The Great Theatre is believed to have been built during the Hellenistic ages and has been attributed to Lysimachus, the marshal of Alexander the Great, although there is no archaeological evidence for its existence before 100 BC. However, Lysimachus may have chosen the building site. It would required 60 years of digging in the mountainside to prepare for the construction and eventual expansion of the building. The theatre was greatly damaged by earthquakes in the 4th century AD and only partially repaired/ By the 8th century AD it had become part of the city’s defense system.
The theatre rises 30 meters high with a diameter of 145 meters. It would have seated 25,000 spectators. It was constructed so the audience would face the stage and have the harbour in the the background. Initially the theatre had only one storey. The first two floors of the stage were built by Roman Emperor Neron, and a third floor was added during the 2nd century. The stage is 25 meters by 40 meters. It is adorned with columns and statues of the gods, goddesses and emperors. Each floor of the theatre had eight rooms and a corridor. The ground floor had an entrance to the podium and a hidden access that led to an underground tunnel that connected to the orchestra pit.
There was an altar in the middle of the stage podium would have been used to offer sacrifices on feast days. During the Roman era the audience would be charged an entrance fee for entertainment, but plays started in the early morning and would often continue until midnight. The theatre would also have been used for gladiator fights during this time. The theater is often included in lists of local sacred destinations because of its biblical significance. It is the place where St. Paul preached against the pagans.