- Year 1906
- 900 seats
- Koninklijke schouwburg van Antwerpen, Theater Bourla, Theatre Royal Francais, Opera Francais, Fransche Opera
Bourla Theatre (also known as Bourlaschouwburg) is a theatre located in Antwerp that seats around 900. The building is designed in a neoclassical style on the site of the former Tapissierspand tapestry market. The theatre was designed on request from the city in 1827 by the city architect Pierre Bourla. Construction began in 1829, but was delayed due to the Belgian Revolution. The theatre was finally finished in 1834 and opened under the name, Grand Théâtre or Théâtre Royal Français, on account of its ownership by a French company. Presently, the Bourla houses the theatre company Het Toneelhuis, which is a merger of the companies, Koninklijke Nederlandse Schouwburg and Blauwe Maandag Compagnie.
When Pierre Bruno Bourla, a French architect who had studied at the renowned Ecole polytechnique in Paris, took up his function in 1819 as Antwerp's new city architect, the city lacked a grand theater.
The Tapissiers House, an early eighteenth-century building was the city's main theater building but it lacked modern amenities and could not compete with the monumental theaters in Europe's largest cities.
Already in 1801, during the French occupation, plans were made to create a new modern theater, but it took until 1827, during the Dutch occupation, before the city of Antwerp asked Pierre Bourla to create plans for a new theater and opera building. At the same time the Tapissiers House was demolished, making place for the new structure.
Construction of what would be known as the Théâtre Royal Français (Royal French Theater) started in 1829. Five years later, in 1834, the theater finally opened. Bourla designed a sober, well balanced neo-classicist building with a semi-circular front. The top is decorated with statues of Apollo and the nine muses.
Below the statues, in small niches, are seventeen busts of what was described as 'the heroes of literary and musical drama'. The list of heroes included Schiller, Mozart, Molière Racine, Lopes de la Vega, Van den Vondel, Sofokles and Shakespeare. The interior was decorated with beautiful mosaics, chandeliers and statues. The building's architecture received much acclaim and was known as one of the country's most beautiful structures.
In 1865 the building's interior was drastically altered by the architect Pieter Dens. The francophone Théâtre Royal Français was struggling to compete with the flemish-speaking theater companies and Dens expanded the theater's capacity from about 1200 to 2000 seats in an attempt to make the theater profitable again. These efforts were in vain as in 1932 the Théâtre Royal Français was disbanded and replaced by the Flemish speaking Bourla Theater, Antwerp. Six years later, in 1938, the building was declared a protected monument.
From the 1950s on the theater started to decline and in 1980 when a modern new theater building was completed right across the Bourla Theater, the building was abandoned.
After many years of dilapidation, leading to plans to even demolish the protected monument, the city of Antwerp finally decided to restore the building so it could reopen in 1993, when Antwerp was the cultural capital of Europe. During the restoration, which would take two years, care was taken to restore it as much as possible according to Pierre Bourla's original plans and removing many of the alterations made by Dens in 1865. The very rare wooden stage machinery, which was still the original from 1834, was also kept intact.
The Bourla is the last remaining municipal theatre in Europe with original stage machinery, which fill five levels above and below the stage. The building has been named a protected building since 1938, and therefore is regarded among the most important historic buildings in Belgium.