Today was the day of walking. We walked, and we walked, and we walked. My legs ached by the end of the day. I wish I had worn a pedometer this day (actually, I wish I had the entire trip), because not only did we walk from destination to destination, but each destination consisted of a lot of walking (museums, historical sites, etc).
We left Avignon early to catch the train (does this sound familiar?) to Orange, though all I really wanted to do at this point was sleep in. Each train and train station we went to were all a little different than the others; it made it kind of a fun game, having to continually “figure things out.” We arrived without any problems (it was only a 15 minute ride) and headed straight to Théâtre Antique, the old Roman theater in the town. It is one of 3 that sill exist with their original acoustic walls attached; the other two are in Asia Minor.
As we walked towards the theater, I was thinking to myself that it wasn’t SO big, but the closer we got, the more my jaw dropped. We stopped by a small café next to the theater to get croissants and coffee for a quick breakfast before heading off to purchase our tickets and pick up the fantastic audio tour of the theater. The audio guide discussed the historical, culture, and social background and importance of the theater. Nero very grossly took theater to a new level by having actors burned at the stake during performances. Ironically, Caesar was originally afraid of having a bunch of theaters/entertainment because he felt that it had been the downfall of the Greek civilization and didn’t want to repeat history and also didn’t want his people to stop working and live for entertainment. Hmm. Interesting to ponder, as I’ve often thought that the moral decline of the Roman civilization was what led to the weakening of the empire. Also an interesting fact – when females started to act (as opposed to the usual all male cast), the crowd would cheer for them to take their clothes off.
The social classes were also fascinating. The entertainment/plays were free for all to attend, so people were treated equally in that sense, but there was extreme segregation with everything past that. The Romans had built the wall/passageways in a such a way that people would enter and exit quickly without every having to cross paths with someone from a different class. Of course, the higher the social class, the better your section was, and within that, the better the seat you got to take.
Another curious tidbit – that statue of Caesar that looms above the stage? It is his body, but they made the heads replaceable so that when a new emperor came to power, they would just send out mass amounts of new heads to swap out with the old ones. It’s like having a Ronald Reagan body with a Barack Obama head attached. I find this somewhat comical.
I loved the theater! It was so magnificent, majestic, and huge. I couldn’t soak it up. Every time I walked to a new vantage point, I had to sit down and just stare, trying not to let my jaw fall open. I probably could have spent an entire day there just soaking it up and savoring it. I have fond memories of wandering around, climbing the steps, exploring the hallways and tunnels, sitting and staring… just wondering why we don’t build such timeless, majestic, and beautiful pieces of architectural art anymore. Seriously. It doesn’t seem like it would be that much more expensive, as it is all very scientific and precise. Also, good acoustics like this theater has (it is still in use!) would save SO MUCH MONEY on audio equipment, which also happens to ruin aesthetics. The structure of it made more sense to me too, as the steps were steeper which made the highest seats still closer to the stage than they are in our modern theaters. Even at the top, I felt close to/intimate with the stage, and this theater seated 9,000-10,000 people.
The theater was built into a hill (so they could save money and use less materials) and right next to the entrance to the theater, there are the ruins of an old Roman temple where they used to sacrifice animals. Hmm. Is it a coincidence that there is a temple right next to a theater? Theaters had a reputation of being festivals of immorality. What better place to put a temple than where you can immediately make right the wrong you’d just indulged in?