“The play’s the thing”, said Shakespeare’s Prince Hamlet. Words that Sophocles, the classical Greek playwright would certainly have agreed with when he wrote “Oedipus The King”. Two thousand years later, everyone seems to be still in agreement. So much so that Sophocles’ tale of the saving of Thebes from the scourge of the Sphinx is to be staged at this year’s International Festival of Ancient Greek Drama at the Kourion Amphitheatre in Limassol on 23rd July.
For more than two decades the festival has hosted professional theatre companies from around the world, including the UK, Russia, Italy, Sweden and China. Each year, during July and August, the timeless, universal themes of ancient Greek drama are presented, which still resonate with a 21st century audience. Sophocles, who lived 496-406 BCE wrote more than 100 plays, including “Oedipus The King”, “Electra” and “Antigone”, but only 7 survive.
Today, it’s not surprising to hear that more than 90 per cent of around the 3 million visitors to Cyprus every year are holidaymakers, but in recent years a new generation of visitor has made itself known. They may be characterised by their desire to seek out personalised, immersive experiences combined with advancing their knowledge and gaining an in-depth understanding during their cultural adventures.
It’s sure to be one of the main reasons why Limassol is a major tourist destination, alongside Paphos and Ayia Napa. Around 11 per cent of all travellers to the island will stay in Limassol, attracted by an irresistible mix of 5 star luxury leisure accommodation, and the type of historical and cultural experiences that lay beyond the usual joys of a poolside lounger!
Elaborately decorated foundations of the stage can still be glimpsed
The Kourion – also known as Curium Theatre – is located by Kourion Beach near the village of Episkopi, 24 kms (15 miles) west along the coast from Londa Beach Hotel, and is among one of the most spectacular archaeological sites on the entire island.
The ancient city-kingdom of Kourion was established 1,050-750 BC although it was first occupied 5,500 – 4,000 BC, during the Neolithic age. The amphitheatre, which seats 3,500, was built in the 2nd century AD and following its destruction by an earthquake in the 4th century, was rebuilt by the Romans. Many of the other magnificent monuments found at the site, such as the House of Achilles, the Nymphaeum and the Forum Baths, also date from the Greco-Roman period (332 BC — 395 AD), which began when Alexander the Great, occupied Egypt and founded a new capital city at Alexandria.
Between 214 and 217 AD, during the period of Roman rule, the theatre was modified to accommodate gladiatorial games and wild animal sports but restored to its original form after 250 AD. Further earthquakes late in the 4th century (around 370 AD) caused the theatre to be abandoned, and although the elaborately decorated foundations of the stage can still be glimpsed, the present remains were extensively restored.
Entertainment of high aesthetic standards with direct relevance to today’s world
More than 16 centuries later, with the founding of The International Festival of Ancient Greek Drama in 1996, the sounds of classical Greek tragedy were once again to echo around the vast stone seated auditorium. Co-organised by the Cultural Services of the Ministry of Education and Culture in its belief that ancient Greek drama forms the “basis of contemporary European drama”, their stated aim was to “offer entertainment of a multi-cultural nature and high aesthetic standards”, with direct relevance to today’s world.
The Kourion theatre at Limassol is not the only venue on the island, which is filled every July with a modern audience applauding the words of the ancient Greek bards. Performances are also presented at other open-air amphitheatres, such as the Ancient Odeon in Paphos and the Makarios III or “Skali” Amphitheatres in Nicosia.
Each of the chosen plays are often given a gentle makeover, influenced by the different acting company’s country of origin, and aimed at “opening a dialogue” with both contemporary drama and an international audience.
Over the past twenty years, the Festival has gained a firm reputation for its multicultural innovation and is now widely acknowledged as one of Cyprus’s most important cultural institutions.
The performance of Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, however, is sure to have a more home-grown flavour as the drama is to be performed by the island’s own Theatro Dentro from Nicosia, who are participating for the first time.
This year’s Festival will also include works from the other two great classic Greek tragic playwrights “Seven Against Thebes” by Aeschylus and “The Bacchae” by Euripides.