Teatre Principal

The Oldest Theatre in Barcelona

Located on La Rambla de Santa Mònica at the bottom of The Ramblas, Teatre Principal is the oldest theatre in Barcelona and plays have been performed on the site since 1568.

The theatre has been destroyed by fire twice and was rebuilt in 1788 and 1847, which is from when the current building dates, and it has also gone through a number of name changes, starting out as the Casa i Corral de les Comèdies before becoming the Teatre de la Santa Creu.

The name Principal or Main came about after the Gran Teatre del Liceu was opened, also in 1847, in an attempt to stress that it was Barcelona's original or main theatre.

The theatre's location at the bottom of The Ramblas close to the Port of Barcelona has meant the theatre has had a somewhat checkered career.

During Franco's dictatorship, the building was divided into a cinema, a billiard hall, a fronton court and was also home to the famous risqué cabaret venue, the Cúpula Venus, before closing its doors in 2006.

The main theatre and Sala B reopened in 2013 but the extensive restoration won't be complete until 2015 when the Principal will have five or six separate performance spaces.


Getting to Teatre Principal

Teatre Principal
La Rambla, 27
08002 Barcelona


Metro DrassanesGreen L3 Line

A Brief History of the Teatre Principal

Casa i Corral de les Comèdies

The first theatre on the site of the current Teatre Principal, Casa i Corral de les Comèdies, was built following the donation of some land, the Horta de Trentaclaus, by Joan Bosch to the Hospital de la Santa Creu.

The hospital board decided to build a theatre on the site, which by putting on plays and performances, would cover some of the hospital's running costs, and in order to make the venture even more popular they asked for the monopoly on 'music and recitals' in Barcelona.

This monopoly was conceded by Fernando de Toledo, the Viceroy of Catalonia and Captain General of Barcelona, in 1579 and ratified by the Spanish king, Felipe II, in 1587.

As soon as the concession had been granted performance began in a makeshift wooden construction erected on the donated land but the new theatre soon ran into trouble when in 1591, Bishop Joan Dimas Loris published an edict banning 'farses and comedies' because of their immorality.

In 1597, the Barcelona City Council, the Consell de Cent, ordered the demolition of the wooden theatre claiming that it didn't have the necessary permits but the hospital board immediately began work on a stone theatre claiming royal privilege.

The new theatre finally opened in 1601, two years after the death of Felipe II, and was immediately a great success as merchants and rich artesans invested in the business and hired theatre companies.

For example, in 1689, the rights of the theatre were conceded to Pere Tort for three years at a price of 1,160 lliures.

Shows changed every two or three days, which attracted large and enthusiastic crowds, and we know this from documents that show that Josep Torras' theatre company promised to do 25 different shows in 50 days in 1673 and in 1674, Fulgencio López put on 50 different shows, and in 1687 and 1699, both companies put on 60 shows each.

The repetoire was almost exclusively in Castilian rather than Catalan as most of the plays had first opened in Madrid and were by the great Spanish playwrights of the day, such as Calderón de la Barca as well as Agustín Moreto, Rojas Zorrilla, Antonio Solís y Rivadeneira, Andrés Claramonte, etc.

Apparentle, the 17th century Casa i Corral de les Comèdies was a stone building with an interior courtyard facing the stage as well as three floors and thirteen boxes for the richer theatregoers.

From this point on, there has always been a theatre on the site of what was called the Pla de les Comèdies and is now known as the Pla del Teatre, with its statue of the famous dramatist Frederic Soler, which has stood there since the early 20th century.

The original building, mainly of wood, suffered a number of fires and subsequent restorations and in 1729, it finally became a mainly stone construction.

In 1787, the stone theatre caught fire again and only the facade survived but thanks to donations by aristocrats, a newer more sumptuous theatre by Carles Francesc Calzer opened a year later and it was around this time that the theatre adopted the name, Teatre de la Santa Creu, after the hospital of the same name.

In 1725, a law by Felipe V had separated men from women, obliged actors and performers to enter by a separate door and established performance times as 2.30 in winter and 4 o'clock in summer.

However, various documents from 1793 show that plays began at 5 o'clock and operas began at 6.

In 1735, the theatre was run by an actors' cooperative and in the second half of the 18th century, Italian opera started to become popular.

By the beginning of the 19th century, the Teatre de la Santa Creu was also putting on magic shows and sarsuelas attracting a large public and from 1827, the previously handwritten posters began to be printed.

In 1833, the theatre lost its monopoly and rival theatres began to open, such as Teatre de Montsió (1837-1844), Teatre Nou (1843-1848) and, finally, the Gran Teatre del Liceu (1847).

The Barcelona theatre began to suffer from rivalry between theatregoers, first Cruzados from the Teatre de la Santa Creu against Capuchinos from Teatre Nou and later Cruzados against Liceístas from El Liceu, which was satirised by Serafí Pitarra in his comedy Liceístas y cruzados.

Teatre Principal

In 1840, the theatre changed its name to Teatre Principal in order to stake its claim to being Barcelona's main and original theatre in the face of competition from the new theatres, particularly the Gran Teatre del Liceu.

In 1847, the Teatre Principal was given a complete overhaul by architect Francesc Daniel Molina i Casamajó and the current facade dates from this period.

The rivalry with El Liceu continued with both theatres programming opera and by the 1850s, it was clear that the Teatre Principal was fighting a losing battle against its richer competitor.

The Principal continued to have occasional success, such as the premiere of Aida, showing Wagner's Lohengrin in 1882 a year before the Liceu or the fact that stars of the day, like Adelina Patti, always performed at the Teatre Principal rather than the Liceu when they came to Barcelona.

However, the theatre was in decline with the hospital trying to sell it in 1877 and in 1889, it only avoided demolition following a public campaign to save it.

First it stopped showing opera due to the cost and in 1905, began to alternate between plays and cinema.

In 1915, the building suffered another fire and with a capacity of 1,600, the building was sold to a private company in 1918, who changed the name to Principal Palace and used it mainly as a cinema.

The Principal Palace was hit by two more fires in 1924 and 1933 and when Franco came to power in 1939 was forced to Spanishify its name to Palacion Principal.

In 1943, the building underwent important reforms and a smaller cinema with 490 seats was opened under the name of Cine Latino, part of the fbuilding became the fronton court Jai Alai, another part became the billiard hall Billares Monforte, the upper hall became a small cabaret and review theatre known as Cúpula Venus and one of the floors housed a brothel.

In 1979, it was acquired by Grup Balañà, who converted it into two cinemas, but the main one closed in 1986 and by the time I arrived in Barcelona in 1988, the smaller one was only showing X-films.

The Teatre Principal was used for different purposes throughout the 1990s with little success and finally was completely closed in 2006.

In 2013, three more empresarios joined Grup Balañà and work was done on the building before a reopening in October the same year.

The full restoration will be complete in 2015 and the plan is to create a cultural, social and artistic space with multiple venues and a hotel.

Have Something To Say About This Topic?

Do you have a great information to add or an opinion to express about on this topic? Share it!

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.