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Ancient Thassos theatre delights

- by Karen Mills

Ancient theatre delights on a Thassos holiday.

Thassos is not only one of the less 'discovered' destinations for Greek island holidays, it also has some of the best 'undiscovered' holiday sights. Those visitors on a holiday to Thassos who stick to the beaches will miss out on one of the best features of Thassos, found on the hillside above the main port.

It is a steep walk up the hillside above Limenas but the effort is worth it for the views over the main Thassos holiday resort from the ancient theatre of Thassos.

Work is expected to begin on a major restoration of the Thassos theatre site which is on the north side of the town and located in a natural concave depression in the hillside.

According to Hippocrates, there was some sort of building here as early as the 5th century BC. But it was in the 3rd century BC that the stage was built and a marble proscenium erected.

A pillar and various other sections of the proscenium have survived but most of what Thassos holiday visitors see today was built by the Romans.

In ancient times the Thassos theatre was used for theatrical and musical performances but the Romans preferred gladiatorial contests.

In the 1st century AD the theatre was used for gladiatorial combats between pairs of riders. The orchestra pit was turned into an arena and, in the 2nd century AD, marble slabs were erected to protect the audience from wild beasts.

On one of those slabs is carved the name Espani, a benefactress presumably booking her seat for the performances.

Nowadays, the Thassos theatre has returned to its roots and ancient tragedies are produced here every summer in the holiday season, while musical groups hold concerts throughout the year.

Over the years, the Thassos theatre has suffered from neglect and much damage has been caused by invading vegetation. More than 70 trees have grown and the roots have broken many of the seats.

The first excavation of the Thassos theatre site was carried out by the French in 1921. Some major restoration works started in 1957 but the site was closed a few years later. More excavations were competed between 1990 and 1995.

One of the most impressive qualities of the Thassos theatre site is its position overlooking the Thassos holiday resort of Limenas with extensive views across to mainland Macedonia