Vienne Roman Theatre - History and Facts | History Hit

Vienne Roman Theatre

Vienne, Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes, France

Vienne Roman Theatre is a first century theatre said to have once been amongst the largest in Gaul.

Antara Bate

24 Nov 2020
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Vienne Roman Theatre

Vienne Roman Theatre (Theatre Antique de Vienne) is a first century AD theatre said to have once been amongst the largest in Gaul.

Built sometime around 40 to 50AD, it was originally able to house 13,000 spectators. From games and shows to public meetings, at its peak Vienne Roman Theatre hosted a variety of events, making it very much a social hub.

Now restored, Vienne Roman Theatre is full of life once again as the site of everything from plays to opera and jazz festivals.

Vienne Roman Theatre history

In ancient times Vienne was the capital of the Celtic tribe known as the Allobroges. It was conquered by the Romans in 121 BC and was subsequently one of the most important towns of Gaul until Roman rule of the area ended in 275 AD.

Vienne’s Roman Theatre was built in 40-50AD and stands on Pipet Hill’s steep slopes. In ancient times the summit was a religious esplanade whose temples and divine statues formed a sacred extension to the theatre. It could house around 13,000 spectators making Vienne Theatre one of the largest urban theatres in the Roman Empire, the second biggest in Gaul after the one in Autun.

In the 2nd century, the Odeon, a second, smaller theatre was built nearby on the southern slope of the Saint-Marcel ravine.

Its layout was in keeping with the Latin stone theatre model and circular vaulted corridors formed the skeleton for the cavea’s terraces and were used by spectators to get around. The theatre was not only used for entertainment but also civic and official gatherings.

In 1834 archaeologist and museum curator Claude-Thomas Delorme managed to convince Prosper Mérimée, inspector general of the Monuments Historiques, that the relics at the foot of Pipet Hill could be those of a Roman theatre and not an amphitheatre as everyone still believed until the early 20th century. It wasn’t until excavations between 1908 and 1938 that the monument was unearthed and restored after being buried beneath thousands of square metres of earth.

Vienne Roman Theatre today

Following its restoration, summer line-ups revived the theatre’s role as the hub of entertainment in the community.  Operas, musicals, dances take place there as well as a jazz festival which began in 1981. The Jazz festival has featured renowned performers such as Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald and Stevie Wonder.

Getting to Vienne Roman Theatre

Vienne Roman theatre is around a 40 minute drive from Lyon. The nearest train station is Vienne.

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