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Arthur Azevedo Theater

In 1815, the building of the theater started, and the next year, on 1st December 1816, with the building still unfinished, a free show was offered to the population to celebrate the Restoration of Portugal.

Arthur Azevedo Theater

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Last update: 27/02/2014

By: Virginia Barbosa - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

The two Portuguese man Eleutério Lopes da Silva Varella and Estevão Gonçalves Braga in the early 19th century XIX, envisioned the building of a great public theater in the city of São Luís do Maranhão. It wouldn’t be the first theater in the capital city of Maranhão, as between 1780 and 1816 three small ones and without enough room and appropriate comfort had been built. The plot of land was between the streets do Sol (Sun) and da Paz (Peace) and, at the back, there was the Travessa do Sineiro.

In the project, the façade was towards the Street da Paz where the Nossa Senhora do Carmo Church was situated. With the excuse that it was an antireligious act to build a house for shows next to a church, the Carmelite priests requested a ban on the building. The debates were hot and ended with a sentence in favor of the priests. Hence, the project was changed with the main façade towards the Street do Sol.

In 1815, the building of the theater started, and the next year, on 1st December 1816, with the building still unfinished, a free show was offered to the population to celebrate the Restoration of Portugal.

Built in neoclassic architectural style, it was inaugurated on 1st June 1817 with the name of União Theater, to pay homage to the Brazilian inclusion in the United Kingdom of Portugal and Algarves. In the occasion, there was a presentation of the da Companhia Dramática from Lisbon.

From its inauguration until 1840, the Theater had its apogee, including the participation of several European companies. From 1841, due to bad administration and faulty artistic direction, there was a decline in the activities and the União Theater was rented to the Sociedade Dramática Maranhense in an attempt to keep it “alive”. Unfortunately, seven years after it was closed.

It re-opened, in 1852, with the name of São Luís Theater. In 1854, two facts marked its history: on the 26 April, the first Masquerade, an event of great repercussion; and, on 26 June, in the dressing room number one, was born Apolônia Pinto, the daughter of a Portuguese actress, who became one of the great actresses in Brazilian theater. In a niche that has access to the audience, on the ground floor, the mortal remains of Apolônia are kept, and there is a bronze bust in her homage in the dressing room where she was born.

In 1922, in the Urbano Santos administration, the name of the theater was changed to pay homage to the play writer from Maranhão Arthur Azevedo.  However, with the arrival of cinema in Brazil, in the late 19 century, theaters saw their public decrease, in some cases, even disappear. And the inevitable happened: many of them were transformed into cinemas. It was not different with the Arthur Azevedo Theater.

Ten years later, in the Seroa da Mota administration, it was donated to the Municipality through the Decree n. 353, from 19 December 1932. In 1965, it was reincorporated in the state heritage by the governor Newton Bello, who left it under the responsibility of the Department of Culture from the Education and Culture Secretariat. Then, from 1966 to 1968, restorations and scenic re-equipment were done. The Theater was re-opened in 1968, with the presentation of the play Abrão e Sara by amateur artists from Maranhão. In 1978, it suffered new refurbishment coordinated by the Fundação Cultural do Maranhão and by the state Government: restoring the facilities and the air conditioning, repairing the paint and doing cleaning services in general.

During all its existence, the Arthur Azevedo Theater interrupted its activities for refurbishing and repairs in its physical structure. Between 1991 and 1993, the refurbishing was based on historical research to re-build original details.

Presently, the Arthur Azevedo Theater has the following structure: entrance room, audience, stage, noble rooms, versatile room, dance room, chorus; bar, carpentry, sewing room/accessory room and souvenir store.

In the year 2011, there was a popular vote in the capital of Maranhão to elect seven treasures of the cultural material heritage of the city and, among them, was the Arthur Azevedo Theater. The others are: the Mercês Convent, the Main Church, Leões Palace, Gonçalves Dias Square, Portugal Street and the Tile work.

In 2012, São Luís do Maranhão, the only city founded by French people in Brazil, celebrated its election as the American Capital of Culture and in its 4th hundredth anniversary. The title was granted by the International Bureau of Cultural Capitals, from Barcelona, in Spain.

Recife, 24 February 2012.

sources consulted

BRASIL. Ministério do Interior. Fundação Projeto Rondon. Monumentos históricos do Maranhão. São Luís: SIOGE, 1979. 32-33.

MAPA Cultural: artesanato, folclore, patrimônio ecológico, patrimônio histórico. Rio de Janeiro: MEC, Mobral, CECUT, 1980. v. 1. p. 358.

SÃO Luís, capital americana da cultura. História Viva, São Paulo, ano 9, n. 101, p. 13, [2012].

TEATRO Arthur Azevedo. Available at: <>. Accessed: 24 fev. 2012.

TEATRO Arthur Azevedo. Disponível em: <>. Accessed : 24 fev. 2012.

TEATRO Arthur Azevedo. Available at: <>. Accessed: 23 fev. 2011.

TEATRO ARTHUR AZEVEDO. [Foto neste texto]. Available at: <>. Accessed : 7 mar. 2012. 

how to quote this text

Source: BARBOSA, Virgínia. Teatro Arthur Azevedo. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Fundação Joaquim Nabuco. Recife. Available at: <>. Accessed: 24 fev. 2012.