Roman Theatre at Palmyra

Roman Theatre at Palmyra

Overview of the theatre in 2007
Location Palmyra, Syria
Coordinates 34°33′03″N 38°16′08″E / 34.550768°N 38.268761°E / 34.550768; 38.268761
Type Roman theatre
Width 92 metres (302 ft)
Material ashlar stones
Periods Roman, Palmyrene
Site notes
Condition Largely intact
Ownership Public
Public access Inaccessible (in a war zone)
Type Cultural
Criteria i, ii, iv
Designated 1980 (4th session)
Part of Site of Palmyra
Reference no. 23
State Party  Syria
Region Arab States
Endangered 2013–present

The Roman Theatre at Palmyra (Arabic: مسرح تدمر, translit. Masraḥ Tadmur, lit. 'Palmyra Theatre') is a Roman theatre in ancient Palmyra in the Syrian Desert. The unfinished theatre dates back to the second-century CE Severan period.[1] The theatre's remains have since been restored. It was occupied by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in May 2015 and recaptured by the government forces in March 2016 with the support of Russian airstrikes.


The second-century CE theatre was built in the center of a semicircular colonnaded piazza which opens up to the South Gate of Palmyra.[2] The 82-by-104-metre (269 by 341 ft) piazza was located to the south-west of the main colonnaded street. The unfinished cavea is 92 metres (302 ft) in diameter and consists only of an ima cavea, the lowest section of the cavea, directly surrounding the orchestra.[3] The ima cavea is organized into eleven cunei of twelve rows each[3] and faces north-northeast towards the cardo maximus.[4] The theatre's aditus maximi, its main entrances, are 3.5 metres (11 ft) in width, and lead to a stone-paved orchestra with a diameter of 23.5 metres (77 ft). The orchestra is bounded by a circular wall with a diameter of 20.3 metres (67 ft).[3]

The proscenium wall is decorated with ten curved and nine rectangular niches placed alternately.[3] The stage measures 45.5 by 10.5 metres (149 by 34 ft) and is accessed by two staircases.[5] The scaenae frons had five doors:[6] the main entrance, or valve regia, built into a broad curved niche; two guest doors on either side of the valve regia, or valve hospitalis, built into shallow rectangular niches; and two extra doors, at either end of the stage.[5] Emperor Nero is known to have placed his statue in the niche of the regia of the theatre at Palmyra.[7] The columns at the stage are decorated in the Corinthian order.[5]

In the 1950s the theatre was cleared from the sand and subsequently underwent restoration works.[8]

The theatre hosted folk music performances for the annual Palmyra festival.[9]

Syrian Civil War

ISIL occupation

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) took full control of Palmyra by May 21, 2015.[10] In early July it released a graphic video showing 25 teenage members lining up 25 adult male captives dressed in dark fatigues, kneeling in front of them on the Palmyra theater's stage area. The ISIS members then executed all 25 captives simultaneously by shooting them in the head.[11] According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights the executions took place on May 27.[12] Mamoun Abdulkarim, Director of the Syrian government agency of antiquities and museums stated: "Using the Roman theatre to execute people proves that these people are against humanity."[13]

Reconquest by Syrian government

Following the recapture of Palmyra by the Syrian Army with Russian air support in March 2016, drone footage showed that the theatre remained largely intact.[14][15]

On 5 May 2016, the 100th anniversary of Syria's Martyrs' Day, the theatre played host to two classical music concerts in remembrance of the victims of the civil war, including those executed at the site, and to celebrate its liberation.[16] The first, a 20-minute-long concert of European and Russian classical music, was played by the Mariinsky Theatre orchestra of St. Petersburg, conducted by Valery Gergiev, with soloist Sergei Roldugin.[17] It was dedicated to Alexander Prokhorenko, a Russian special forces soldier who had sacrificed his life near Palmyra while directing air strikes against Islamic State.[18] Russian president Vladimir Putin addressed the concert by video link, praising the participants. The Economist wrote that Putin "did everything he could to underline the concert’s message that Russia is leading the fight for Western civilisation."[19] The second concert, during the evening, was by a Syrian orchestra and choir. The audience included Syrian and Russian military, as well as UNESCO officials, religious leaders, journalists, and locals.[20]

US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark C. Toner said of the event "I will never denounce an orchestra playing to the citizens of a beleaguered city. [...] it’s fine. It’s good."[21] The British foreign secretary Philip Hammond called it a "tasteless attempt to distract attention from the continued suffering of millions of Syrians"[22] referring to an alleged Russian airstrike on a refugee camp in northern Syria, which killed at least 28 civilians.[23]


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  1. Sear 2006, p. 21.
  2. Ball 2000, p. 296.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Sear 2006, p. 321.
  4. Finlayson 2012, p. 312.
  5. 1 2 3 Sear 2006, p. 322.
  6. Sear 2006, p. 108.
  7. Kernodle 1989, p. 127.
  8. Carter, Dunston & Thomas 2008, p. 208.
  9. Nair, Radhika P. (May 2008). "Calendar". Outlook Traveller. New Delhi. 8 (5): 34. The ancient city of Palmyra in Syria comes alive each year during the Palmyra Festival. The enchanting Roman theatre is the venue for the soulful folk music performances in the evenings.
  10. "Islamic State seizes Syria's ancient Palmyra". BBC News. 21 May 2015.
  11. Hutcherson, Kimberly (5 July 2015). "ISIS video shows execution of 25 men in ruins of Syria amphitheater". CNN.
  12. "Islamic State Releases Gruesome Video Showing Mass Execution of Syrian Soldiers in Palmyra". Vice News. 4 July 2015.
  13. "IS 'executes' 20 in Palmyra Roman theatre". Middle East Eye. 28 May 2015.
  14. Shaheen, Kareem; Graham-Harrison, Emma (27 March 2016). "Syrian regime forces retake 'all of Palmyra' from Isis". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 27 March 2016.
  15. "Palmyra National Museum Completely Plundered, Artifacts Partly Destroyed". Sputnik. 27 March 2016. Archived from the original on 27 March 2016.
  16. Matt Hunter, Tom Wyke (5 May 2015). "A little night music: Orchestra performs after-dark concert in Palmyra just months after ISIS used it to carry out public executions in Syria". Daily Mail.
  17. Simpson, John (6 May 2016). "Syria Palmyra concert: Canny Putin puts himself centre stage". BBC News.
  18. Luke Harding (5 May 2016). "Palmyra hosts Russian concert after recapture by Syrian forces". Archived from the original on 9 May 2016.
  19. "Soft power in Syria: A Russian orchestra plays Bach and Prokofiev in the ruins of Palmyra". The Economist. 6 May 2016.
  20. Kramer, Andrew E.; Higgins, Andrew (5 May 2016). "In Syria, Russia Plays Bach Where ISIS Executed 25". The New York Times.
  21. "Daily Press Briefing". 5 May 2016.
  22. "Foreign Secretary statement on reports of air strike on Syrian refugee camp". 5 May 2016.
  23. Bazenkova, Anastasia (6 May 2016). "Britain and Russia in Diplomatic Spat Over Palmyra Concert". The Moscow Times.


  • Ball, Warwick (2000). Rome in the East: The Transformation of an Empire. Routledge. ISBN 9780415113762. 
  • Sear, Frank (2006). Roman Theatres: An Architectural Study. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198144694. 
  • Finlayson, Cynthia (2012). "New Excavations and a Reexamination of the Great Roman Theater at Apamea, Syria, Seasons 1–3 (2008–2010)". American Journal of Archaeology. 116 (2): 277–319. doi:10.3764/aja.116.2.0277. 
  • Kernodle, George Riley (1989). The Theatre in History. University of Arkansas Press. ISBN 9781557280121. 
  • Carter, Terry; Dunston, Lara; Thomas, Amelia (2008). Syrian & Lebanon 3. Lonely Planet. ISBN 9781741046090. 
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