|The Theatron-shaped Structure|
One of the major 1997 excavations was of the east-west semi-circular wall (the upper courses of this wall had been discovered at 1996). It held the promise of being a major architectural component of the Great Temple. In exposing the upper courses of this wall, we also wanted to understand how it interrelated with the East and West Stairways, the East and West Vaulted Chambers, the Central Arch, and of course with the Great Temple architecture as a whole. Our expectations were more than met.
Here was found a theater structure; a summary of our findings are presented below under subdivisions: Cavea, Orchestra, Pulpitum/Scaenae frons, Walkway between the Orchestra and the Cavea, the West Corridor and the Temple rear.
Cavea: In 1997 one-half of an apsidal structure with tiers of seating was discovered, which we tentatively identified to be a Nabataean structure in the form of a theater (from the Greek, theatron, meaning "a place of seeing"). Facing north, were five extant courses of carefully hewn limestone seats with two six-step stairways (scalaria) in the cavea. This cavea was above a 1.5 m high plastered apsidal wall found at 887.55 m elevation. Below the lowest tier was a paved diazoma (horizontal passageway or aisle) on the lower cavea wall measuring 1.5 m in width and set with alternating white and dark red sandstone pavers. The extant lower five-course cavea wall was constructed with carefully dressed blocks, 0.20-0.30 m in height, with curved faces. Unquestionably, the auditorium was central to the structure and it dominated the monument's interior.The cavea seats averaged 0.35-0.40 m in height and 0.55-0.70 m in depth. The second to fifth tiers were of white sandstone ashlars which were divided into four wedge-shaped sections (cunei). Based on the excavated evidence, we can predict that the cavea was divided by three staircases - with one in the center and two on either side. Although the collapse of the West Colonnade scarred the structure, further evidence for the seating was be found to continue up to the east and west platforms to where the rear of the cavea must have stood in antiquity. The complex is built up to the casemate Inter-Columnar Walls, over the vaulted substructures of the East and West stairways, the 3 m-by-5.5 m Vaulted East and West Chambers, plus the center area of the Central Arch.
Of note was that some of the blocks in the seating area were channeled ashlars - their tops and facing surfaces had been chiseled out to produce narrow, 0.02 - 0.05 m deep, rectilinear, channel-like slots, which may have served as the socles for wooden arm rests or dividers. We hypothesized they may have delineated single and double seats. (In the massive collapse that fell into the West Staircase, the West Chamber, and the Central Arch area, many channeled ashlars were found in the debris - we reason these slotted blocks were used throughout the cavea. To reiterate, the cavea extended over the north-south East and West Stairways, the East and West Vaulted Chambers and the Central Arch to the rear of the Temple, at least to the north edge of the East and West rear Staircases.
Unfortunately, the upper portions of the structure are either in poor condition or are completely missing. In spite of this, we project that there may have been as many as 20 original courses of seats, with a diazoma bisecting the cavea between the tenth and the eleventh row. A conservative estimate of the seating capacity is a minimum of 565 and a maximum of 620 persons. The proposed diameter of the outermost seats is approximately 33.2 meters. This is based on the probability that the excavated preserved portion held at least 52 people, and, if originally, there were a total of 20 tiers of seats extending to the south stairways, this would account for substantial additional seating. These calculations must remain tentative, however, until we can confirm the extent of the cavea to the south.On the north is a small and narrow, 0.7 m stepped sandstone stairway that leads up to the cavea. Although there are post holes for a railing, it does not appear as if this stairway provided a major access to the auditorium; it is so poorly-constructed that it may well have been a later addition for access into the cavea.
Orchestra: The projected preserved diameter of the orchestra is approximately 6.43 m and its elevation is 885.97 meters. The floor of the orchestra is paved with rectilinear sandstones longitudinally placed, north-south, and perpendicular to the center of the cavea. These were set in place after the cavea was constructed. A line of red pavers led us to speculate that originally this floor may have had a variegated patterned design. Unfortunately, the damage to it is appreciable - perhaps in our future excavations of the remaining part of the structure, the floor design may become better delineated. In the excavation of the orchestra, several capitals were found. One such example is shown in situ in Figure 17.
The orchestra area is too restricted and small for any large function, but may have been used for speeches, dramatic presentations, simple religious rituals and ceremonies.
Pulpitum/Scaenae frons (stage building): The east-west excavations between the Pronaos Columns located an architectural component that we tentatively identified as a pulpitum/scaenae frons or a raised platform. Constructed of sandstone ashlars four courses in height, the excavated portion of this feature is 1.3 m in height-by-5.66 m in length-by-approximately 1 m in width. It is curbed by sandstone ashlars, 0.4 m in width which lie 0.3 m above the orchestra floor. Interrupting the south wall of diagonally-dressed sandstone blocks, are two small staircases, and in the center there is a niche 0.5 m in width-by-0.4 m in depth. It is assumed that this feature if a scaenae frons cut off the visibility to the Temple Pronaos and the entrance of anyone seated in the cavea, but if it was a raised platform, visibility to the Temple Forecourt would still have been possible.
Walkway-entry: A paved walkway of some 3 m width lies between this stage-like structure or platform - either the pulpitum or the scaenae frons (stage building) - and the orchestra. At the east end of the excavated portion of this walkway and positioned perpendicular to the pulpitum/scaenae frons is a threshold, 3 m in length-and-0.30 m in width, with deeply-cut, squared hollow cavities in its upper surface. Because quantities of metal were found in this area, it is probable that these cavities supported a gate or door with metal fittings.
In conclusion, we now know why this structure seems to be so different in architectural plan from the traditionally established canon of the classical temple. What is the relationship of the theater-like emplacement to the Temple? Could this be a theater-temple? Or could it be a civic bouleuterion? Could it have served dual or several functions, be they either religious or secular, or does it have yet other functions? What is the relationship of this structure to the fabric of the city? Some of the questions about this important building we hope will be answered as our work progresses.
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