The Greek Theater in Syracuse was a meeting and performance space par excellence. Tragedies, popular assemblies and circus games, (the latter of which were enjoyed only for a brief period) were all held there.
All male casts, complete with polemic discourse, masks, chorus, and satyric character types, performed the works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides among others. The glories of Greek drama, their epic myths and legends of heroes had been revived and returned to the modern age.
Performances were generally held during public holidays, as theater was a social focal point, ideal for those with free time, offering entertainment to the community as a whole.
Its original construction dates from the Fifth Century B.C. but in the Third Century B.C. it was reconstructed under Hiero, and has remained almost as it was since that time. The material for its construction was taken directly from the hill supporting the theater.
A porch ran on a terrace around the auditorium opening onto an artificial cave with a small nymphaeum (a cave with a monumental fountain consecrated to a nymph).
The Greeks were an extremely "dei conscious" people, and the theater had a precinct with a temple and an altar.
Scenery and stages, though sometimes painted, were simple and fixed. Changes of location were generally announced or narrated. Focus was on the language, the plot and the moral or message of the drama rather than technical sophistication and visual spectacle.
The aim of performance was to raise a particular subject to the fore socially, to offer an opportunity for collective and individual catharsis through identification with a character or element of the plot, and finally, to entertain.
Around 1500, during the Spanish occupation, the theater, which had fallen into disuse and neglect, was quarried for fortifications and defence materials.
Later in the same century, the aqueduct which had carried water to the nympheum, passing over the theater, was reactivated. The auditorium itself was filled with mills, utilizing the water from the aqueduct. However, in the process, a substantial part of the staging and seating, previously filled with precious coloured marble was damaged, and the precious marble fragments lost forever.
In the Seventeen Hundreds, interest in antiquity revived. In many cases, ancient artefacts were uncovered, and by the nineteen hundreds had been restored to their original functions, and the ancient theater in Syracuse was no exception. Tragedies were once again performed there, as they had been in antiquity.