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Besides being a Grade 1 listed building, one of the finest examples of baroque architecture and one of the oldest working theatres in the world, the Manoel, as it is affectionately referred to by locals, is also Malta’s national theatre. It is a major contributor to the development of the local cultural scene
Following centuries of unrest and a myriad of conquerors, the Military of the Order of St John brought about a period of stability and development to the Maltese Islands.
The newly fortified city of Valletta, administrative centre and home to many forming the Order, witnessed another development as Malta’s cultural and entertainment hub.
Throughout the 17th and early 18th centuries, the demand for theatrical and dramatic productions rose, as the Maltese embraced entertainment, which was originally reserved only for nobility. Back then, shows were put on by amateurs and theatre professionals were then housed at the Knight’s Auberges around the city, or in the open.
In 1731, Fra António Manoel de Vilhena, Grand Master of the Knights of Malta commissioned and personally funded the construction of the central building to keep the young knights of the Order of St. John out of mischief but also to provide the general public with “honest entertainment”. The motto, “ad honestam populi oblectationem” is inscribed above the main entrance to the Theatre. The first ever performance, on the 19th January 1732, was a classic Italian tragedy, Scipione Maffei’s La Merope. The players in the production were the Knights themselves and the set designed by the Knights’ chief architect.
Originally known as Teatro Pubblico, it became known as the Theatre Royal under Brisith rule, a title it lost in 1866 to its new rival: the much larger Royal Opera House, which was heavily damaged in World War II. It was then named Teatru Manoel.
Besides being a Grade 1 listed building, one of the finest examples of baroque architecture and one of the oldest working theatres in the world, the Manoel, as it is affectionately referred to by locals, is also Malta’s national theatre. It is a major contributor to the development of the local cultural scene.
Grandmaster António Manoel de Vilhena’s original objective for the Theatre has transformed and developed significantly over the years. From just providing honest entertainment to the public, today, the Manoel’s mission is to entertain, inform and educate and is committed to the presentation of quality artistic productions, to the creation of new audiences and to provide a principal performing platform for local as well as international artists.
Triq it-Teatru Antik, Valletta
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