A guide to the Odeon of Herodes Atticus
Nestling in a rocky hollow on the south-western side of Acropolis Hill is one of the world’s oldest and finest open-air theatres. Odeon of Herodes Atticus is much more than a fascinating archaeological site as it is still the main venue for the annual Festival of Athens and scores of world-class performances take place there each year.
Such legendary stars as Maria Callas, Dame Margot Fonteyn, Luciano Pavarotti, Diana Ross, and Elton John have all enchanted audiences with their performances in the magical setting of the ancient Odeon under the beautiful Athenian night sky.
This magnificent Roman theatre was originally constructed in 161 AD. The project was funded by a wealthy benefactor of Athens, Herodes Atticus, who wanted the theatre to be a gift to the people of Athens and had it built in honor of his late wife, Aspasia Annia Rigilla.
It was the third Odeon to be built in the city and in those days as well as steep semi-circular rows of seating, it had a three-story facade built in stone and a roof that was made from cedar wood brought from Lebanon. The theatre became a popular venue for music concerts and could seat 5,000 spectators.
The original theatre was destroyed just one hundred years later, during the invasion of the Erouloi in 268 AD and for many centuries the site lay untouched. Some restoration work was undertaken in the years 1898-1922 and once again, Odeon Herodes Atticus was used as a venue for concerts and other public events.
During the Second World War when Greece was occupied by the Germans, the Odeon continued to host many concerts performed by the Athens State Orchestra and the newly formed Greek National Opera. One of the singers who took the lead in Beethoven’s Fidelio and ‘The Master Builder’ by Manolis Kalomiris was the young Maria Callas.
Further restoration work began on Odeon Herodes Atticus during the 1950s. The work was funded by the city and there was a grand opening ceremony held in 1955. The Odeon became the main venue for the Athens & Epidaurus Festival – and it remains so to this day.
Odeon Herodes Atticus is impressive and beautiful. The Odeon measures 87 metres in diameter and the seating is in semi-circular cavea in 36 tiered rows and these are made in marble from Mt Hymettor.
The stage is 35 meters wide and made of colored Pentelic marble. The stage has a magnificent and very distinctive backdrop, made in stone with windows overlooking Athens and decorated with columns and niches for statues.
The only way to visit Odeon Herodes Atticus is to to book tickets for a performance there. The Odeon is a stunning setting for enjoying a world class performance of ballet, opera or Greek tragedy, that will certainly be memorable.
If you are unable to attend one of the performances there, one of the most awe-inspiring views of Odeon Herodes Atticus is the one looking across from the Acropolis.
Key information for visiting Odeon Herodes Atticus.
- Odeon Herodes Atticus is situated on the south-west slope of Acropolis Hill. The entrance to the Odeon is located in Dionysiou Areopagitou Street, which is a pedestrianized street.
- The nearest Metro station is ‘Acropolis’ (just a five minute walk).
- You can have a great view of the theatre from the South Slope of the Acropolis.
- Access to the Odeon is only possible for those attending a performance there. Tickets must be bought in advance and are not available on-site.
- Performances take place at Odeon Herodes Atticus May-September. For information about performances and tickets. Please check the Greek Festival site for details.
- Please note that children must be aged six years and over to attend any performance.
- Visitors are requested to wear only flat shoes for safety when visiting Odeon Herodes Atticus as the rows of seating are very steep.
- Disabled access is available via wooden ramps to the lower tier of seating.
- Smoking is not allowed in the Odeon and all food and drinks are forbidden.
- Photography with or without flash and the use of video equipment is forbidden is during any performance.