The Theatre and hellenistic houses

At the top of the first rise the street emerges into the space before the cavea of the theatre, built in the early 3rd century bc. It held around 5,500 spectators. The cavea also served as a large water-catchment area during rain storms: two well-preserved drain-mouths can be seen to either side of the semi-circular orchestra, which conduct the water into the impressively * vaulted cistern below. The stone arch is not a common element in Greek architecture: the eight granite spans here are well-preserved examples. The cistern was originally roofed with marble blocks and would probably have held around 500,000 litres of water for communal use when full.

The cavea is partly cut into the hill and partly built up to either side with bulwarks of fine isodomic blocks, rusticated for the most part and becoming polished closer to the sides of the stage. Only in the lowest tier are the backs of the seats preserved. The large and once elaborate skene was in the form of a rectangle with colonnades on all four sides—a design not found elsewhere. On the side facing the audience it would have had engaged Doric columns and was flanked by paraskenia, each having two higher columns. From the high est point of the theatre, 18m above the orchestra, there is a fine view over the excavations and the shore. Twenty metres to the south of the cistern are the large foundations which supported the Altar of Dionysos with, behind it, remains of a small Temple of Apollo, dated by an inscription to 110/109 bc. Two adjacent shrines were dedicated to Artemis-Hecate (west) and Dionysos, Hermes, and Pan (east).
Beside the theatre to the southeast, and entered through a fine marble doorway, is a building known as the ‘Hostel’. It had three stories and a very large cistern, almost 20m deep, with a feed-pipe from the gutters visible in the southwest corner; a marble washing-slab with drainage indentation also lies near the entrance. The building is thought to have been a guesthouse which put up visitors to the Delian festivals.
   The path east from the theatre towards the base of Mount Kynthos, passes between two of the best-preserved Hellenistic houses on Delos : to the right hand side, the * House of the Masks, a large, merchant’s house which consists of a complex of shops, workshops and living quarters all in the same block.
   The side looking onto the street consists of shops which would have been rented out by the owner; the residence (entered by circumventing the west side of the block) is set back to the south, around a peristyle of fluted columns built be side a deep, rock-cut cistern, which was originally covered by a wing of the house. Well-preserved reception rooms look onto the court from the north, each with mosaic floor and painted walls, showing several layers of successive decoration (frequently painted to represent marble). The * mosaics in the central room have an abstract field surrounded by theatrical masks: in the subsidiary room to the east is a famous and technically masterful depiction of Dionysos, wearing flowing oriental garb, seated on a panther. He holds the th yrsos and a tambourine; the detail shows even the whiskers of the animal. (Splashing the mosaic with water helps to en liven the colours and details properly.) The same theme appears elsewhere in Delos , and in Hellenistic floors in both Pella and Eretria, suggesting that the mosaic workers had a popular repertoire in common, perhaps transmitted within workshops through a kind of ‘pattern book’. The square fixture holes in the peristyle columns for blinds or screens are still visible at a height of about 220cm above the ground.

A similar design is found in the House of the Dolphins, just to the northeast, named after its magnificent central * mosaic.

Concentric rings of elegant wave, key, and gryphon-head designs, surround a central emblema which has survived only scantily: pairs of stylised dolphins, ridden by small figures with divine emblems, fill the corners. The mosaic bears a (rare) signature by the artist, a certain ‘[Askle]piades of Arados’—a town in Phoenicia. Perhaps not unconnectedly, another mosaic in the entrance-way bears an apotropaic symbol of Tanit, the Phoenician moon-goddess. Here the peristyle is formed of columns which are only fluted for half of their height: the drain from the impluvium into the cistern below is on the south side. The holes for the wooden door-imposts are clearly visible in the marble thresholds.

Delos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.

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