Teatro San Carlo of Naples: Architecture & History


Did you know that the Teatro San Carlo is the oldest opera house and theater in the world that has been in continuous use since its construction? While opera, ballet, and theater, in general, are not as popular as they once were, this theater in the beautiful city of Naples, Italy, is a perfect example of the great appreciation of art and music that people of a bygone era once had. It is also an exemplary example of Neoclassical architecture.

Keep reading to learn more about what makes the Teatro San Carlo unique.

The History of the Teatro San Carlo

The Teatro San Carlo was built and completed in 1737. Amazingly, this impressive building only took seven months to complete with construction starting in March and ending in October. Seeing as it seems to take construction workers today 2 years to build a gas station, you might be wondering how people hundreds of years ago with no tractors or bulldozers managed to build such a huge and lavish structure so quickly.

The reason is likely because a king commanded it to be built (no pressure). It was specifically King Charles of Bourbon who decided he wanted to transform the city of Naples into something special, into a capital that people would flock to for its art and culture. Besides the construction of the theater, he also ordered plenty of new villas and palaces to be built to gentrify the city.

teatro san carlo

At the time, the Teatro San Bartolomeo was the primary opera house and theater in the city. However, the Teatro San Carlo quickly overtook its title. It was the architect and engineer ¬†Giovanni Antonio Medrano who was tasked with constructing this grand theater. Angelo Carasale stood at Medrano’s side, a director who used to work at the Teatro San Bartolomeo.

The Details

Conveniently for the king, the new theater was right next to the royal palace. So, the king would only have to travel a few steps to listen to the latest hit tunes. As soon as the theater was finished, people all over Europe took an interest and made a beeline for it. After all, it was the largest theater in all of Europe at the time, so one couldn’t miss its extravagance. This is not to mention that all the greatest composers used that particular theater to debut some of their newest and most hyped operas.

Today, it would be as if there was a building made specifically for the release of the latest hits by Beyoncé, Cardi B, Ed Sheeran, and Harry Styles. But there was trouble in paradise.

In 1816, the inside of the Teatro San Carlo completely burned down. Fortunately, the stone exterior survived and it only took 10 months to rebuild the entire interior (it would be rebuilt again after WWII due to damage from the bombings, but the reconstruction managed to match the original construction perfectly). The reconstruction certainly didn’t take away any of the building’s charm as it was still as popular as ever.

1874 was a low point for the theater since Milan’s new Teatro Alla Scala had become more popular. The Teatro San Carlo even had to close down for a year as a result. However, after some seriously famous and talented opera composers, notably Puccini and Leoncavallo, started to premier their newest shows at the Teatro San Carlo, it regained its popularity again. Today, it still remains one of the most prestigious opera houses around.

The Architecture of the Teatro San Carlo

The Teatro San Carlo is built in a Neoclassical style. Neoclassicism was an architectural movement that became popularized after the discovery of Pompeii more than 1,000 years after it was buried under volcanic ash. The movement borrowed certain elements from the ancients such as fluted columns, marble, straight lines, and geometric shapes.

The inside of the theater is the shape of a horseshoe. Today, many theaters are shaped this way, but this was a new development in the 1700s. There are six levels and each level has 184 boxes. There are a total of 1,739 seats. There is also a special box called the royal box which is in the center of the seating arrangement. The royal box is the largest and can fit 10 seats.

This is not to mention that there is plenty of standing room in each box. So, technically, the theater can hold more than 3,000 people for a single performance. The vault of the ceiling in the center of the theater is painted with beautiful figures floating around in a heavenly, cloud-filled sky.

Every box is gilded with a golden appearance, contrasted against the deep, blood-red color that graces the inside of the boxes. There are also plenty of Ionic columns to bring together the theater’s Neoclassical style along with carvings and reliefs signifying the art of music. Both the design and the shape of the theater make it ideal for immersing yourself in music and the atmosphere of a given performance.

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