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The Roman Amphitheatre of Alexandria in Kom El Dekka

 

The Roman Amphitheatre is one of Alexandria's most popular monuments. This is Egypt's second most important city, after the capital, Cairo. While the amphitheaters were spread throught different countries like Greece, Italy, and Turkey during the reign of the Romans with many examples of these structures still present in many regions around Europe and the Middle East, the Roman Amphitheatre of Alexandria is the only one of its type in Egypt.

 

 

The Meaning of the Word Kom EL Dekka 

 

The word Kom El Dekka, in Arabic, means the hill of rubble or the hill of the benches, and it was named by a famous historian, El Neweir passed by this area at the beginning of the 20th  century.  El Neweiry saw the many piles of rubble and sand that were formed due to the digging of the Mahmoudiya Canal at the end of the 19th century, that linked Alexandria to the River Nile, and these piles looked exactly like some huge benches and he was the one who gave the area its recent famous name.

 

roman amphitheatre

Discovering the Roman Amphitheatre

 

The Roman Amphitheatre of Alexandria was discovered by mere coincidence in the year 1960.

When the workers went to remove a pile of dust and sand in 1960 to clear the land for the construction of a governmental building, they found some solid iron columns, indicating that something may be buried underneath.  Immediately afterward, the excavation work began in the location of Kom El Dekka and it was carried out by the Greco Roman Museum and the Polish Excavation Mission in Egypt sponsored by the University of Warsaw. Shortly afterward, the excavation revealed one of the most important discoveries in Egypt in the 20th century. The Usage of the Roman Amphitheatre in Different Periods of Time. 

 

The Roman Amphitheatre stayed in service and was used to host different artistic events like musical concerts and different sorts of events up till the 7th century. This fact was proven due to the architectural elements present in the theatre which show that it was used for three different periods; the Roman, the Byzantine, and the Early Islamic era.  The amphitheater was used for several purposes during its long history and passing through different periods of time. It was used as an odeum where musical shows were performed during the Roman period. The theatre, at the time, had all the elements to host perfect performance like the dome that once stood over the stage and the section of the orchestra.

On the other hand, in the Byzantine era, it was used as a conference hall where important meetings, like public assemblies and governmental summits, were once held.  The Roman Amphitheatre was most likely neglected during the early Islamic period and onwards until it was discovered during the middle of the 20th century to become one of the marvelous historical sites of the city of Alexandria.

 

 

The Description of the Amphitheatre

 

The Roman Amphitheatre we see today in Alexandria was constructed in the 4th century AD and it was a common feature of the Greco Roman period. Amphitheaters were special roofed theatres that were built to host music ceremonies and poet competitions during the reign of the Romans in Egypt.

The amphitheatre features a marble audience section which is symmetrical with extended wing and could host up 600 spectators.

The audience section has a diameter of about 33 meters and consists of 13 rows made of European white marble with the uppermost part being a portico made out of granite columns that were brought from Aswan and some of them are still standing until today. The thirteen rows of the Roman Amphitheatre of Alexandria were numbered with Roman digits and letters to regulate the seating of the audience on different occasions.

 

There were also five compartments at the top of the audience section used to host important figures and wealthy tradesmen during performances.

These compartments once had ceilings with domes that were based upon large columns made of granite to protect the audience from the sun and the rain. Moreover, these domes were used to magnify the sound of the music and the chants during different performances. Unfortunately, all these structures were destroyed during the earthquake that hit Alexandria in the 6th century AD and resulted in the damage of many important structures at the time, like the famous Pharaohs Light House that once stood in the position of the Qaitbey Fort today.

The steps and the rows of the Roman Amphitheatre are based upon a thick white limestone wall and another wall surrounds it as well. These two walls were connected together through a number of arches where the outer wall function to support the inner wall, a common feature of the Roman architecture from the 2nd to the 4th century.

In the middle of the structure, there is the section of the orchestra where the musical performances used to take place. This section is supported by two large marble columns and has some of the finest Roman mosaics on its floor.

 

 

Comparing the Roman Amphitheatre with other similar structures

 

Contemporary researchers that made some comparisons between the Roman Amphitheatre of Alexandria and other similar structures that were discovered in Italy, Greece and the Theatre of Garash in Tunisia have concluded many interesting facts. The first fact that was proved out of these researchers is that the Roman Amphitheatre of Alexandria was not constructed originally to be a theatre hosting performances and artistic events. roman amphitheatre

This type of theatres was usually designed in the shape of the letter "C" to allow all the spectators, sitting all around the audience section, to watch the performances from any angle.

Moreover, the small size of the structure, that used to host up to 600 people as a maximum, in comparison with the large number of inhabitants of the city of Alexandria during the Roman period proves that this structure was never constructed to be a theatre and it was rather used for meetings of important figures and officials or for private performances with a limited number of audience.

 

 

The Villa of the Birds and the Roman Baths

 

Situated to the North of the Roman theatre, there are large mud brick structures and these are ruins of the Roman baths that were constructed near the amphitheater in the period from the 2nd to the 4th century AD.  Located to the East of the Roman Amphitheatre of Alexandria, recent excavation missions have unearthed a Roman villa that dates back to the period of Roman Emperor, Hadrian, who ruled Egypt and a large empire during the 2nd century AD.   The archeologists who discovered this villa called it; "the Villa of the Birds" because of the marvelous mosaic floor in the main room of the structure which displays many birds in different shapes.  Other mosaic ornaments in the Villa of the Birds have different geometric motifs making the villa a distinctive monument to be visited or explored in Egypt.   The Villa of the Birds is the most wonderful example of private houses built in Alexandria during the Roman period. Being finely preserved, it gives the guest a good idea of how these residences looked like centuries ago when they were first constructed.  Being under the protection of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities and the American Research Center in Egypt, the Villa of the Birds is among the most important monuments that were recently discovered in Egypt.

 

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