots and horses- were celebrated among other horse plays.
     
    It can be said that games celebrated in Circus were the most popular and successful for general public among all the shows that Roman governers offered to their people. It is proved by the width of their rows -up to 225.000 places in Maximus Circus at Rome-, by the many writtings for ruling them and by the chronicles of the deeds that happened there. In Hispania there are many data taken from burial inscriptions, paintings, mosaics, walls... In this country they were specially wellcome since horse spectacles were celebrated even when fighting in amphitheatres existed no more because of moral principles of the new religion: Christianism. Its highest success came in 4th Century. It can be seen through the phrase "panem et circus", that means "bread and Circus".
     
    Four "factiones" were set in Hispania as if they were "sport clubs". Each one was marked by a different colour: Albata (white), Veneta (blue), Praesina (green) and Russata (red). Drivers of charriots were called aurigae. They were often slaves. Charriots could be dragged by four horses cuadrigae or by two: bigae.
     
    Architecture of Circus consisted of a rectangular plan with a lateral semicircle at one of its shorter sides, as racing circuits in our days. We can point out to three different parts:
    • The cavea or maemiana.
      La cavea
    • It is the row of a building placed on a high podium that raises it in order to separate it from the racing circuit. Its plan looks like two straight rows, according to both long sides of a rectangle and a semicircular one at the short side. Fourth side, without row, is kept for the entering of fighters -porta pompae-, the stables and the way out points called carceres. This lateral side was not perpendicular to both lateral walls. It was rather slightly sloping -in plan- in order to regulate the departing of the racing sportmen and the distances they should complete. The "pulvinar" or Presidential box were often on it.
      In front of it, in semicircular grades the "porta triumphalis" could be seen. The box for Judges or tribunal iudicium was on it.
      At last, on lateral façades there were open doors for the entering of public. People came to the rows through vaulted walls and stairs that communicated with "vomitorium". Façades were decorated with pillars and blind archs.
      Its structure is composed by concrete and masonry disposed in a similar way to the theatres and amphitheatres.

       
    • The arena.
      La arena
    • It is the space devoted to spectacles. It was originally designed for the main attraction: charriots racings. It got an almost rectangular plan with one semicircular short side. At its center there was the Spina, that separated it in two halves in order to mark the different directional ways in the racing. The arena marked two goals: meta prima usually at the curve, and the meta secunda at one of the lateral sides, opposite to the porta pompae.

       
    • The Spina.
      La spina
    • A building with a long rectangular plan. It separated the circus' arena in two parts. It originally got no clearly central disposition -just on the longer axis-; it rather altered its course in order to make the curve's exit to the runners easy. It was composed by a podium, richly decorated. On it there were statues on platforms, monoliths or commemorative columns. Because of the circus' lenght it could be divided into sections in order to celebrate longer or shorter racings.
    These features were often changed, depending on the design and size of each Circus. The usual was changing location of boxes and goals. Scholars get solid traces about minor Circus that did not survive in Peninsula. Six Roman ones have been found on it. Main are:
    Circo romano de Emerita Augusta
    Roman Circus of Emerita Augusta
    Press to enlarge.