Roman Theater of Orange in France
The Théâtre antique d'Orange, or Roman Theater of Orange, situated in the town of Orange in the south of France, is considered to be the most well preserved Roman Theater in the western world, and is still in use today. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Roman Theater of Orange was built early in the first century under the direction of Emperor Augustus. Visitors can enjoy an audio-visual presentation and an interactive audio-guided tour of the theater, providing insight into its history and drawing attention to various aspects of the theater, while the nearby Art and History Museum of Orange displays collections of historic treasures spanning hundreds of years.
The most outstanding feature of the Roman Theater of Orange is the 2,000 year old stage wall, which is in remarkably good condition. The wall measures 38 meters in height, with the width being 103 meters. Its exceptional acoustical attributes, along with the steeply tiered 8,000 seat amphitheater, allows audiences even in the back row to clearly hear the voices of actors and singers on the stage without the use of electronic amplification.
Roman authorities were skillful in their use of theater to entertain the masses, while at the same time spreading Roman culture and distracting them from political activities that may not have been to their liking. Mime, pantomime, poetry readings and plays were the main form of entertainment and these were accompanied by elaborate stage sets moved by intricate machinery to keep the scene fresh and exciting. The entertainment would often continue all day and was open to everyone at no charge. With the decline of the Roman Empire during the fourth century and Christianity being established as the official religion, the church objected to the entertainment on offer at the theater and it was closed in 391 AD. It was later ransacked by the Barbarians, used as a defensive post during the Middle Ages and became a refuge for villagers during the religious wars of the 16th century.
Considering all the conflict that had taken place in and around the theater, its sturdy structure survived well, bearing testimony to the advanced skill of Roman architects and builders. Early in the nineteenth century, restoration work began on the Roman Theater of Orange and in 1869 it became the venue for a Roman Festival, which later became the Chorégies d'Orange. Each year in August, the Roman Theater of Orange is the venue for the summer opera festival, Chorégies d'Orange. The festival, which has existed in different forms since 1902, attracts renowned international opera singers and plays to sold-out audiences who travel from all over France and beyond its borders to attend the event. Audiences agree that it is a very special experience to attend a performance in this unique historical setting.