The theater of Claude-Nicolas Ledoux

Besançon’s municipal theater was designed in 1775 by Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, the architect who also built (for example) the Rotonde de la Villette in Paris.

In an age when most theaters were horseshoe shaped, which meant that many of the seats offered little or no view of the stage — La Scala in Milan is a drastic example of this — Ledoux designed a semi-circular theater in which the stage could be seen from every seat. He also designed a covered orchestra pit which made the orchestra invisible from the auditorium — nearly a century before Richard Wagner did the same in his Festspielhaus in Bayreuth.

(Personally, I prefer having the orchestra visible, so I can look down and see who is playing what.)

The theater of Claude-Nicolas Ledoux

Ledoux’s theater was locked when I was there, but I looked in through the glass door and was surprised to see that the interior has a decidedly 1950s appearance. It turns out that that the inside of the theater was destroyed by a fire in April 1958, and was rebuilt the same year in the style that was in vogue at the time. But the eighteenth-century façade was apparently not damaged by the fire.

Originally the theater had 2000 seats, but after the rebuilding in 1958 it only had 1100. This is a typical development for older theaters, since people were smaller in previous centuries and needed less leg room.

The columns at the front of the theater

Like most of the older buildings in the center of Besançon, the theater was built of local stone quarried in the nearby Forest of Chailluz. This view of the columns shows clearly the mottled structure of the stone. Note that the building in the background is also made of the same type of stones.

Location, aerial view and photos on

Historical postcard views of Ledoux’s theater on Carthalia.

My photos in this post are from 2014. I revised the text in 2019.

See more posts on Besançon, France.

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