From Jordan to Scotland, 2,000 years of concerts at the oldest surviving music venues

These historical halls, opera houses and theatres are still open for business

Jordan's almost 2,000-year-old Jerash Southern Theatre and New York's Carnegie Hall are among the oldest music venues in the world which are still in use today. Photo: Reuters/ AFP
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Music venues, like music trends, come and go with the years. Yet some survive the test of time, embracing changes in tempo and taste and playing host to some of the most famous names in music past and present.

From millennia-old Roman theatres in France and Jordan to legendary Italian opera halls, these eight venues are not only fascinating historical places to visit but have also hosted everyone from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to Nancy Ajram.

Theatre Antique d'Orange, France

Established: 1 AD

Dating back to the first century, Theatre Antique d'Orange in Orange, France, is believed to be the oldest surviving music venue in the world that is still in use.

Over the millennia, the ancient Roman theatre has been used for musical and theatrical performances and is the home of Choregies d'Orange, a music festival held periodically since 1860 and annually at the theatre since 1869.

Originally, the Unesco World Heritage-listed theatre was the scene of mime, plays and poetry readings, but with the Choregies d’Orange came music and opera. Diverse acts from opera singer Bryn Terfel to US techno DJ Jeff Mills have played at the venue.

Jerash Southern Theatre, Jordan

Established: 81 AD

Built between 81 and 96 AD during the reign of the Roman Empire, the Southern Theatre is the oldest and largest of ancient Jerash's playhouse trio, which also included the North Theatre and the Birketein.

Designed to accommodate more than 4,000 spectators, the venue is accessible through wooden doors and a tunnel that emerges in the upper seating area of the amphitheatre.

Since 1981, the theatre has played host to the annual Jerash Festival of Culture and Arts, welcoming the likes of Hany Shaker, Omar Al-Abdallat, Nancy Ajram, Jordanian pop star Diana Karazon, and Palestinian Arab Idol winner, Mohammed Assaf to the stage.

Thanks to its acclaimed acoustics, this 2,000-year-old venue remains a popular spot centuries on.

Holywell Music Room, England

Established: 1748

The 200-seat concert hall at Wadham College at the UK's University of Oxford opened its doors to the public in 1748 after six years of fund-raising.

One of the earliest purpose-built concert venues in the world and the first in Europe, it brought music into the public sphere from its hiding place in private residences and churches.

String quartets, pop groups, opera singers and more have graced the stage, with performers standing beneath the chandeliers that had previously hung in Westminster Hall for the Coronation of King George IV.

St Cecilia’s Hall, Scotland

Established: 1763

Scotland’s oldest purpose-built concert hall was commissioned by the Edinburgh Musical Society and designed by Scottish architect Robert Mylne, who also designed Blackfriars Bridge in London.

Named after Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians, the hall started life as a concert room and is now home to The University of Edinburgh’s music department.

Open to the public as a concert venue, it is also home to a museum featuring a collection of more than 500 historic musical instruments.

Teatro alla Scala, Italy

Established: 1778

Known as “La Scala”, the world-famous opera house opened in Milan on August 3, 1778, with a performance of Antonio Salieri's L'Europa riconosciuta.

Teatro alla Scala means Theatre at the Stairway because it was built on the site of the church of Santa Maria della Scala (Holy Mary of the Staircase).

Home to the La Scala Theatre Ballet, La Scala Theatre Chorus, La Scala Theatre Orchestra and the Filarmonica della Scala orchestra, the venue is most closely associated with opera, hosting the likes of Maria Callas, and ballet.

In 2023, La Scala made its first forays into modern music by inviting pianist and singer-songwriter Paolo Conte, 86, to perform his jazz and boogie-infused Mediterranean sounds.

The sold-out concert was the first time a non-opera singer had a recital on the stage.

Wilton’s Music Hall, England

Established: 1859

The East London venue has been named “the oldest surviving grand music hall in the world” by Britain Magazine.

Located at 1 Graces Alley in Whitechapel, the venue started life as an alehouse in the mid-1700s, before being turned into a music hall by publican John Wilton.

Post-Second World War, it was earmarked for demolition, before a campaign by British comedians Peter Sellars and Spike Milligan, and poet Sir John Betjeman, earned the Victorian architecture a protected Grade II listing.

Called a “national treasure” by Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett, the hall regularly plays host to recitals, classical concerts and performances, and holds history tours.

Gruene Hall, US

Established: 1878

The likes of Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks, BB King, LeAnn Rimes, Lyle Lovett and Bo Diddley have graced the stage at Texas’s self-professed “oldest continually operating and most famous dance hall”.

Built by Henry D Gruene, the son of a German immigrant farmer, the hall was also a bank, school and the town's first mercantile store.

The venue features live music every day and has hosted the recordings of live albums and music videos. The hall has remained largely unchanged since it was built, maintaining its tin roof with adjustable flaps to allow for open-air performances.

Carnegie Hall, US

Established: 1891

Built by the famed US industrialist Andrew Carnegie, the hall in Manhattan, New York, remains one of the most famous concert venues in the world.

Comprising three auditoriums – Stern Auditorium, Zankel Hall and Weill Recital Hall – it was the brainchild of German-American conductor Leopold Damrosch, who first conceived of a music hall in the city. Damrosch’s son would later convince Carnegie to invest in the venture.

The venue has undergone numerous reconstructions and restorations over the years and has played host to the likes of Tchaikovsky, who performed on the opening night (tickets to which cost $1), George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Judy Garland and The Beatles.

Updated: April 21, 2024, 7:22 AM