Question: What city has the most theatrical stages in the world—more than Broadway and the West End combined?
Answer: Athens, Greece
Once the center for theater in the age of the ancient Greeks, it no surprise that today the city of Athens is home to the largest number of stages in the world. With both ancient outdoor places of performance and modern-day playhouses, there is a total of 148 theatrical stages in Athens.
We can thank the ancient Greeks for theater as we know it—the word theater itself comes from the Greek word theatron meaning “a place of seeing.” The tradition dates back to the first democracy in ancient Athens when performances were first put on to celebrate gods and goddesses, specifically the god Dionysus at his festival known as Dionysia. As the god of wine, fertility, revelry, and eventually theater, Dionysus was welcomed to his party with dramatic songs, processions, and the sacrifice of a bull.
The excitement of these spectacles on the stage became a central part of Dionysia. A full five days were set aside for the performance of theatrical tragedies, comedies, and satyrs. The festival soon became one of the largest and most important in Athens, and the merriment spread throughout the rest of ancient Greece.
In the late 6th century BCE, the Theatre of Dionysus was constructed in Athens for plays during Dionysia. Located on the slope of the Acropolis hill, this massive outdoor arena held up to 17,000 spectators who flocked to see the great works of art from notable playwrights like Aeschylus and Sophocles. The Theatre of Dionysus set the precedent for what stages would look like in Greece and around the world. It’s also where most lasting works of Greek theater were first presented.
As the birthplace of theater, it’s no wonder why even after thousands of years, Athens still remains the capital of the stage.
8 Other Incredible Facts about Athens:
- Athens is Europe’s oldest capital city and one of the oldest cities in the world—records of the city date back to nearly 3,400 years ago.
- The city is home to the world’s known first known democracy, established around 500 BCE. The political system allowed eligible citizens, mostly adult men, to directly vote on laws.
- But Athens did not remain a democracy from then on out—it has experienced almost every form of government including a monarchy, socialism, and communism.
- The architecture of Athens also contains virtually every style from the past millennia—from Greco-Roman to Neoclassical and modern.
- Though Athens was the birthplace of the modern Olympics in 1896, the ancient Olympics were never actually held in the capital city.
- The marathon was created in Athens for the first modern Olympics in commemoration of the run by the Greek soldier Pheidippides. He ran from Marathon to Athens to report the victory of the Athenians over the Persians in 490 BCE, but most likely he ran a lot longer than the 26.2 miles of our marathons.
- Athens was the site of the first institution for higher learning: the Platonic Academy founded by philosopher and mathematician Plato.
- Athens' National Archaeological Museum is internationally recognized as one of the most important of its kind for its abundance of antiquities spanning 5,000 years.
Explore the ancient city of Athens and all the history it holds during The Aegean Islands, Athens & Istanbul.