The Marseille Municipal Opera House

The Grand Théâtre de Marseille

Marseille is the biggest city in France after Paris. The Opera House gave its name to this lively district of the Old Port. Built in the 1st arrondissement, between 1786 and 1787, this Marseille monument, in classical style, was built according to the plans of the architect Joachim Bénard. The first stone was set on July 14, 1786 by Monsieur de La Tour, then Intendant of Provence. But Bénard was not alone in working on this huge project. He surrounded himself with a quality team to help him in the construction of the building. Thus, the architect Henri Ebrard, the sculptors Bourdelle, Sartorio and Etchaker, and many painters contributed to this new building.


At the inauguration on 31 October 1787, the personal troupe of the Intendant of Provence organized the show. The whole district lived to the rhythm of this new attraction (Marseille was then the second city in France to have its own theatre), the streets were dedicated to theater and music. Moreover, opera was an important element of the popular culture of the Phocaean city and was accessible to all.

On November 13, 1919, the building was largely destroyed during a fire that broke out during a rehearsal. From the original building, only the peristyle, the colonnade and a large frieze by Antoine Bourdel remained, which framed the stage. On the pediment, four allegorical reliefs are in harmony with the Ionic columns. On the cornice a sentence is written: "Art receives the Beauty of Aphrodite, the rhythm of Apollo, the Balance of Palas and owes to Dionysus the Movement and Life".

In 1920, the City of Marseille decided to restore it to its former glory. Thus, Gaston Castel took over the direction of the works, which were completed three years later with the inauguration of the new Opera House on December 3, 1924. To restore the Opera's reputation, Castel has teamed up with a group of renowned architects and artists. Together, they created the largest "art-deco" architecture room in France.

However, it was only in 1945 that the Marseille Opera House was managed by the city in partnership with the Théâtre de l'Odéon.

Since 1997, the Opéra de Marseille has been registered as a historical monument. True architectural jewel, it represents the successful combination of the 18th century style and the art deco style of the 1920s. With nearly 2000 seats, it is one of the largest theaters in the French province, just behind the Bordeaux theater. Among other things, it has 88 musicians, 36 choral artists and workshops necessary for the shows it hosts.

Today managed by the municipality, the theater is a traditional opera house that hosts prestigious artists and shows, operas and ballets and has now an international reputation. It is also a building steeped in history that you should see, if you are planning to visit Marseille.

Itineraries around location