When it was built in 1947, the Gran Teatre del Liceu was the largest in Europe. For its structure, the architect Miquel Garriga I Roca was explicitly inspired by the well-known Italian theatres such as La Scala in Milan. In contrast to many other European cities, where the Monarchy took over responsibility for building and maintaining opera houses, the Liceu was financed by private shareholders in what would become the Gran Teatre del Liceu Society. Unfortunately, over the years, the theatre has suffered a lot of damage and has undergone several catastrophic disasters. On April 9, 1861, the flames burned down the theatre for the first time. The fire was so devastating, given the wooden structure of the theatre, all that remained of it was the stone structure, the foyer, the entrance stairs, and part of the hallways. However, the renovation was relatively short, and the theatre was rebuilt following the original structure but with much richer decorations. Unfortunately, the difficulties faced by this known and important cultural centre were only just beginning.

Timeline of Restoration: Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona - Sheet1
175 Years of the Gran Teatre de Liceu_[Photograph]_(Barcelona:Spain)_© Amate, P. (2022)

The first reconstruction of the Theater | Gran Teatre del Liceu

As work on the theatre’s reconstruction began following the fire, owners and local authorities cooperated without hesitation in financing the reconstruction work. Only Queen Isabella II once again refused to lend the financial aid that was requested of her. On April 20, 1862, however, after only one year, the theatre reopened with a perf“I Puritani” performance. The reconstruction was by architect Josep Oriol Mestres. The opening of the 1868 season coincided with a period of political turbulence. While October 10, the tenth anniversary of Isabella II’s reign, had been planned as the opening date for the Liceu, following the Revolution, the queen was deposed at that time. Rossini’s William Tell, as an apologia for freedom, was performed as the inaugural opera. The dismissal of the queen, combined with the lack of support for both the construction and reconstruction of the theatre, resulted in the definitive cancellation of the queen’s name and image from the theatre; her bust, displayed at the top of the main stairway, was removed and thrown into the sea.

Timeline of Restoration: Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona - Sheet2
175 Years of the Gran Teatre de Liceu_[Photograph]_(Barcelona:Spain)_© Amate, P. (2022)

The 1893 inauguration and the social unrest

It was November 7, 1893, when, because of the social tensions and ongoing labour agitation, during the second act of Rossini’s opera William Tell, an Anarchist threw two bombs into the public, causing 20 deaths and several injuries. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Liceu had become the self-governing territory of a bourgeoisie that perceived the theatre as a refined and prestigious space. On the other hand, anarchism, which had been at the centre of the social revolt movements of the time, saw the Liceu as one of the symbols of the ruling oligarchy. The attack shocked Barcelona so much that, for several years, the seats of those killed by the bombs were not occupied. The attack, which anarchist Santiago Salvador Franch committed, also became a symbol of the tumultuous social unrest of the time. The Liceu did not reopen until January 18, 1894, with concerts conducted by Antoni Nicolau.

Timeline of Restoration: Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona - Sheet3
175 Years of the Gran Teatre de Liceu_[Photograph]_(Barcelona:Spain)_© Amate, P. (2022)

The 1994’s fire

In 1981, the Generalitat de Catalunya, the Ajuntament of Barcelona, and the Society of the Gran Teatre del Liceu formed the “Consortium of the Gran Teatre del Liceu” to be responsible for the management of the theatre. Within a short time, the Consortium improved the artistic level significantly, and the public returned to the theatre’s performances. The orchestra was revamped, and special care was taken in selecting outstanding singers and improving the sets. The theatre finally stopped being a social showcase and became a cultural venue only focused on artistic quality. However, this process was suddenly interrupted on the morning of January 31, 1994, when a large fire destroyed almost the entire theatre. Only the central part of the facade on La Rambla, the main hall with its staircase and the Hall of Mirrors, was saved. The reconstruction was carried out according to the original plans: the hall, explicitly inspired by the Teatro Alla Scala in Milan, is horseshoe-shaped, with stalls and five floors. Its capacity of 2292 spectators makes the theatre one of the most important opera houses in Europe. 

Timeline of Restoration: Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona - Sheet4
175 Years of the Gran Teatre de Liceu_[Photograph]_(Barcelona:Spain)_© Amate, P. (2022)

The architecture of the Theatre | Gran Teatre del Liceu

The newly reconstructed Liceu was reopened to the public on October 7, 1999, with Puccini’s Turandot, the show staged at the time of the fire. The new building retains parts of the original 1847 building (the facades, the Hall of Mirrors, the Liceu Circle, and the Conservatories), while the main hall has been reconstructed in its original appearance. The present proscenium is a reproduction of the former one that was redecorated in 1909. The decoration of the hall also accurately reproduces the 1909’s one. The 1999 reconstruction introduced some important innovations: the nine circular paintings on the ceiling and the three on the proscenium that had been lost in the fire were replaced by nine large photographic montages. The curtain, however, is the work of the tailor Antoni Miró. Nowadays, the Teatre de Liceu is the oldest active theatre in Barcelona, with a long and troubled history behind it.

Timeline of Restoration: Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona - Sheet5
175 Years of the Gran Teatre de Liceu_[Photograph]_(Barcelona:Spain)_© Amate, P. (2022)

Barcelona Siempre (2022) Gran Teatre del Liceu [Online] Available at: https://www.barcelonasiempre.com/it/gran-teatre-del-liceu [Accessed date: 2022/12/30]

Perzan, Laura (2016) Barcelona Opera Theatre [Online] Available at: https://www.shbarcelona.it/blog/it/il-teatro-dellopera-di-barcellona/ [Accessed date: 2022/12/30]

Gran Teatre del Liceu, in Wikipedia.  [Online] Available at: https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gran_Teatre_del_Liceu#Storia [Accessed date: 2022/12/30]


Laura Salurso is an architecture and design graduate with a strong passion for traveling, writing and photography. She has always looked at things around her from an architectural point of view, observing and studying the strong and archetypical connection between architecture and people.