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Teatro Olimpico (Vicenza, 16th century)

Teatro Olimpico (Vicenza, 16th century)

The first indoor theater in modern history to be constructed according to the theater-building codes of Antiquity was inaugurated in 1585.

Visual Arts

Keywords

Teatro Olimpico, Vicenza, Palladio, architecture, Scamozzi, building, theater, indoor theater, Renaissance, World Heritage, stereoscopic, stage scenery, antique, perspective

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Theater

The ‘modern antique’ theater

Teatro Olimpico, situated in the city of Vicenza, Italy, is the first indoor theater in modern history to be constructed according to the theater-building codes of Antiquity.

The Accademica Olimpica had the building designed by Andrea Palladio. The construction began in 1580; however, Palladio died before completing the theater. Thus one of his most famous masterpieces became his last one. The building was inaugurated in 1585.

The architect – as with his other works – aimed to create a sophisticated perspective structure in this permanent theater.

The plans of the building were based on the reconstruction of the ancient Roman theater in Orange (France). The oval and terraced auditorium may host up to 1,000 spectators.

Teatro Olimpico had survived the events of the upcoming centuries, and today it is the oldest standing Renessaince theater. In 1994, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site.

Teatro Olimpico today

Stage of Teatro Olimpico

Based on the drafts and drawings of Palladio – who died shortly after the construction had started –, the loggia, the cavea and the lobby had been finished by 1584.

However, as no drawings remained after the master regarding the stage scenery, this task was given to another local architect, Vincenzo Scamozzi.
The stage scenery was designed by him.

In the foreground is a triumphal arch decorated with the statues of the famous members of Accademica Olimpica. Three gates are also built onstage, through which perspectively formed make-believe houses can be seen.
Most of the original scenery is still visible.

The opening play of the permanent theater was Oedipus the King by Sophocles in 1585.
Later on, movie directors discovered the scenery as well; most of the scenes of the famous movie Casanova were shot here.

Stage scenery of Teatro Olimpico

Narration

The Teatro Olimpico (Olympic Theater) is located in the city of Vicenza, Italy. Built in the 16th century, this theater was one of the first enclosed theaters in modern history to be constructed according to the theater-building codes of Antiquity.

This is a truly unique building as it houses the oldest Renaissance theater still in use.

Construction began in 1580 according to the designs of Andrea Palladio. Unfortunately, the legendary architect did not live to see the opening of the theater in 1585. The final stages of the work were supervised by his contemporary from Vicenza, Vincenzo Scamozzi.

Before finalizing the plans, Palladio closely studied the architecture of Antique theaters (primarily based on Vitruvius' work) and also investigated numerous Roman ruins.

When designing the Teatro Olimpico, the architect created a unique perspective for the structure. The oval amphitheater (which seated 1,000 spectators) has a gradual slope.
Downstage, there was an arch of triumph decorated with sculptures. The buildings of the imaginary square and streets are visible through three gates.

The construction of the balcony, the loggia and the front stage was carried out based on Palladio's sketches but under Scamozzi's direction. Therefore, he was the one to design the famous stage sets as well. (These are the only Renaissance structures in the world which – despite the turmoil of the centuries – have remained intact to this day.)

The Teatro Olimpico was inaugurated in 1585 with a stylistically appropriate drama: Sophocles’ Oedipus the King. Four-hundred years after the first performance, this magnificent theater was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage cultural sites.

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