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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Roman arena at Arles, inside view.

An amphitheatre (alternatively amphitheater) is an open-air venue for spectator sports, concerts, rallies, or theatrical performances. There are two similar, but distinct, types of structure for which the word 'amphitheatre' is used: Ancient amphitheatres, built by the ancient Romans, were large central performance spaces surrounded by ascending seating, and were commonly used for spectator sports; these compare more closely to modern open-air stadia. They were given this name because their shaped resembled that of two theatres joined together. Modern amphitheatres (incorrectly so named, but the word has come to be used in this sense) are more typically used for theatrical or concert performances and typically feature a more traditionally theatrical-style stage with the audience only on one side, usually at an arc of less than a semicircle; these compare more closely to the theatres of ancient Greece, and have been more commonly built throughout history as performance spaces. Amphitheatres are typically man-made, though there are also geological formations used in the same manner which are known as natural amphitheatres. Special events and games were held in ancient Roman amphitheatres, such as the gladiator games.

The term derives from the ancient Greek amphi-, meaning "around", or "on both sides" and théātron, meaning "place for viewing".[1]


Roman amphitheatres

The Colosseum.

The earliest permanent Roman amphitheatre known was built at Pompeii after a colonia of Roman veteran soldiers was established there in 80 B.C. Before this, gladiatorial contests would take place in the forum of Rome and other cities. There are many famous examples from the Roman Classical period. Being particularly associated with ancient Rome, amphitheatres were used for various types of public spectacles. In the Roman Empire, amphitheatres were nearly square, or oval in shape (the name suggests that they were thought of as resembling two theatres joined together,[citation needed] hence the name "amphi"-theatre),[citation needed] forming a complete near-circle or ellipse, and were used for spectator sports, games and displays.

Profile of the Colosseum.

This is in contrast to a Greek or Roman classical theatre, which was semicircular and used for theatrical performances (but also for gladiators in areas where amphitheatres were not available).[citation needed] An amphitheatre also differed from a Roman circus or Greek hippodrome, both of which were used for chariot racing and horse racing and were shaped more like a very long, narrow horse shoe. The best-known amphitheatre in the world is the Colosseum in Rome, which is more correctly termed the Flavian amphitheatre (Amphitheatrum Flavii), after the Flavian dynasty who had it built. An amphitheatre in a community became a prized symbol of Roman citizenship in the outlying areas of Italy and could fit up to 2,000 people. The remains of some 230 amphitheatres have been located in widely scattered areas of the Roman Empire. (See:List of Roman amphitheatres)

Contemporary amphitheatres

Bryce Canyon Amphitheatre.

A contemporary "amphitheatre", in the sense in which the word has come to be used now, is a curved, acoustically vibrant performance space, particularly one located outdoors. Contemporary amphitheatres often include standing structures, called bandshells, sometimes curved or "bowl" shaped, both behind the stage and behind the audience, creating an area which echoes or amplifies sound, making the amphitheatre ideal for musical or theatrical performances. Most are semicircular in shape, so they should not properly be called amphitheatres. Notable modern amphitheatres include the Gibson Amphitheatre and the Hollywood Bowl; the largest amphitheatre in North America is Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee, with a seating capacity of 160,000.

Natural amphitheatres

A natural amphitheatre is a performance space located in a spot where a steep mountain or a particular rock formation naturally amplifies or echoes sound, making it ideal for musical and theatrical performances. The term amphitheatre can also be used to describe naturally occurring formations which would be ideal for this purpose, even if no theatre has been constructed there. Notable natural amphitheatres include the Drakensberg amphitheatre in Drakensberg, South Africa, Slane Castle in Ireland, the Supernatural Amphitheatre in Victoria, Australia, and Echo amphitheatre, Red Rocks Amphitheatre and The Gorge Amphitheatre in the United States.


  1. ^ Hoad, T.F. (1996). The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. Oxford University Press. pp. 14, 489. ISBN 0-19-283098-8. 

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