Two theatres on Boulevard Saint Martin, lavishly decorated in contrasting styles.  Both buildings have giant stone figures supporting a pediment over the main doorway but the atlas figures of the Theatre de la Porte Saint Martin seem to be taking their job more seriously than the frivolous caryatids of the Theatre de la Renaissance.

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The history of Theatre de la Porte Saint Martin starts in 1781 with a command from queen Marie Antoinette and a building programme involving hundreds of craftsmen and labourers. The theatre (originally an opera house) was completed in two months. Its fortunes rose and fell with revolution, empire, reform and restoration, alongside the vagaries of public taste and noble patronage.

Closed at the Revolution, the building was used for political meetings for five years until it was sold to benefit the exchequer of the new Republic.  Reopened in 1802 with a programme of ballets and comedies, the theatre was closed again five years later under an imperial decree restricting the number of theatres and the content of their shows.  In 1810 the theatre was allowed to reopen as a hall for gymnastic games, with drama permitted providing that no more than two characters had speaking parts.  From 1814 the rules were relaxed to allow melodramas, pantomimes and musical comedies and Theatre de la Porte Saint Martin played its part in the flowering of new Parisian theatre, producing plays by Alexander Dumas, Victor Hugo, Honoré de Balzac and George Sand among others.

Burnt down during the chaotic days of the Paris Commune, Theatre de la Porte Saint Martin was rebuilt and reopened in 1873, soon after the new Theatre de la Renaissance next door. Given the building’s turbulent history, perhaps it is fitting that the sculpted figures on Theatre de la Porte Saint Martin seem to have a more serious attitude than their light-hearted neighbours on the theatre next door.


This post is linked to Thursday Doors.  Follow the links to discover more ordinary and extraordinary doorways around the world.