The first excavation research, in the course of which ancient theatre A was located, was conducted in 1910 by the ex-Ephor of Antiquites, Ap. Arvanitopoulos, bringing to light part of the theatre scene.
In the early 20th cent above the monument (which by then was not visible) a new road was constructed and various edifices (houses, workshops, shops) were built, the deep foundations of certain among them having caused irreparable harm to the monument. Since 1977 the 15th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities has begun an ongoing systematic project for the full exposure and constructive conservation of the monument involving excavations and acquisition of private land through eminent domain by the Greek state.
Ancient theatre A’ of Larissa was constructed in the first half of the 3rd cent. B.C, at the time of the king of Macedonia, Antigonus Gonatas, when Thessaly had already become part of the kingdom of Macedonia, after the death of Alexander the Great. The placing of its construction on the south slopes of the acropolis hill was determined by the city planning, and, for this reason, does not conform to the instructions the Roman architect Vitruvius recommended about the choice of suitable sites for the installation of theatres: «special precaution must be taken that it be not exposed to the south, for when the sun fills the cavity of the theatre, the air confined in that compass being incapable of circulating, is heated» (De Architectura, V, III, 2).
Its construction is connected with the performance of theatrical and musical events, but also with political activities relating to the administration of the Common of Thessalians. The earliest reference to the ancient theatre A’ comes from an inscription of the 1st half of the 2nd cent. B.C. that contains a judicial decision about the encroachment by a private owner of part of the theatre environs. The monument structure typical for Hellenistic theatres, divided into three basic parts:
koilon (auditorium of cavea) – orchestra – scene
The main theatre or koilon (auditorium) is divided by ten radiating ascending stairways into eleven sectors (kerkides), each one comprising of twenty-five tiers of marble seats (edolia), the lowest row of seats in the koilon serving as the benches of honour (proedria). Its current form acquired when it was remodeled in Roman times for its modification into an arena, is preserving twenty-one tiers of seats. Approximately in the middle of the top surface there is a shallow depression defining the space where spectators of the overlying tiers set their feet. All tiers of seats are inscribed with names, probably belonging to the representatives of the cities of the Common of Thessalians.
The ambulatory (diazoma), a 2 m. wide, marble paved corridor, facilitated the movement of the audience, dividing the koilon (auditorium) in two parts, the main theatre and the epitheatre.
In order to erect the epitheatre and counterbalance the steep gradient of the ramp, a strong retaining wall was constructed, 1,30 m. in height, faced with white marble ashlar masonry, its interior composed of limestone blocks. The most part of the epitheatre has unfortunately been destroyed. It was approached from the ambulatory through twenty stairways leading to twenty two sectors, each one having fifteen tiers of seats.
The orchestra of the theatre, with a diameter of 25,50 m., is surrounded by a perfectly preserved gutter for carrying off rainwater. Being 1,90 m wide, the gutter was built of marble slabs and covered with similar ones, exiting at the two ends of the orchestra.
The retaining walls of the parodoi delineated the theatre entrances and held back the huge embankment deposits of the koilon. They are built of white marble blocks. The retaining wall of the west parodos was traced for 40,86 m., being 4,5 m. high and 3,55 m wide. On its main face preserves traces of the steps of a monumental stairway ascending to the ambulatory. The retaining wall of the east parodos, on the other hand, has been unearthed along 24,75m and is 3,55m. in width and 3,16m in height. The rest of its length has not been revealed as yet, because it lies under modern buildings.
The scene is the best preserved part of the monument. Built of limestone, it consists of ground and upper floor, is 37,50m long and preserved at a height of 3m. The two middle rooms, which communicate through a common corridor approached from the central door of the scene, would have most probably served as dressing rooms. The two lateral ones, lying at the east and west extremities of the scene, approached from the south side had, in all probability, been functioning as skeuothekai (apparatus storerooms).
At the front of the scene, the proscenium is preserved in perfect condition, having a total length of 20m. and width of 2m. The proscenium colonnade consists of six antae and six monolithic semi-columns, standing on an euthenteria (top course of the foundation) built of marble blocks, 0,30m in height. The semi-columns and pillars supported the overlying entablature. The proscenium had three entrances, corresponding to the three doors of the scene.
The theatre was remodeled during the time of Emperor Octavian Augustus (28 B.C. – 14 A.D.) and his successor Tiberious (14-31 A.D.). Inscriptions in honour of both these emperors were found across the cornice of the proscenium.
To the south of the scene came to light a layer of limestone drums from Doric columns. The time and purpose of their deposition at that place has not yet been defined by the study team of the monument. Combats of professional gladiators were very popular spectacles in the Roman period and Larissa was especially known for gladiator fights. This information is ascertained by three funerary steles with relevant representations from Larissa, dated to the 2nd an 3rd cent A.D.
In order for the ancient theatre A’ of Larissa to be remodeled as arena, modifications were made by cutting away the lowest three tiers of seats around the orchestra and constructing a high wall for the safety of the spectators.