Theatre Travels; Lisbon’s beautiful theatres

Portugal’s capital is a warm, welcoming jewel on the country’s coastline, set amongst its famous seven hills, and brimming with culture, food and history.

On a recent trip, I photographed some of Lisbon’s lovely theatres, and now I can share them with you.

Teatro Politeama

Crowding into SEVERA. The plaques either side of the theatre name are MUSICA (left, out of shot) and COMEDIA (right)

Teatro Politeama specialises in popular musical theatre, and seats around 700. When we passed by they were on the incoming for SEVERA, a musical about the life of legendary Fado singer Amália, which was really pulling in the local people, in fact at one point the street was totally blocked with those waiting to get in. The show’s nine-month run seems likely to be extended past August. It helps having a top ticket price of just 35 euros ((£30). Similarly popular, RAPUNZEL, the theatre’s show for younger people, runs during the day, and celebrated its 200th performance on 2nd April 2019 .

Located on Portas de Santo , Teatro Politeama opened in 1913 with the operetta VALSA DE AMOR. It started showing films as part of a mixed offering the following year, and in 1928 became a full-time cinema, later reverting to a mix of cinema and theatre. More recently it has become renowned for its crowd-pleasing musicals, presented under the management and direction of Filipe La Feria since 1991 . Guided tours are offered on Sundays at 11.00am

Politeama interior

Teatro da Trindade

Second Facade at rear of building,
Main Facade Photo By Susanne NilssonPink light, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

Opened in 1867 by writer and playwright Francisco Palha, the theatre was decorated in the Baroque style, in hues of blue and gold, and was further noted for its fine acoustics which made it a very popular venue for both artists and audiences. A fashionable destination, it embraced many technical innovations including a ventilation system and the ability of the stalls floor to be levelled to become a ballroom. It had an extensive renovation in the 1920s, updating itself with an Italian influence. Its “golden age” began then, until the 1940s, when the biggest names in Portuguese theatre performed here. All the biggest stars from Portugal and around the world have played this theatre over the years, including Josephine Baker and Astor Piazzola. It continues to host plays and opera recitals today, and appears to have a crowded performance schedule; it also now has a small studio space for more experimental work. It is a delight to come across, bright pink both by day and night on both facades which allowed maximum visibility on each side of the surrounding blocks.

Teatro da Trindade auditorium. Photo courtesy BFJ arquitectos

Theatro do Gymnasio (an ex-theatre)

Located in the Rua Nova da Trindade, the Theatro do Gymnasio (the spelling is odd, but correct) was built in 1845 and was the home of the highly popular “magazine theatre”, or revue- style productions, where satirical sketches were interspersed with music, dance and comedy. This style of theatre was popular for almost a century, until the 1940s. The theatre itself succumbed to a major fire in 1921 and only the impressively detailed facade survived. Reopened in 1925 as a theatre, it became a cinema in the fifties and was demolished in the eighties. The space is now Espaco Chiado, essentially a shopping mall with a small newly created auditorium on the 2nd floor of the building for a daily (not Sundays) Fado show, called FADO IN CHIADO. If you look at the underside of the canopy you can see several of the decorative plasterwork pieces are damaged , revealing their method of construction. The two large stained glass windows (photographed at night) celebrate Comedia (Comedy) and Farca (Farce).

You can find a superbly detailed history of the Gymnasio here

Under canopy damage
Facade stained glass windows at first floor level – COMEDY
Facade stained glass windows at first floor level – FARCE

FADO IN CHIADO runs daily at 7.00pm , a 50-minute show, at Espacia Chiado.

Teatro Nacional Dona Maria II

Frontage to Rossio Square
Frontage to Rossio station

Facing the vast Rossio Square, and taking four years to construct, the neoclassical inspired theatre opened in 1846. This is the Portuguese National Theatre, presenting annual seasons of prestige work featuring the country’s most pre-eminent artists. In 1964 the building was completely gutted by fire, and the building, although restored faithfully, did not reopen until 1978. The theatre is also home to a restaurant which overlooks Rossio station. They offer guided tours of the building every Monday at 11.00am. Sadly, we didn’t have time!

Auditorium photo Courtesy of theatre website

Teatro Nacional São Carlos


Set in its own delightful square, the Teatro Nacional São Carlos was built in 1793, after an earthquake destroyed the previous opera house. A neoclassical building of Italian inspiration, the exterior was inspired by La Scala in Milan, the Rococo interior by the San Carlo theatre in Naples. It is home to the Portuguese Symphonic Orchestra and the Choir of the Teatro Nacional de São Carlos, the country’s only professional choir. It also hosts ballet in its Main Hall, various concerts in its Noble Hall and more informal events in its Foyer. It also organises the Festival ao Largo, which connects audiences of all ages with music in the open air. It is considered to be the national opera house and presents seasons of classic opera, and was classified as a National Monument in 1996.

Image of TNSC Royal Box (above), courtesy of Bosc d’Anjou at Flickr, link here

Teatro São Luiz

São Luiz exterior
São Luiz main auditorium Photo courtesy EGEAC
The Walk of Stars across from the Teatro São Luiz, (one of Lisbon’s many decorative pavement designs)

The São Luiz was built in 1894 in the Parisian style favoured at the time in the Chiado district of Lisbon which has a concentration of theatres. Like many other theatres, it has had a number of fires through its history. Today it is home to the Companhia Teatral do Chiado and hosts a number of events such as comedy and music shows, and is also much in demand for functions and special events. There are three spaces – the Luís Miguel Cintra Theatre, an 730-seat Italian-style auditorium suitable for large scale productions; the Winter Garden, a versatile and more informal space; and the Mário Viegas Studio, a 100-capacity multi-use venue. The mathematicians amongst you will notice that the São Luiz celebrates its 125th anniversary in 2019, and they have a special programme of events to mark the occasion lasting until December.

Coliseu dos Recreios

Coliseu facade
Some detail still exists in the spacious foyer’s side walls
The Coliseu foyer’s modern ceiling is rather at odds with the other decor
The vast Coliseu auditorium
Photo of Coliseu roof, By Xosema – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Coliseu dos Recreios (also known as the Coliseu de Lisboa) was opened in 1890 as a multi-function hall. Refurbished and remodelled in 1994, the octagonal hall hosts a wide range of events – mostly music concerts and comedy- in a flexible space which can seat up to 2800, or standing for 4,000 . It is located almost opposite the Politeama (above).

Teatro do Bairro (Neighbourhood Theatre)

Opened in 2011, housed in a former print shop, this black box 100-seater studio space specialises in theatre, although they also offer cinema, live music and stand up comedy.

One that got away – Teatro Tivoli BBVA

Teatro Tivoli BBVA Photo By Manuelvbotelho – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

I missed this one. Opened in 1924 as a cinema, at one end of the cosmopolitan Avenida da Liberdade and designed by the architect Raul Lino, the Tivoli was considered to be the largest of its kind in the country at the time of opening . The pretty Tivoli has diversified its offer since closing as a cinema in the 1980s and it now stages music, theatre, opera, ballet and concerts. It was refurbished in 2017.

Teatro Tivoli BBVA auditorium Photo from theatre’s own website

Teatro Tivoli BBVA foyer Photo from theatre’s own website

In my research for this blog item I was fortunate enough to stumble on a huge repository of historic documents and photos in a mega-blog called Restos de Coleccao created by Jose Augusto Leite, a link to the blog is here. Thank you, Jose!

(put the pages into Google translate and it is pretty readable in English(-ish). )

All Images copyright Unrestricted Theatre unless otherwise credited. Thanks to other photographers for use of their work via creative commons licenses.

2 Replies to “Theatre Travels; Lisbon’s beautiful theatres”

  1. Great piece and photos. I’ve always enjoyed old, refurbished theatres like these. Nice, too, that they maintain their original names. Too many here in New York have been bought by corporations. Doesn’t the American Airlines Theater just scream of culture?

    1. Thanks for your views, Kevin. Watch for a piece very soon about London Theatre name changes – inspired by your comment!

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