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Our Heritage | D.Maria II the Theatre

As we saw earlier in the article on Avenida da Liberdade, the 19th century marked the consolidation of the axis that connects the main square of the city, Marquês de Pombal and downtown Pombal.

The evolution of this axis inspired in the great European avenues brought an innovation at the level of commerce, services and housing, but also at the level of equipments we find important marks.

Whoever descends the avenue finds several theatres, with great emphasis on the Tivoli and the Mayer park and who dares to pass from Restauradores to Rossio, or D. Pedro IV square is faced with one of the most monumental buildings of the city of Lisbon, the D. Maria II theatre.

As a brief historical note it is important to mention that the idea of building a great theatre to receive the most important plays, similar to what was already happening with São Carlos for Operas, was the engine that started the important project of creating this important architectural landmark.

It was in the middle of the 19th century, more precisely in 1842. Passos Manuel was at the head of the government. The head of the government decided to entrust Almeida Garret, appointed Inspector General of theatres, with the coordination of a commission to build the country's most important theatre.

This commission gives the Italian architect Fortunato Lodi the mission to develop the theatre project. Fortunato Lodi receives the D. Maria II Theatre project because he has made a name for himself all over Italy and has moved to Portugal with his uncle, the impresario and set designer of the S. Carlos Theatre, Francisco António Lodi.

Fortunato Lodi was part of the architects commission chosen to carry out this task. Several projects were presented for this purpose without effect. Portuguese architects were still stuck in the Pombaline style and the designs did not present the result that was expected, until Lodi drew a proposal with a Neoclassical style, modern at the time, which was finally approved.

The building was constructed and inaugurated in 1946, on the day of Queen D. Maria II's 27th birthday, and therefore bears the monarch's name.

Thus was born the building that marks the city of Lisbon and unconditionally punctuates the second most important square in the city.

The D. Maria II Theatre is one of the most remarkable examples of Neoclassical architecture in Portugal.

What defines the Neoclassical style?

The Neoclassical style emerged in Europe as a reaction to the more ornate styles, such as the Baroque. It involves a return to the past as its name indicates, Neo Classical, the new classic and aims to recover elements from the Greco Roman and Palladian styles.

The Neoclassical appeared in Europe in the mid-18th century, however the entry in Portugal is defined as late, because the capital had to react to the earthquake of 1755.

If we look at the façade of the Teatro Nacional D. Maria II, we find the most remarkable elements of this type of architecture.

It has a recognisably imposing, almost parallelepiped volumetry, rectangular, orthogonal and regular in plan, with a roof of 4 symmetrical waters in pairs.

The main elevation is marked by the advanced volume where the staircase receives a colonnade of Ionic style trying to contrast the horizontality of the building, emphasized by the cymatium on the second floor, with the verticality of this element of entrance. This colonnade is topped by a triangular pediment which reinforces the play of forces between the vertical and the horizontal.

Symmetry is another hallmark of this architectural style. The advanced central volume is flanked by two equal bodies in mirror whose tops are marked by 4 Ionic columns attached to the facades and dividing the last 3 spans.

The building is divided in three floors marked by the constant rhythm of the opening of its spans of equivalent size, with an upper arch. On the last floor only the top of the arches appear but in a perfect alignment with the two lower floors.

The floors are hierarchized by the stereotomy of the external cladding. In stone, in the natural colour we find different forms of application. On the lower floor, the building is marked by the strength of the lines of the wide stone joints that reinforce the design of its architecture, marking the areas of columns and differentiating them from the cladding areas. On the upper floors the joint is not so strong.

The windows line up vertically on all floors, but between floors there are differences between the various windows. On the ground floor we have sill windows, on the first floor we can see balcony windows with a balcony railing. And on the top floor, as if only the curved part of the windows were a finishing touch, as if hierarchizing the various floors, where Floor 0 marks the moment of the reception, Floor 1 is more noble and the top floor is the floor of less importance.

The Neoclassical style has other great examples in Portugal, such as O Hospital de Santo António in Oporto, Palácio da Bolsa in Oporto, Palácio da Ajuda in Lisbon, Paços do Concelho in Lisbon, Palácio de São Bento, Picadeiro Real (former Museu dos Coches), among other unnamed examples.

It is curious because if we look at the Neoclassical architecture in the North and South of the country we recognise two distinct references. The northern Neoclassical line is more influenced by the English, the buildings are darker and less ornate, in the south we find Italian influences and in this field the Teatro Nacional D. Maria II is a great example.

We can say that Portugal developed its own style, which takes all its fundamental elements but simplifies them, making them more functional and less ornate, as it had just recovered from the effects of the 1755 earthquake.


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