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Miejski Theatre [the Municipal Theatre], 1801 – 1935

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Important events

(detail)1798 | announcement to build the theater
The winner was Carl Samuel Held.
(detail)1801 | official opening

(detail)1886 | colonnade building in the front of main entrance

(detail)1904 | Extension of the foyer to the VIP

(detail)1934 | thorough reconstruction and modernization of the building


(detail)Ernst Schade |architect

Architect of the first building - "sporthalle" (The Baltic Opera). He presented a complicated remodeling project of the theater in Gdańsk in 1899.

More theatres

(detail)? Licht |architect

In 1872 he presented a project for modernization and reconstruction of the facade. The project was not implemented due to lack of finances and determination of the theater managers.

(detail)Carl Samuel Held |architect

Held was a pupil of Langhans the Elder and had collaborated with him in Berlin since 1787. In 1794 he arrived in Gdańsk and took the position of the municipal building councillor.


The Miejski Theatre in Gdańsk [The Municipal Theatre], designed by Carl Samuel Held, is numbered among those theatre buildings whose architectural form makes reference to the works of builders from the circle of Boullé-Ledoux.

Held was a pupil of Langhans the Elder and had collaborated with him in Berlin since 1787. In 1794 he arrived in Gdańsk and took the position of the municipal building councillor. Four years later he was charged with the task of preparing a proposal of a theatre building. 

Held made four sketches of theatres that mainly resulted from problems faced in cities with dense buildings and surrounded by fortifications. Subsequent locations suggested by the architect (in Targ Drzewny, on the axis of Kowalska Street and in Targ Węglowy [Coal Market] next to the Armoury were not approved by the city councillors. Only the fourth proposal of the building councillor was accepted. This located the building theatre on the northern side of Coal Market, thereby closing the square from the side of Św. Ducha Street. [1]

Compared with Held’s third conception (which also placed the theatre in Targ Węglowy) the accepted solution had the advantage that the edifice of the theatre erected in this place did not overshadow the Armoury. This is a matter of great importance since it shows the attitude of one-time residents towards the square itself and the buildings surrounding it. The theatre was located among the buildings that gained exceptional importance in the history of Gdańsk. In the east it bordered the ‘Old Pharmacy’ (the former gunpowder and ammunition factory), to the south of which was in turn located the Armoury. In the south the square was closed by the Dwór Bractwa Św. Jerzego [Court of the Fraternity of St. George], located in the most important street in the city, Długa Street, with Złota Brama [Golden Gate] situated in the neighbourhood.

The square itself had performed a commercial function for ages, with fetes and outdoor parties customarily organised here during the famous Dominican Fairs. What is more, the place was eagerly visited by wandering theatre troupes, and in the 17th century inhabitants could admire fashionable fireworks here. Undoubtedly, Held was going not only to create a permanent place to hold performances, but also a building of the highest artistic value. Being an appropriate example of a new public institution of the highest rank of ‘a temple’, the edifice was to embellish one of the two most important squares of the city and to change it into a cultural centre at the same time. The first step that the architect made in this direction was well-considered: it was the choice of location for the building. As far as the architectural shape was concerned, it was given a highly representative character, in line with Schiller’s recommendations. [2]

The building was founded on a polygonal plan, whose form was determined by the buildings adjoining from the east. Basically, the plan was a rectangle of 25 metres by 30 metres, the south-eastern corner of which had been ‘cut’. The second breach of the rectangular plan was a flat projection centrally placed from the southern side. The half of the surface within this plan was occupied by the stage with modest infrastructure, situated in the northern part. The southern part as a whole was designed for the auditorium, with the surrounding wings and stairs located in the corners. 

The auditorium, with balconies and boxes, was given a special form. It was built on the plan of a circle, though its full circumference was closed in the scenic area, behind the portal. The solution shows that not only did Held perfectly know the works from that period, but also had a significant theoretical knowledge of the subject.[3]

Balconies of the first and the second floor were divided into small boxes (for five to seven people), surrounding the stalls with only standing places. Although the room failed in the theatre for cloakrooms and the foyer, and the corridors and staircases turned out to be cramped and uncomfortable, the theatre building was received with high recognition by the Gdańsk audience. Undoubtedly, the highly representative appearance, achieved by the use of pure geometric forms, had a decisive influence on the high estimation of the building. The plan reflected the shape of the building, which composed of two stereometric blocks: a compact block housing the stage and the audience, adjoined in front by a portico with four columns in the giant order, and a dome crowning the basic block. The monumental character of the Gdańsk work was emphasised by homogeneous, vertical strips of sgraffito plasters, a metope-triglyph frieze, encircling the whole block, the use of austere Doric columns and, above all, the scale and the proportions of the whole edifice.

The shape of the theatre building, ceremonially opened on 3 August 1801,  did not change until 1886, when new building rules imposed the construction of staircases on both sides of the projection. As a result, the portico was adjoined and in this way lost its monumental character. However, with the lapse of time the building, only provisionally modernised, no longer met the expectations of the audience or the requirements placed on public buildings. In the 1930s, a decision was taken to modernise the whole building. In 1935 the edifice was demolished to the foundations and was rebuilt on a considerably bigger projection, according to the design of the Fritsch & Pries architectural company. [4]

To sum up, it should be emphasised that the Miejski Theatre in Gdańsk, met generally accepted rules concerning theatre architecture, both as to the type of the auditorium (with balconies and boxes) and the elaboration of the block of the building. In fact, these three edifices were free-standing, representative buildings, located in important points of the cities, dominating their surroundings.

[1] Waldemar Krauße, Das Danziger Theater und sein Erbauer Carl Samuel Held, Danzig 1936; Jan Ciechowicz, 200 lat teatru na Targu Węglowym w Gdańsku, Gdańsk 2004, p. 47.

[2] Hans Sedlmayr, Verlust der mitte. Die bildende Kunst des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts als Symptom und Symbol der Zeit, Salzburg, p. 40–41.

[3] Bożena Grzegorczyk, Architektura i budownictwo teatralne we Wrocławiu…,op. cit., pp. 37–42.

[4] The State Archive in Gdańsk, reference symbol 1155/24–1155/34.




  1. State Archive in Gdańsk, sig. 1155/24–1155/34.
  2. Ciechowicz J., 200 lat teatru na Targu Węglowym, Gdańsk 2004.
  3. Kadłubowski L., Teatr na Targu Węglowym, “Dziennik Bałtycki” 1956, No. 270.
  4. Krauße W., Das Danziger Theater und sein Erbauer Carl Samuel Held, Danzig 1936.
  5. Lehmbeck H., Theater, Konzert- Und Vereinshäuser [in:] Danzig und seine Bauten, Danzig 1907.
  6. Olędzki D., Tear Gdański [in:] „Architektura. Miesięcznik. Organ Stowarzyszenia Architektów Polskich SARP” 1968, No. 1.
  7. Sedlmayr H., Verlust der mitte. Die bildende Kunst des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts als Symptom und Symbol der Zeit, Salzburg 1948.



Author: Bożena Grzegorczyk

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