Initially excavated in 1886, theancient theatre of Thorikos has attracted much attention due to its unusual layout. Its irregular oval auditorium and almost rectangular orchestra, whether reflecting the early date of the theatre or the gradual development of its seating capacity, renders this theatre a unique sample of the architectural evolution of ancient Greek theatres.
The earliest form of the theatre, with just a wall supporting the orchestra and a natural auditorium (koilon) built onto the slope, appears to date back to the sixth century BCE. Since there is no evidence of a stone structure, the stage building (skene) must have been wooden, which is also attested by the twomonolithsbearing post holes in the middle to hold the supporting beams that were found just below the orchestra.
In the fifth century BCE, a second retaining wall to support the orchestra, which was widened into an extended elliptical form, was constructed as were the stone benchesin the lower koilon. A small temple of Dionysus was erected west of the orchestra, where its sparse remains can be foundtoday. Also, a roomhewn out of the rock to the west serving as a storage room (skenotheke) and residence of the priests were built, in addition to a large hall to the east with carved stone benches, probably to hold the civic assemblies of the people of Thorikos. In the fourth century BCE, the theatre was extended in the north, with entrances from the east and west to enable easy access. With the addition of the upper koilon, the theatre could seat an audience of 3,000 people.
Pieces of inscribed marble found nearby record names of sponsors (choregoi) and winning protagonists in dramatic competitions as well as details on the assignment of a choregia, that is the total expenditure for producing a performance of tragedy or comedy undertaken by a wealthy Athenian citizen (known as choregos). All these remnants offerglimpsesthat enable visitors to conjure up the artistic, religious and civic activities that took place at the theatre which was located withinthevibrant ancient settlement of Thorikos.
The ancient settlement of Thorikos
Just north of the modern town of Lavrionlies a plain with sacred olive trees loomed over by an imposing hill with a distinct double summit. It is no wonder that Thorikos, this advantageous place that also stretches east to the sea was inhabited as early as the Neolithic era (4,500 BCE). It evolved into a Mycenaean centre with intensive mining and metallurgic activity and later became one of the 12 settlements (komai) that were unified by Theseus to establish the glorious Athenian city-state only to be abandoned when destroyed by the Roman general Sulla in 86 BCE.
Coined in the Byzantine era, the name Velatouri (derived fromViglaturi meaning watchtower, a Latin compound word, vigla [watch] and turris [tower]), seems a quite fitting name for the towering two peaked hill where the most significant settlement of the ancient demos(district) of Thorikos was located. The slopes of the hillhave been extensively excavated by the Belgian School of Athens since 1963 and revealed valuable finds about the long-standing history of this ancient mining place. It is in Thorikos that the extraction of the silver-bearing lead ores began, dating back to around 3000 BCE.
At the top of the hill, there are traces of houses from the Early and Middle Helladic period (2900-1600 BCE), as well as ruins of a Mycenaean fortified acropolis and five tholos (vaulted) and chamber tombs (1600-1100 BCE). Archaic and Classical graves scattered on the south slopes of the hill in addition to numerousfunerary offerings that have been unearthed demonstrate the continuous inhabitation of the area.
The Classical necropolis (used from 570 to the late fourth century BCE) with the elaborate decorated rectangular stone constructions lies just below the theatre. On the other side, above the theatre, the so-called "industrial quarter" of the settlement has been uncovered. Dwelling houses, galleries, roads, metal-working establishments (there is a restored large ore washery next to the theatre) and mines testify to the existence of a flourishing communityin the fifth and fourth centuries BC.
Among the remains are ruts of carriage wheels and footprints, signs of the everlasting human presence and a contemporary starting point for visitors to follow so as to immerse into the ancient past aided by the eternal natural beauty of the surrounding landscape.