For 142 years the Theatre of Ephesus has consistently been the subject of various archaeological and building historical examinations. At the request of the Turkish government and supervised by the Austrian Archaeological Institute (ÖAI) the current project started in 1993. In the course of a comprehensive restoration program for the building which will be realized by the ÖAI, scientific questions beyond the already accomplished research shall be pursued. Since 2007 the Institute for the Study of Ancient Culture (IKAnt) at the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW) has been in charge of the scientific research of the theatre and has been responsible for the archaeological work. The building historical research, especially of the cavea, that has been going on since 2003 is being carried out in cooperation between the IKAnt and the Technical University of Vienna. The completion of the fieldwork is planned for 2010, the preparations of the gained insights for the publication started in 2009.
With a diameter of about 150m and a capacity of 18.000 to 20.000 seats in its last building phase, the Theatre of Ephesus belonged to the largest theatres of antiquity. The building, erected on the western slope of the Panayirdağ, is situated near the agora and in Hellenistic times was directly at the harbor. About 75% of the seating area is still in situ. However, the Roman cavea, preserved from the 2nd century AD, is today without its representative marble surface. The former revetments with marble plates exist only as singular fragments which in total amount to less than 10% of the original marble surface. Clearly recognizable in many areas is on the other hand the original substructure of the seats, the radial stairs and the galleries.
Only the lower storey of the stage building is preserved in its entirety, whereby the Hellenistic walls were reused in the roman building. Of the upper level only little remains.
Due to the research of the last years, the time of erection of the oldest stage building can be dated to or shortly after 200 BC. The 41,65m x 10,77m large stage building with two stories is erected with lime stone. The combination of a long corridor and a series of rooms behind the thyromata (doorways in the façade of the building) in the upper storey is a rather unique solution in theatre buildings. A reconstruction in marble was carried out in the area of the eastern façade facing the orchestra. No remains of the Hellenistic proscenium could be detected during the excavations, but one can assume the for Asia Minor typical trapezoid form. For the major restructuring under Emperor Domitian a new reconstruction proposal for the scaenae frons was worked out by A. Öztürk. Instead of the Hellenistic proscenium, a three-storey high grand façade was erected. The pillars of the Roman stage that one can still see today belong to a later time, however. The Flavian stage only had one row of pillars between the scaenae frons and the stage front. A redesign of the stage and the orchestra occurred in the middle of the 2nd century AD.
Presently, the archaeological activities are concentrated on examinations in the cavea that stand in relationship to the building research and on the area to the south of the theatre. Along the corridor in the entrance S1 three chambers in the south analemma were discovered and for the most part uncovered. The three entrances from the south into the theatre are joined together by a large staircase. This 11,74m long and 8,75m wide eastern staircase could be uncovered in its entirety in 2008. It is situated between the theatre and the residential quarter to the south of the theatre. One room of a domestic building was partially excavated; the marble and mosaic décor is comparable to that of Terrace House 2 in Ephesus. Finds from the rubble above the mosaic point to a destruction of the house in the 3rd century AD. At the same time, the southern part of the staircase was probably submerged as well and therefore given up. In Byzantine times the theatre was incorporated into the city wall. In 2007 the connection of the city wall to the east of entrance S3 could be entirely excavated. Here, the Byzantine wall is built over a Hellenistic terrace wall. Several steps of the staircase were built into the city wall as well as into the closing of the entrances S1 and S2.
In the previous research history of the Ephesian theatre four building phases for the antique building and usage period were differentiated, of which two were dated to the Hellenistic era and two to Roman times. With the current building research that thoroughly examines the building in regard to building technique, building phases and changes in usage, new insights on the reorganization and building adaptations of the cavea could be won for the first Roman building phase. In correspondence to the already known changes in the stage-orchestra-complex, the analysis of the previous results also results in differentiated building phases for the auditorium. The erection of the scaenae frons in the 1st century AD presents a significant change for the theatre. The Roman logeion, reaching far into the orchestra, constricts the paradoi as main entrances of the Hellenistic structure. Consequently, this moving together of stage and auditorium demands new entrances. Therefore new entrance corridors in the south and the north were constructed for the lower and middle tiers; with a width of about 4,50m they were suitable for a large amount of people. Probably as a side effect of this new organizational structure, the lower ring-shaped gallery (diazoma) was enlarged, on which over two large corridors resp. stairs the visitors coming from the south and the north were led in order to reach the radial stairs and then their seats.
Little is left of the architectural finishing of the auditorium from the Roman restructuring phases. However, a detailed documentation of the remaining fittings enabled to not only clarify building technological installations but also to distinguish various types of elements which further differentiates the conception of the marble revetments. Compared to other theatres in Asia Minor, the fitting technique with marble plates represents a rather seldomly applied solution that demands a different technological plan for the substructure than a construction of the rising seating rows with massive blocks would. Comparable examples for this technique in Asia Minor are among others the Theatre of Metropolis (150 BC), the Odeion in Ephesus (160-169 AD) or the Roman theatre in the Asclepius-sanctuary in Pergamon (2nd century AD). In the Theatre of Ephesus the marble revetments of the steps consists of the four main elements horizontal seat plate, vertical cover plate, side plate and step tread of the radial stairs. The connection of these building parts occurred through clamps and dowels and was especially elaborate in the connection area of the radial stairs.
As a further aspect of the current building research, the findings regarding the water usage in the building as well as clues to the water supply of neighboring city quarters shall be mentioned. Different systems of clay pipe conduits and channels are visible today due to the missing marble revetments. During the construction of the vomitoria partly open gulleys were planned as a drain for the rainwater, they were however not entirely completed. The largest section of a conduit in the theatre is part of the 40km long Aristion-conduit that among others supplies the Nymphaeum Traiani (erected 102-114 AD) on the Curetes Street. The about 1,00m wide conduit entered the theatre in the north, followed a semi-circle under the eighth resp. ninth seating step of the middle section and left the theatre in the south, about parallel to the lower entrance corridor. Three cross sections in regard to the tunnel height and the form of the vault can be differentiated on this 178m long route. Mirrored along the middle axis of the building two pipe lines branch off from the Aristion-conduit and proceed under the radial stairs towards the orchestra; their endpoints could however not be grasped yet.
Surveying methodology The remains of the theatre with its extraordinary large surface and – due to its condition – various unreachable areas were documented with a terrestrial 3D-laser-scanner in 2004. With the results from this pilot project a non deformable digital measured image was available for the building research. Together with singular point measurements with a motorized tachymeter this is the basis for the detailed analysis of the cavea. The Scanner is a terrestrial 3D-image-scanner LMS Z420i from the company Riegl, on which a digital camera is mounted. During the scanning three dimensional connected photorealistic point images of large building parts are created that can be put together to a digital 3D model.
The used total station consists of a motorized tachymeter “TCRM” of the company Leica and the additional software “TOTAL” (Tachymetrische Objektorientierte Teil-Automatisierte Laservermessung), which upgrades the instrument to a so-called “intelligent tachymeter” (developed by the Ruhr-University Bochum). Special is hereby the combination of the highly precise accuracy of a tachymeter with the advantages of automated scanning processes that are especially applied with the so-called “profile-scanning” (the instrument independently maps points in a freely defined spatial plane with variable increments and up to a distance of over 100m).