The Historic Theatre of Hvar
The Theatre of Hvar, located in the Arsenal building, is a monument of the highest category and of the greatest national importance for the Republic of Croatia.
The theatre was built in 1612, during the reign of the enterprising prince Pietro Semitecolo, on the first floor of the Arsenal building. The monumental Arsenal building in the very heart of the historical centre of the town of Hvar is one of the most important naval buildings in the Mediterranean. The moulding of the entrance to the theatre from a belvedere – the Fontika terrace by the northern façade of the Arsenal - bears the inscription: ANNO SECVNDO PACIS MDCLXII. As the inscription informs us, the year 1612 was the second year of the social peace between the disputing estates of the commune of Hvar.
By building the Theatre, Semitecolo provided all the estates with a space for cultural and social happenings, thus establishing the first public theatre in Europe, an almost unfathomable proof of democracy at the time.
The Theatre of Hvar, established in 1612, is the third oldest theatre in Europe, right after the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza from 1585 and the Teatro all'antica in Sabbioneta from 1588, which means that it definitely occupies an important place in the general theatre history.
Since we lack material evidence and archive entries from the early 17th century, we can only assume that the Theatre was originally built in the Renaissance style. The preserved interior – the stage and the auditorium with boxes - dates from 1803, when the Theatre Association was founded. The Association, a group of citizens with modern views, renovated the space devastated by the army from scratch. The Theatre was renovated and revamped several times and it took on its current neo-Baroque appearance in the mid-19th century, thus becoming one of the ten oldest Baroque theatres in Europe. A small stage and narrow boxes, as well as the proximity of the auditorium, create a very familiar atmosphere and add a certain humane dimension to the theatre, so many actors loved appearing there. Two preserved set designs on the back wall of the stage are a rarity in Europe. The older mural, which can still be seen on the stage, dates from 1819 and the other one, dating from around 1900 and depicting the prince’s palace, has been restored and placed on large mobile boards.
Since its very beginnings, for almost 400 years now, the Theatre has been the centre of the social and cultural life of the town and the commune. The theatrical life was at its peak in the 19th century, especially at carnival time, when musical and theatrical performances were put on and masquerades (or cavalchins) organized. Many Croatian dilettante and musical groups, foreign actors and musicians, orchestras and operas preformed in the Theatre. There used to be more than 30 performances in a single season. In 1921, when the Theatre Association ceased to exist, the Theatre came under the jurisdiction of the Municipality of Hvar. Even though maintained only when absolutely necessary, the Theatre remained the centre of activity for many home and foreign amateur and professional groups in the 20th century.
During the last twenty years the Theatre and the Arsenal building where it is located were rather dilapidated and statically insecure and could only house smaller, chamber performances. Experts, tourists, students and pupils used to frequent the Theatre from time to time, since it was a rare type of museum space.
The Arsenal building is currently being reorganised constructionally and statically, which is necessary for the renovation of the Theatre and cultural and theatrical revitalisation of that old and historically important institution. The long-awaited renovation process will revive that extraordinary monument complex and reanimate the stage which marked the cultural history of Hvar and Croatia.
The Historic Theatre of Hvar is a member of the Perspectiv association.
The Historic Theatre of Hvar is an important monument which has been functioning as a museum for the last twenty years.
The Arsenal building, which houses the Theatre, is located in the very centre of a large square within the historical part of the town of Hvar. It can be accessed via a narrow stone staircase from a belvedere – a terrace overlooking Groda (a medieval town surrounded by the walls and situated at the bottom of the town fortress Fortica) and the square (Pjaca) with the cathedral, the town hall, the loggia, and many Gothic-Renaissance buildings.
Manager: Mirjana Kolumbić, senior curator