If you visit Parma, you can’t miss one its main attractions: the stunning Teatro Farnese inside the imposing Pilotta Palace.
It was a court theatre and when the Duke of Parma Ranuccio I Farnese had it built in 1618 (only two years after Shakespeare’s death). He was ambitious and determined to dazzle his guests. I do not think he was counting on his theatre to survive centuries and impress people 400 years later, but I am sure he would have revelled in the idea!
In fact the theatre itself was built in a very short time and though it was made of wood and stucco, it was lavishly decorated with statues, frescoes on the walls, gilded medallions and classical capitals.
The first show was staged here in 1628 to celebrate a ducal wedding and it included a tournament with real horses and even a naval battle!
Through the centuries it was rarely used and then only on very special occasions. Time took its toll and when Charles Dickens visited Parma in 1844 he described the theatre like this: “a grand, old, gloomy theatre, mouldering away…. If ever Ghosts act plays, they act them on this ghostly stage”.
An air raid during World War II played havoc with it: in May 1944 a bomb caused it to collapse almost entirely, so that it had to be heavily restored in the post-war years.
What we see now is a plainer version of the magnificent original theatre which has lost most of its decorations, gildings and statues. Only some statues have survived: two statues of former dukes on horseback still guard the stage and in the rooms of the Galleria Nazionale we can glimpse the stucco statues of the gods which once crowned the gallery of the theatre.
If you want to discover more about the Teatro Farnese in Parma and learn about the ambitious and ruthless Duke Ranuccio I, you can choose one of the tours in the section Parma, a little capital.
The theatre is part of the Pilotta Museum Complex which is also home to the National Gallery of Parma, Biblioteca Palatina (a historical library) and the Archeological Museum. Lots of treasures to discover in one building!l