The Roman Amphitheatre of Alexandria

The Roman Amphitheatre of Alexandria in Kom El Dekka

The Roman Amphitheatre is one of the most popular monuments located in the city of Alexandria, the second most important city in Egypt, after Cairo, the capital of the country.

Roman theatre

While the amphitheatres were quite spread during the reign of the Romans in different countries like Greece, Italy, and Turkey over a large empire 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 ElDekka

The word Kom El Dekka, in Arabic, means the hill of rubble or the hill of the benches, and it was named that way when a famous historian, El Neweiry, passed by this area in 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.

Discovering of the Roman Amphitheatre

The Roman Amphitheatre of Alexandria, which is considered to be one of the most important Roman architectural achievements in Egypt, was discovered by mere coincidence in the year 1960.

When the workers went to remove a pile of dust and sand in 1960 in order to clear the land and construct a governmental building, they found some solid iron columns while digging into the ground and this made them know for certain that there is an architectural entity below the ground.

Immediately afterwards, 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 afterwards, the Excavation works 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 during three different periods; the Roman, the Byzantine, and the Early Islamic era.

The amphitheatre was used in several purposes during its long history and passing by 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 used to take place.

The Roman Amphitheatre was most probably neglected during the early Islamic period and onwards until it was discovered during the middle of the 20th century to become one of the most 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. Amphitheatres were special roofed theatres that were built to host music ceremonies and poet competitions during the reign of the Romans in Egypt.

The Roman Amphitheatre of Alexandria is featured with its marble audiences section which is symmetrical with extended wing and could host up 600 spectators.

The audience section of the Roman Amphitheatre has a diameter of about 33 meters and it 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 in different occasions.

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

These compartments used to have 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 with two large marble columns and has some of the finest Roman mosaics on its floor.

Comparing the Roman Amphitheatre with other similar structures

Contemporary researches 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 researches is that the Roman Amphitheatre of Alexandria was not constructed originally to be a theatre hosting performances and artistic events

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 Bathes

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 amphitheatre 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 display 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.

Sites to see in, or around, Alexandria:

Montazah Gardens

is located at the Eastern edge of the city of Alexandria.

Pompeii’s Pillar

is the biggest memorial column in Egypt.

Qaitbay Citadel

is considered one of the most important defensive strongholds.

Rosetta (Rashid)

is located 65km northeast of Alexandria.

The Catacombs (Kom El Shoqafa)

Situated just to the west of Pompy’s Pillar.

The Library of Alexandria

acted as a major center for science and culture for many centuries.

The National Museum of Alexandria

is located in the Horeya Street.

The Roman Amphitheatre

is one of the most popular monuments located in the city of Alexandria.

Wadi El Natron

it is a natural depression in the western desert.