The theatre steps are well worn out by the feet of thousands of peopleThe theatre steps are well worn out by the feet of thousands of people

It is possible that the theatre was used as gladiator arena, too. Under the orchestra there is a hidden passage which might have been used In elaborate gladiator shows. There are also traces which indicate a fence might have been erected around the orchestra to protect spectators during gory fights between men and  beasts. If the theory is true, the Philippopolis theatre would not be a precedent. Throughout the empire prudent cities saved money and refashioned older theaters for gladiator fights instead of building expensive amphitheaters.

In ordinary days the theatre was used for something else. It was probably the place where the men of the Koinon ton Thrakon, the council of the cities in the province of Thrace, met, discussed important issues and made decisions.

The theatre existed for about 300 years. Traces of its long use are still visible. Look at the stairs, which run through the rows of seats. They are worn out by generations of spectators. The surface of each step, once flat, is now curved in the middle.

When the theatre was built is a matter of debate. Some have suggested that the structure was here before the Romans' arrival. Most of authors agree it was constructed under Emperor Trajan (98-117), possibly around 108-114 or in 116-117. The theatre underwent repairs under Hadrian (117-138) and during the Severan dynasty (193-235), when it was adapted for gladiator games. At the end of the 4th Century it was abandoned as a result of a fire.

In the following centuries the ancient theatre was completely overbuilt with houses and no one remembered its existence.

The theatre was discovered, excavated and restored in 1968-1984, with about a dozen later buildings being demolished in the process. Today the magnificent structure, the only of the kind fully preserved in Bulgaria, is one of Plovdiv's main attractions. It still serves as cultural venue hosting various events – from rock and folk concerts to opera shows.