The Teatro Olimpico is one of the oldest and most beautiful theaters in Europe.
Located in Vicenza, northern Italy, it is one of the artistic wonders of the city. The theater was constructed in the 16th century from 1580 to 1586, and it was designed by the prominent Italian architect, Andrea Palladio. This theater is one of the only three Renaissance theaters which remained until today. The onstage scenery (Trompe-l”oil) was designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi, and it was installed in 1585 for the first performance. Today, this amazing scenery which gives the appearance of long paths receding to a distant horizon is the oldest surviving stage set in history.
The Teatro Olimpico is Palladio’s’ last work and one of his grandest masterworks. He made a detailed study of all the aspects of the Roman architecture and acquired an extensive knowledge of the architecture of the classical theater. The theater was built over an old fortress which was used as a prison and a powder magazine.
When Palladio was asked to make a design, he used the space of the older building and recreated an academic reconstruction of the Roman theaters. He flattened the semicircular seating area into an ellipse to fit a stage and seating area. Palladio died during the construction in 1580, and his son Silla took charge of the project. Later, the famous architect from Vincenza, Vincenzo Scamozzi completed the theater.
Before he had started to work on the theater, Scamozzi already worked on some unfinished works of Palladio. He added the Odeo and Antiodeo rooms inside and made the entrance archway which leads directly to the street through a medieval wall. The first performance in the theater was a production of Oedipus Rex by Sophocles. Unfortunately, the theater was abandoned after only a few productions.
The scenery which was created for the Sophocle’s play has never been removed, and, today, they are well preserved. Scamozzi designed a lighting system of glass oil lamps which were used only a few times because of possible risks of fire. This lighting system was used once more in 1997 when Oedipus Rex was played again.
Today, the theater is used for plays, and there are two theater seasons which are the festival Il Siono dell’Olimpico and the classic plays. Also, it was used every June for the graduation ceremony of the students from the high school in Vicenza, the American Department of Defense.
It served as a filming location for the movies Don Giovanni from 1979 and Casanova from 2005. The first theater which was inspired by Teatro Olimpico is the Teatro all’antica in Sabbioneta which was also designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi.