The ancient city of Aspendos lies in Southern Turkey, in the ancient region of Pamphylia. Due to its location along the once-navigable Eurymedon River, it rose in wealth and prominence with the trade of valuable resources, and was successively ruled by Greeks, Persians, and Romans. A number of ancient structures survive today, including the nymphaeum, basilica, and agora, but the architectural jewel of Aspendos is its theater, widely consider the best-preserved ancient theater in the world.
The theater was built during the reign of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (160 to 180). Thanks to inscriptions on its walls, we know exactly who designed it: Zenon, son of Theodorus. The inscriptions also tell us that the Greek architect, who was born in Aspendos, was funded by two rich brothers, A. Curtius Crispinus Arruntianus and A. Curtius Crispinus, who gifted the theater to the city.
The spectator tribune, meanwhile, is divided in two parts by a horizontal walkway called the diazoma. The lower section contains 20 rows of seat, while the upper has 21 rows. The theater’s capacity has been estimated at between 7,300 and 7,600 people at least, with room for 8,500 spectators if the stairs were used as seating (other estimates have placed the capacity at around 20,000, but that would have been a tight squeeze indeed).
The theater is also known for its excellent acoustics and exquisite architectural ornamentation. The two-story stage building is particularly impressive and, like most of the theater, has been exceptionally well preserved. This is largely due to the city’s continuous settlement through to the Byzantine and Seljuk periods. The Seljuks had used the theater as a caravanserai, and restored the structure in the 13th century.