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Theatres were the most democratic venues in Roman cities. All people, rich and poor, slaves and citizens, were allowed in. It was this very fact that turned theatres into icons of the Roman Empire. Built 2000 years ago on the Castle slope and sitting about 4000 spectators, the Olisipo Theatre is a prime example.

The Roman Theatre was one of the first buildings to be constructed in the new Roman city located by the River Tagus, named Felicitas Iulia Olisipo (Lisbon) by Emperor Augustus. A symbol of Roman power and a dazzling emblem of romanisation, the Olisipo Theatre was the most striking landmark of a city made noble by the Romans. Perched on the S. Jorge Castle hill, the theatre could be seen by residents and all visitors arriving by the river.

Lisbon Museum – Roman Theatre

Located in the historic centre of the city, the Lisbon Museum has dedicated an entire area to one of the most important monuments in ancient Olisipo: the Roman Theatre. This area spans two buildings from different eras: a 17th-century building and a more recent edifice, built in the late 19th century. 

In 1964, excavation works were started by two known Lisbon specialists. New works were initiated after the buildings erected above the monument were purchased by the Lisbon City Council. As a result, new structural elements were discovered between 1989 and 1993, whose remains can be seen at the location and are included in the current tour of the site.

The buildings were recovered and adapted in order to allow the installation of the former Roman Theatre Museum, which opened in late 2001. Subsequent archaeological works led to the discovery of one of the most important structural elements of the ancient theatre, the retaining wall supporting the scenic façade, which drove the creation of the museum dedicated to this monument.

Following remodelling of the entire museum and the completion of works carried out to improve comfort and accessibility, the Lisbon Museum – Roman Theatre opened to the public on 30 September 2015. The museum houses a vast set of documents, materials and instruments from several eras, gathered during the various archaeological works, namely ceramic pieces from the Iron Age, Medieval pieces, bronze plummets used during the construction of the building, bases, shafts and capitals, pins and several ornamental pieces.

The Theatre was discovered for the first time in 1798, during the city’s reconstruction after the 1755 earthquake. Later abandoned and buried, the building would be rediscovered in the 19th century.

The theatre has been classed as a Building of Public Interest since 1967. Reclassification of the ruins of the Lisbon Roman Theatre as a National Monument is currently underway.

The building may soon be classed as an important cultural asset of great significance to the Nation.

‘The museum receives all sorts of visitors, including people who visit us several times to enjoy the specific programmes we offer. Our goal, both professional and personal, is to value this heritage, to study it and to make it known to all.’

Lídia Fernandes, Coordinator of the Lisbon Museum – Roman Theatre

A Temple with 2000 years of history

LISBON MUSEUM

PIMENTA PALACE | SANTO ANTÓNIO | ROMAN THEATRE | CASA DOS BICOS | WESTERN TOWER

www.museudelisboa.pt 

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*Accessibility ensured to persons with reduced mobility.

Photography: Ana Luisa Alvim.

Video: Inês Marques and Jorge Ramalho.

Text: Isabel Forte and Margarida Lopes.

Acknowledgements

Lídia Fernandes, Coordinator of the Lisbon Museum – Roman Theatre.