The Roman Theater of Orange

The Roman Theater of Orange, also known as “La Cité des Princes” (City of Princes) is the best preserved in Europe, it is an incredible testimony of Roman splendor in Provence. This exceptional monument has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981 thanks to its dazzling stage wall, unique in the West. Every year, the Roman Theater comes back to life during the Chorégies d’Orange, during which the acoustics of the place are honored.

Orange, ancient city

The city of Orange was founded in 35 BC by veterans of a Roman legion on the territory of a Gallic tribe. At the time, this Roman colony was called by its Latin name, Arausio. Soon, Orange was influenced by Gallo-Roman culture and, during the reign of Emperor Augustus, important monuments such as the Triumphal Arch and the Roman Theater were built.

A monumental building

The outside facade of the theater, also known as the postscaenium, is spread over three levels. The first level has several doors giving access to the stage, to rooms that do not communicate with the interior and to the backstage area. The second is devoid of ornaments. The stone corbels, which are still visible, were used to support the weight of the roof structure that burned down in the 4th century. Finally, the third has a hole to allow light to enter the passageways. The 86 corbels on the top of the wall were used to hold the velum, a large stretched canvas used to protect the public from various weather conditions.

The stage wall is the only architectural decoration in the building. Moving elements and props were used on stage to give the illusion of movement and perspective. In the middle of the stage wall opens the Royal Door, which was reserved for the main characters; the other actors used small side doors called “hospitable doors”. The remains of the frieze that crowned the Royal Door, illustrating centaurs, are on display in the Museum of Orange. The niches surrounding this door were once decorated with statues. Today, only the central niche still houses a 3.55-meter high sculpture. It represents Emperor Augustus holding his consular baton, reminding the population that it is essential to respect the laws in order to preserve Roman peace.

To facilitate the construction, the bleachers of the Roman Theater are built in a semicircle on the side of the Saint-Eutrope hill. They can accommodate 10,000 spectators and are served by radiant stairs. In the center of the bleachers stands the orchestra, which hosted the choirs of the tragedies.

An incredibly well-preserved Roman theater

The Roman Theater in Orange is the best preserved in all of Europe. Thanks to the hard work of the architects of the Historical Monuments and their research, it has been reliably restored to its former splendor.

The 37-meter high stage wall has been completely preserved. Excavations carried out in 1931 led to the discovery, under the stage, of some of the 76 columns that once adorned the wall and the entablatures. The finds have been put back in their place in order to partially restore its original appearance.

A glass roof had to be built over the stage wall to protect it from bad weather. This very modern roof, which was the result of the reflection of several scientists and archaeologists, was very complex to put in place because of the stones which, weakened during the fire that took place in the 4th century, could no longer support a structure similar to those of the Roman period. The advantage of this structure is that it does not distort the acoustics of the Roman Theater and integrates stage equipment dedicated to shows.

A performance venue

The Chorégies d’Orange, which began in 1869, is the oldest festival in France. Over the decades, this event has managed to retain all its charm and originality. The acoustics of the Roman Theater of the “Cité des Princes” is exceptional thanks to its stage wall. It has enabled this classical music and operafestival to make a name for itself. The greatest operas, performed by famous opera singers, are played during the Chorégies d’Orange which enjoy an international reputation.

Prepare your visit

The Roman Theater of Orange can be visited 365 days a year:

  • January, February, November, December: from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • March, October: from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
  • April, May, September: from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
  • June, July, August: from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

The opening schedules are subject to change according to the seasons and the events organized.

Audio guides are available for free at the Roman Theater reception desk in French, English, Italian, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, Chinese and Russian. They allow visitors to listen to commentaries on the architecture of the site and the history of performances of the period.

An application has also been created so that the public can benefit from additional explanations about the Theater and Museum of Orange, located across the street.

Guided tours are organized, and a virtual tour allows the public to discover the premises as they were in 36 BC.

Booklets, created by the Culturespaces foundation, are offered to children aged 7 to 12 so that they can discover this historic site while having fun.

Address: Rue Madeleine Roch 84 100 Orange


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