The Antique Theatres of Fourvière

The ancient remains of Fourvière hill span 3 hectares, and are now an archaeological site. This area was at the heart of the city’s communal life for three centuries.

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Lyon Fourvière, Site Gallo-Romain by Historical-Cities.orgHistorical Cities

It was abandoned after the 3rd century and became a stone quarry, with the two theatres disappearing piece by piece. At the beginning of the 20th century, their remains were uncovered and restored. They have now been given new artistic life as a concert venue.

The Odeon

At the beginning of the 2nd century and alongside the expansion of the theatre, work commenced on the Odeon. Smaller than the theatre, it was a special location for more select performances, such as music and lectures. 

The Odeon in Numbers

The Odeon measures 73 metres in diameter and can seat around 3,000 people. Work to reveal and restore the site took 17 years, between 1941 and 1958. 

Stage and Façade

The stage incorporated the front wall of the pulpitum (a low wall which ran along the front of the stage) and the pit, into which the curtain was lowered to begin the show. 

The Orchestra

The orchestra, or the circular area between the stage and the rows of seats, was better preserved here than in the theatre and is still visible today. The luxurious materials that were used reflect the prestigious character of the building.

The Cavea

The Cavea, or the seating section, partially backs onto the hill, but is also supported by vaults. Only the 16 lower rows survive today, and they have been stripped of their white stone cladding over the centuries, after the site was abandoned.

Use of Stones

The Opera was used as a stone quarry after it was abandoned, and most sizeable stone blocks disappeared and were reused in other constructions during the Middle Ages.

Walls

The outer walls are as thick as ever: 6.45 m deep, and 8 m high. This leads us to believe that a sloped roof must have covered the two tiers of seats which improved the acoustics.

Stairway

A stairway divides the cavea in two and leads right up to the orchestra. The French academic Pierre Wuilleumier believed that there were two other stairways which were not reproduced in the modern renovation of the odeon.

The Theatre

The theatre was built in the 1st century BC during the reign of Emperor Augustus, and is one of the oldest in Gaul. East-facing, it was built on the side of Fourvière hill which overlooks the city. This type of structure is called an amphitheatre.

An amphitheatre is a circular, semicircular or curved, performance space, usually located outdoors. 

Development of the Theatre

Emperor Hadrian expanded the theatre in the 2nd century by building additional seating further up the hill. At this time, the building could therefore have seated an audience of up to 10,000.

The Seating Area or Cavea

The front seats were built at ground level, whilst the ones behind were supported by systems of extensive vaults, for which the foundations still exist in the upper section of the cavea.

Construction

The construction site for this building was one of the biggest in Lugdunum. Some of the stones used were imported all the way from Glanum, a city which was once located in the modern-day region of Bouches-du-Rhône.

The Theatre Shows

People mostly came to see musical shows or plays in the ancient Fourvière theatre. Its shape was actually designed with acoustics in mind: the rows of seats were arranged in such a way that the sound reverberated back towards the crowd.

Ensuing Discoveries

Since 1933 more of the theatre has been discovered during excavation works, and subsequently exposed and restored. New surveys carried out in 2003 have enabled us to locate where the back wall of the stage would have stood.

The Pit

In front of the stage there was a pit 46 m in length that had square holes drilled into it every 3 m. These housed runners for the poles and counterweights that supported the stage curtain.

The Back Wall

We know that the back wall of the stage was as high as the cavea, meaning it was as high as all the tiers of seats. A sloped roof protected the stage and directed the sound downwards, therefore improving the acoustics.

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