The word ‘ode’ gives us the term Odeon – Odeum in Latin – which represents a collection of buildings built for musical performances or poetry competitions.
One of the finest Odeons in the ancient world is the Odeon of Herod Atticus in Athens, which accommodated as much as 5000 spectators and served principally for musical festivals. Lying serenely on the southern slopes of the Acropolis, it was built by Tiberius Claudius Herod Atticus who hailed from a notable Athenian family to honor his wife Aspasia Regilla who had died in 160 AD, a couple of years before the site was erected.
While today the stage is used for outdoor musical performances, in Roman times it was covered with an impressive roof made from the finest cedar wood imported from Lebanon. The auditorium was carved out of rock and surrounded with a wall topped with arched openings, some of which can still be seen today! The walls rise to 3 levels up to 28 meters or 92 feet, featuring in their heydays complex artwork.
A very interesting architectural feature – which today is not visible – is that there is no evidence of columns or structures to support the roof, which is considered a major feat even by today’s standards. The Odeon was restored extensively in the 1950s and is today the home of the Athens Festival, an impressive cultural event held every year over summer.
In 2014 Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper listed the Odeon of Herodes Atticus as number one among the world’s most spectacular theatres. In modern times it has hosted the likes of Maria Callas and Elton John, among many other notable singers and musicians.