Municipal Theatre of Piraeus – A 130 year old story
The Municipal Theatre of Piraeus was established on June 24th of 1884. Twelve years later, the city center was characterized by the monumental building, which was described as the best surviving Greek theater building of the 19th century.
The Municipal Theatre of Piraeus, on April 9th 1895 opened its doors to the public and a month later welcomed Dimitrios Vernadakis’s play “Maria Doxapatri”.
The decision for the building code of the MTP was made by the mayor Trifonas Moutzopoulos, who in 1882 writes a fairly important economic fund of 200 thousand drachmas for the building code, which the whole funding for municipal infrastructure was 315 thousand drachmas.
On October 23rd of 1883, the Athenian newspapers republish a comment of the Piraeus based newspaper “Sfera”, which was the first to publish a detailed plan of the building code for the theatre in Piraeus.
According to the newspaper “the length will be 45 meters, the width 34 and the height 30 meters, divided every 10 meters to the stage, its space and the space above it. It will consist of three box alignments in amphitheatrical style. This way it will be able to hold comfortably 1154 people and in extreme cases 1400 people. It will have in total seven exits, two for the stage and five for the audience in the parquet and in the box alignment. The main entrance is broad and monumental. The heating will be based on the system used in the Vienna theatre. In the same level as the parquet there will be two large sized coffee shops for the audience and on the top floors, for the people in the box alignments two similar like spaces. Outside, next to the sides of the theatre there will be constructed eight storage spaces provided for rental by the Municipality. There is estimation that the yearly income will be approximately 42.000 drachmas, which budget in a 7% comes to 600.000 drachmas”.
And so the construction of the theatre began, in Korai Square opposite the “Municipal Orphanage”, following the plans of the Piraeus architect I. Lazarimos, a Polytechnic University professor. The first excavations, during April 1884, bring to light important archeological findings, which were controversial for the scientific community. According to Iakovos Dragatsis, Secretary and Consultant of the Archeological Company and Curator of archeology in Piraeus, the findings were parts from an ancient temple of Dionysos, while the writer Georgios Zannetos was a supporter of the findings being part of the five arcades existing in ancient time in Piraeus. The complete infrastructure though was not completed on the same Mayor’s time, but instead after twelve years, while the Mayor was Theodoros Retsinas, in 1895.
The first estimation of the budget was up to 450 thousand drachmas, when the municipal tax payments in 1884, were up to 365 thousand drachmas. However, the whole planning of the project was far from reality. In order for the construction to continue, the Municipality was forced to get a loan from the National Bank – of 250 thousand drachmas – while the complete budget for the completion of the theatre would be 900 thousand drachmas.
Finally, the Municipal Theatre of Piraeus performed its grand opening on Sunday, April 9th 1895, 10.30 in the morning, in a very glorious opening. After the opening and until the afternoon, the Philharmonic Orchestra of Piraeus kept playing some of the most well known classical songs in front of the theatre, which was designed in a way so that “Victorian carriages” and the “Vis-à-vis”, the buses of that period, would be able to park easily. The white building with the temple-like front and the four slim – without ribs – Corinthian type pillars set in the front, becomes a cultural landmark of the city in the 19th and 20th century.
Regarding the morphology of the building, there are references in classical customs and is influenced by the German wave, represented by Ernest Chiller. Ioannis Lazarimos estimated its length reaching 45 meters and its width 34, without the marble monumental gateway and the exterior staircase. “For the interior arrangement, it will be based on the Theatre Conservatory of Paris [Theatre d’ Odeon], which is acknowledged by all architects for its good interior arrangement”.
The theatre stage is considered one of the last surviving monuments to the baroque era in Europe. It consists of a forefront and a space for the orchestra, while the parquet, the box alignments and the balconies are arranged in four levels.The main room was lit by an enormous chandelier, which survives to this day, and was operating on gas. For the actors, there were designed spacious dressing rooms and a luxurious sitting lounge. Around the side of the central space there is a two floor foyer, in which charity balls and exhibitions from important artist took place.
For the best operation of the theatre, on October 21st 1898, the Municipal Committee decides to get clothes and costumes from a shop in Trieste for the plays, as wells as create 400 pulleys for the settings of the Theatre.
The Municipal Theatre of Piraeus became a cultural landmark in Piraeus and in the following years was coincided with the history of the city and of Greece in general.
During WWI and especially during the embargo of Piraeus from the Entente Cordiale [1916 - - 1917], the Theater as well as the space around it were taken over by the French soldiers that were taking part on the embargo of the city. For two years it accommodated refugees from Asia Minor since the city did not have any other infrastructure to host them. The bombing in Piraeus from the allies on January 11th 1944 destroyed a big part of the building.
Municipal Theater of Piraeus, protected monument from 1980
The frequent and different uses of the Theatre damaged it on an important level. The damages grew bigger from the earthquakes o 1981 and 1999. During the years the Theater has operated there have been many attempts to restore the building from the Municipal Committees, sometimes succeeding while respecting the monument and sometimes not.
The Piraeus Municipal Theatre accommodated for a while the Historic Archive of Piraeus, the Municipal Art Gallery, as well as city unions and societies. On 1999 it started hosting civil ceremonies and school festivities.
Municipal Theater of Piraeus, space for creation.
The Greek theater and music scene made the Municipal Theatre of Piraeus a space of inspiration and creation. Important directors, such as Dimitris Rontiris, Gkikas Mpiniaris, Stefanos Nikolaidis, Michalis Kounelakis, as well as great actors such as Emilios Veakis, Giannis Prineas, Zahos Thanos, Adamantions Lemos, Apostolos Avdis, Dimitris Horn, Mimis Fotopoulos, Vassilis Diamantopoulos, Manos Katrakis, Kiveli, Aspasia Papathanasiou and many more shared landmark moments of their careers with the Municipal Theatre of Piraeus. In the theatre foyer – this amazing space – the audience enjoyed music from great composers, such as Menelaos Pallantions, Manos Hatzidakis, Mikis Theodorakis and Dionysis Savvopoulos.
Municipal Theater of Piraeus, the restoration.
The restoration of the Municipal Theatre of Piraeus promoted a great neoclassical monument. The project of the restoration begun on May 2008 and was under the management of the Directorate of Protection and Restoration of Modern and Contemporary Monuments of the Ministry of Culture and was sponsored from the 3RD Community Structural Fund and the NSRF [2007 – 2013]. The preparatory study predicted full fixing, boosting and restoring of the whole structure [exterior – roof] as well as the interior spaces [parquet, box alignments, additional spaces]. The restoration of the building was completed with static interference for the improvement of the organization, the promotion, the restoration and maintenance of the interior adornment, the modernization and equipment of the new stage, the redesigning of the foyer and the cafeterias and also the airconditioning of all spaces.
Today, the Municipal Theatre of Piraeus has an exceptional stage, fully operational, with a unique style. Some would say that it is the only one in Greece and one of the few in Europe that the mechanism of the baroque theatre have survived – on considerable scale. The luxurious adornment has become more visible and some extraordinary plans of Ioannis Lazarimos have been showcased. The twenty three box alignments are astonishing, as well as the space above the dome of the central area.
After all, it is a modern theatre, able to host theatrical and musical performances of high standards, as well as other proceedings, thus having a huge part in the city culture, connecting Athens with the first port of the country, as well as connecting Piraeus with the rest of the Mediterranean ports.
Eleni Antonopoulou – Evaggelia Mpafouni
Department of Culture, Municipality of Piraeus