The Theatre of Ephesus was first built in the Hellenistic period on the slope of Mount Pion taking an vantage of its height and was later expanded by repairs at various times. When St. Paul came to Ephesus work on the expansion of the Theatre was going on. This is the largest theatre structure in Turkey and has a holding capacity of about 24 000 spectators.
The assembly of citizens in which all the Ephesians participated was held once a year in this theatre. When St. Paul came to Ephesus he propagandized on the new religion in this theatre and was opposed by a group of Ephesians. According to St. Pauls Epistle a group entered the Theatre while the Saint was preaching and shouted for hours that Artemis of Ephesus was great. The group was headed by a person called Demetrius the Jeweller. Demetrius made statuettes of the goddess from precious metals and sold these. He thought that with the new religion the statuettes would not sell and called the people to oppose it. In the end a public security officer of the city came and told the mob that the courts were open and that those who had complaints could make their claims there, and thereby subdued them.
In the 3rd and 4th centuries when wild animal fights and gladiator games were in great demand the Theatre was used for this purpose together with the Stadium. Such games were very popular in Ephesus. It is known that some rich Ephesians owned gladiator schools.
The Theatre, like others, consisted of three main parts: the stage building (skene), the section where the audience sat (cavea), and the circular orchestra in between these two. The orchestra was allocated to the chorus in performances carried out all through antique times. The chorus entered the orchestra in two rows by the side entrances (parados), took its place and spoke simultaneously when their turn came.
The stage building had three storeys including the ground floor. The side of the stage building facing the interior of the Theatre was built very ostentatiously. On this facade there were three tiered columns, behind these, niches with frontals and inside the niches, statues. It had five doors of which the middle one was larger compared to the others. A bust or a statue of the emperor stood in the niche over this middle door. In front of the stage building at a level 2.5 metres above the ground floor was a podium used by the actors.
The modern performances of today are wrongly executed on the orchestra floor. The shape of the section where the audience sat exceeded that of a semicircle. It was divided into three parts by two diazomas. The legs of the seats were in the shape of lions' paws. Rubble was used for the bottom and finely worked marble for the top. The ceiling coffer of the box reserved for the emperor lies in the orchestra but its original place is not known. The spectators came to the theatre by the stepped way at the sides of the paradoses. Besides these there was one other door opening onto the road running by the topmost point of the Theatre. Behind the last row of seats a columned portico surrounded the whole structure. This portico, the round shape of the Theatre, the concavity of the bases of the rows of seats were all features that provided the acoustics so necessary in a theatre.
The part of the Theatre facing the Marble Street and the Harbour Street was built very plainly. The little fountain here was built in the Hellenistic period. Water flowed into the pool in front from taps in the form of lions' mouths. The fountain was expanded in the 4th century and two new columns without flutes were put in front of the two slender Ionic columns. The restoration of the structure was completed in 1990. The pool nearby belongs to another fountain built at a later period.