The Oldest Public Theater in Europe

"All the world’s a stage. And all the men and women merely players," Shakespeare wrote in “As You Like It.” What if we took a break from the roles in our daily lives to go to a real theater? Perhaps to oldest theater in Europe?

Hvar, Croatia, July 29, 2020: Stage of historical theatre in Arsenal building at Hvar, Croatia
The interior of Hvar Theater in the Arsenal building in Hvar, Croatia. Photo: Pavel Dudek / Alamy Stock Photo / Be&W

Art is an important aspect of human life and an inseparable part of it. This was well known to the residents of Hvar, Croatia. There, the first public theater in Europe was established, which to this day is an important cultural facility of the entire island.

The origins of Hvar Theater

If you want to see the oldest public theater in Europe, go to the island of Hvar in Croatia. In the town of the same name, in 1612, the first public theater in Europe was established, enjoying great success and popularity. The theater was built in the Arsenal building, which dates back to the 12th century and was originally used as a shipyard. After an extensive renovation of the building, a Venetian prince established a theater inside.

From the beginning, the theater was open to all people, regardless of background or social status. Thus, it was the perfect convergence point for all walks of life – from fishermen, artisans, and peasants to the nobility, educated people, the rich, and the ruling elite. In a word, the theater was a unifying place for all residents. Since its inception, the theater has served as the cultural and social center of the city. With its establishment, the local community gained a place where it had contact with art and entertainment. Smaller events such as carnivals, school plays, and performances by local bands were often held inside the theater. The theater operated for over 400 years and enjoyed great interest and popularity.

An interior with extraordinary ambiance

As soon as you step through the doors of the theater, you will feel its unique ambiance. History and the present are mixed in this place. Despite the fact that the interior of the theater has many original elements, it also does not lack a small breath of freshness. The theater has preserved frescoes from 1819, which still adorn its walls today. In addition, the stage, made of marble and wood, and part of the auditorium have been preserved in good condition.

In the theater, you’ll be able to see original folk costumes from the time of the first performances, as well as memorabilia from past performances, such as stucco, paintings, sculptures, and various canvases used as backdrops when performances were staged.

An architectural gem

The theater’s unique architecture is sure to catch your attention. The huge stone building in the city’s center cannot be passed by indifferently. The theater was built in a Renaissance style, but it was destroyed and later restored in the Neo-Baroque style during the Second World War.

To this day, the theater is still of great importance to both the town of Hvar and Croatia as a whole. It belongs to the country’s cultural heritage and is a huge monument of the island. Thanks to its long history, visiting the theater is a unique experience, and it should be added that there is no shortage of eager visitors. The theater attracts tourists from all over the world. Without a doubt, a tour of it is an ideal way to get to know the culture of the city and the island of Hvar.

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