Theaters & Amphitheaters in Pompeii

The ancient, ruined city of Pompeii was destroyed by an eruption from nearby Mt. Vesuvius.
The ancient, ruined city of Pompeii was destroyed by an eruption from nearby Mt. Vesuvius. (Image: Images)

The ancient city of Pompeii lies near the modern city of Naples in Italy's southern Campania region. A resort-like town for Romans, late first century Pompeii was filled with marketplaces, tourist shops, brothels, hotels, villas and other structures and amenities we now relate to more advanced modern day living. Spectacularly preserved after being covered under the thick lava of Mount Vesuvius's massive eruption in 79 AD, we have been able to learn a lot about life in this historic city.


The people of ancient Rome were captivated by all forms of entertainment, constructing theaters and arenas large and small for their myriad events. As ancient Pompeii was a popular vacation spot, it was no different, and in fact was home to the Roman Empire's first permanent stone amphitheater. Built after 70 BC, and suspected to be privately funded, Pompeii's 20,000-seat amphitheater is possibly the first of its design, one whose elliptical shape and tiered seating is still constructed today. Modern visitors are able to walk freely around the stone structure -- even climb the ancient stadium-like steps and sit upon the same seats as those who did thousands of years ago.

Grande Teatro

Pompeii's second largest event space is the Grande Teatro, or Big Theater. Accommodating around 5,000 spectators, this open-air theater was home to mostly live performances of comedies and tragedies. The architectural design complements the imperfections of the ground, and the wall-less theater's natural background was often used as the setting for on-stage performances. Seating in the Grande Teatro consisted of three sections, divided by class and societal rank. There is even a small colonnade terrace to the side of the theater where it is thought spectators may have gathered during intermissions.


Pompeii's small theater, or odeon, is extremely well-preserved. One of its most impressive features is the ability for its 1,000 or so seats to be permanently covered allowing spectators at the odeon to watch plays, musical events or mime shows (the only type of performance granting women the right to attend) on a hot day under the relieving cover of shade. This theater is fashioned in a classic Greek style, and was also designed to work with the ground's natural gradient beneath.

Modern Performances

The amphitheater ruins of Pompeii sat quiet with its stage and seats empty for more than 2,000 years before it saw another performance. In October 1971, rock band Pink Floyd loaded its gear, plugged into generators and rocked the ruins with three songs for its album, "Live at Pompeii." Although there was no crowd and the seats remained empty, the songs were recorded both on audio and video, and eventually shared with thousands of fans across the globe.

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