Wonder  }  Architecture

The Old-Fashioned Theater of Sabbioneta

Worthy rival of Palladio's Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza

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Where is


Via Teatro, 9, 46018 Sabbioneta MN, Italia (0m s.l.m.)


The architectural jewel of the Ideal City

Vincenzo Scamozzi (1548-1616), the architect from Vicenza who designed and built it on commission from Vespasiano I Gonzaga, had been a pupil and friend of Palladio. He was inspired by the structure of Roman open-air theaters, but inserted it inside a building and with elements of great innovation. The Teatro all'antica in Sabbioneta is the first example in Italy of a permanent theater, built from scratch and not on pre-existing structures.

Why it is special: classical architecture

What makes the Teatro all'Antica so extraordinary and gives it its name is its adherence to the principles of classical architecture. The interior has a curvilinear cavea of tiered tiers of tiers, reserved for the men of the court, and a loggia reminiscent of a classical temple, with Corinthian columns and architrave, crowned with stucco statues of deities, reserved for the ladies and the duke. Behind the loggia are monochrome frescoes of Roman emperors, so that the duke could appear a Caesar among Caesars. Above is a delightful tromp l'oeil with faux gallery, from which graceful spectators look out.

Not to be missed: the fixed-scene stage.

The fixed scene, in particular, is truly striking. It is not the original, which has been lost, but a 1996 reconstruction based on a sketch by Scamozzi himself. A street divides the noble buildings typical of tragedy from the more modest ones of comedy, all in wood, with a complement of frescoes including a cerusician's workshop on one side and a landscape of Roman ruins behind.

A bit of history

The theater was the last undertaking of the ideal city desired by Gonzaga, Sabbioneta. Begun in 1588, by 1590 it was finished. It was inaugurated during the carnival, but the Duke was barely able to enjoy it because he died the following year.

When the curtain came down...

After the Duke's death, the theater was forgotten, becoming first a lazaret then a barracks, a tannery and finally a movie theater in the Fascist period. Greasy skins spread to dry along the walls severely damaged stucco and frescoes. Soldiers daubed the walls with graffiti and writing. Only in the last century was the theater restored to its original condition with magnificent restoration work. What has been lost altogether is the original blue-painted cannicated ceiling, which was meant to give the impression of a true open sky.

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Patrizia Iome

Beautiful and alienating experience at the same time. In front of the stage one feels transported to a De Chirico square.


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