Manoel theatre is one of the oldest working theatres in Europe. Built in 18th century, on costs of Great Master of Saint John`s order Manoel de Vilhena, the theatre was designed for the noble entertainments of the Maltese knights. It got the motto «Ad honesta populi oblectaconem» («for the honest recreation of the people») and this Latin inscription still can be seen at the entrance to the theatre.
The building of the theatre started in 1731 and was completed in record terms – on the 9th of January 1732 the first play (classic tragedy «Merope» by Scipione Maffei) was dramatized on its stage. The original name of the theatre was «Teatro publico», later it was changed to «Teatro reale» and in 1873 the theatre got its actual name in honor of its founder Manoel de Vilhena.
The theatre was designed by Romano Carrapeccia and built by Francesco Zerafa and Antonio Azzopardi. The exterior looks quite strict and formal; the oval spectator hall is designed in Baroque style and is decorated with marvelous carving. The peculiar feature of the theatre is his corridors that are very narrow – their wideness hardly reaches 1 m. The acoustics in the hall is really great – every spectator in the hall even can hear the conductor turn over the page! By the way, the hall is not very big either and holds 600 spectator places.
During the period of British colonization the Opera house was built and the Manoel theatre was not very popular – it even was sold and the refuge for the homeless was established here. But during the World War II the building of the Opera House was destroyed and the Manoel theatre was bought back by the Government. It was restored and the status of the National theatre of Malta was returned to it.
Nowadays the Manoel theatre is the center of Maltese cultural life. Numerous performances are being held here: operas, operettas, dramatic performances, musical concerts and festivals, literary and poetical evenings, programs for children. Every year the Christmas pantomime is organized.
Besides, there is a museum devoted to the history of theatrical life in Malta. Every day the excursions are being held: there the visitors can get acquainted with theatrical costumes of different periods and to see the wheel that lifts the curtain.