Palermo's must-see theatres: Teatro Massimo and Teatro Politeama

Palermo is a city of culture, with an abundance of theatres offering shows of all kinds: opera, cabaret, film-theatre... there's something for everyone! For theatre lovers, attending a classical opera in Italy's largest opera house, the Teatro Massimo, is an activity not to be missed. On the other hand, those who are less keen can simply admire the architectural beauty of Palermo's theatres, which are famous throughout Europe.

Maximus Theater

- © elxeneize / Shutterstock

The Massimo Theatre

Palermo has a number of theatres. The most important are the Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele, better known as the Teatro Massimo, and the Teatro Politeama Garibaldi.

Today, the Teatro Massimo is the largest opera house in Italy and the third largest in Europe after the Opéra National de Paris and the Vienna Staatsoper. It was built in response to the need for a new theatre. A competition was therefore launched by the mayor in 1864 to find an architect, not necessarily Italian, to build the theatre, although the need had existed for years.

Maximus Theater

- © Marzolino / Shutterstock

The competition was won by the Palermitan architect Giovan Battista Filippo Basile and construction of the theatre began in 1875. After three years, work was suspended until 1890, and when it resumed, the architect in charge died. It fell to his son Ernesto Basile to continue the project.

The theatre opened with Giuseppe Verdi's opera Falstaff in 1897, but in 1974 it was closed for renovation until 1997. It was also used as a film location for some scenes in Francis Coppola's 1990 film The Godfather.

Façade of the Massimo Theater

- © lapas77 / Shutterstock

💡 Good to know

The two bronze lions, located next to the staircase, adorn the façade of the theatre and represent Tragedy and Opera. Six Corinthian columns support the frieze with the inscription: "Art renews people and reveals their life. Vain are the scenes of delight where it does not aim to prepare the future".

Behind this imposing architectural complex lies the legend of the ghost of the "monachella". The story goes that the church and monastery of the Stigmata, San Giuliano and Sant'Agata were demolished to build the theatre.

According to this legend, it seems that the tomb of a nun was desecrated during the construction work and that, as a result, the ghost of this nun has been wandering around the theatre ever since. It is even said that construction was delayed and suspended precisely because of her curses.

© Turismo Sicilia @sicilyincolor
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Practical info :

Construction of the Teatro Politeama began in 1867. Originally conceived as an open-air amphitheatre, it was transformed into a theatre the following year. It was inaugurated in 1874, albeit still incomplete and roofless, with Vincenzo Bellini's opera I Capuleti e i Montecchi.

Until 1882, the theatre was known as Teatro Municipale Politeama, before taking on the name Politeama Garibaldi following Garibaldi's death: a statue in his honour stands inside.

Construction of the theatre was completed in 1891 during the Universal Exhibition held that year in Palermo. The official inauguration took place at the same time, with a performance of Giuseppe Verdi's Otello in the presence of King Umberto and Queen Margherita.

The Politeama Garibaldi Theatre

Construction of the Teatro Politeama began in 1867. Originally conceived as an open-air amphitheatre, it was transformed into a theatre the following year. It was inaugurated in 1874, albeit still incomplete and roofless, with Vincenzo Bellini's opera I Capuleti e i Montecchi.

Until 1882, the theatre was known as Teatro Municipale Politeama, before taking on the name Politeama Garibaldi following Garibaldi's death: a statue in his honour stands inside.

Construction of the theatre was completed in 1891 during theUniversal Exhibition held that year in Palermo. The official inauguration took place at the same time, with a performance of Giuseppe Verdi'sOtello in the presence of King Umberto and Queen Margherita.

Politeama Theatre

- © Gandolfo Cannatella / Shutterstock

Originally conceived as the "people's theatre" to reinforce its social function, the term "Politeama" was later used to designate a theatre in which different types of shows were staged.

Politeama Theater seen from above

- © VILTVART / Shutterstock

📍 Location: here

Opening times: The theatre is open from Tuesday to Sunday. Times change depending on the day.

👛 Price: 5 euros per person

👉 The visit also includes entry to the Foyer, the Sala Grande, the Sala Rossa, the Sala Gialla, the colonnades of the two orders, the Palco Centrale and the terrace overlooking Via Turati.

Practical info :

📍 Location: here

⏰ O pening times : The theatre is open from Tuesday to Sunday. Times change depending on the day.

👛 Price: 5 euros per person

👉 The visit also includes entry to the Foyer, the Sala Grande, the Sala Rossa, the Sala Gialla, the colonnades of the two orders, the Palco Centrale and the terrace overlooking Via Turati.

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