Living in Turkey you get pretty blasé about theatres, but the one in Bosra still takes your breath away.
Syria was a major part of the Roman Empire until the Arabs conquered it in 661.
As part of their plan to defend Syria, they sensibly turned suitable existing Roman buildings into fortresses. We already wrote about the Roman Temple of Bel at Palmyra that later became an Arab mini fortress.
At Bosra they did something truly amazing.
Imagine a black basalt castle, our camera couldn’t cope with getting a decent photo, which you enter by a bridge over what was once a moat. Once inside you climb up ramps and stairs within the hugely thick walls, until you emerge on the battlements, turn and look down into where the centre of the castle should be, and you see a perfectly preserved Roman amphitheatre.
The Arabs actually built a fortress that fit like a jacket around the existing freestanding theatre, and by doing so helped preserve the theatre – although it has to a certain extent been reconstructed.
The acoustics are perfect and, as we were the only people there quite early on a dull day in February, we tested them out as the writer went down and spoke from the stage, while spouse stayed up top to listen. You really can be heard speaking in a normal voice.
The theatre seated 6,000 and is still used for performances in the summer and during Syria’s Silk Road Festival in September. The building also houses an ethnographic museum, and a collection of statues and mosaics displayed in the open air on one area of the battlements.
There are other remains to be seen in Bosra but, having spent a couple of hours in the castle/theatre we headed off in search of the earliest active church in Syria, still in use today – and we’ll tell you all about that next time.
Meanwhile here is another view of Bosra’s incredible amphitheatre.