A History of Paris' Théâtre des Mathurins

  • April 26, 2019
  • Parisian theatre
  • Anna Livesey

Known to Parisian theatre-goers simply as ‘Les Mathurins’, Théâtre des Mathurins is an intimate 386-seater in the heart of Paris’ theatre district. With an unexpected beginning that goes way back in the 13th century, here’s the true story of one of our favourite Parisian playhouses...

Drawing of Paris in 1583

Paris in the 16th Century

Drawing of the execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette

Execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette

Monk-managed farmland and a revolutionary resting place

Way back in the 13th century, before it became a bustling thoroughfare in the heart of Paris’ theatre district, rue des Mathurins existed on a stretch of farmland just outside the city limits. These pastures were home to an industrious order of agriculturally-minded monks, the Mathurins, who would later lend their name to both street and theatre.

Things trundled on in this manner until the 17th century, when the peace of the farmland (and the entirety of France) was troubled by a minor event known as the French Revolution. Upon their sensational execution by guillotine in January 1793, the corpses of King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, were brought to a mass cemetery not far from the Mathurins farm. Later, after the restoration of the monarchy just twenty years later, Louis’ brother other-Louis (XVIII) would order that the bodies be located, exhumed, and officially reburied at Saint-Denis Cathedral. As repayment for use of his farmland during the exhumation, Louis XVIII granted the farm’s owner and his son permission to practice theatre in modest venues outside the city gates. Thus was born Théâtre des Mathurins.

Opera Garnier at the time of its opening

A blossoming theatre in a blossoming district

As Paris grew and its city limits widened, a host of small boutique hotels began to set up camp on the rue des Mathurins, bringing with them an élite clientele including dancer Julie Talma, writer George Sand, and nobles like the Marquis de Beauharnais. During a séjour at the hotels, these illustrious guests would frequent the small concert venues that lined the street. Later, with the arrival of the Opéra Garnier, Théâtre Marigny, and nearby Théâtre des Variétés in the 19th Century, Paris’ 8th and 9th arrondissements began to take shape as the cultural and theatrical hubs of the city. Situated just around the corner from Opéra, Théâtre des Mathurins was perfectly placed to profit from this new influx of cultivated visitors.

Discover the area with our Neighbourhood Guide to Opéra

Exterior of Theatre des Mathurins
Auditorium of Theatre des Mathurins

Blending modernity with tradition

By the end of the 1890s, Théâtre des Mathurins was still no more than a modest concert hall, with no stage and little seating. But with the turn of the century came a change of management that would transform the building into an intimate Parisian playhouse, officially baptised the Théâtre des Mathurins in 1912. In the 1920s, the theatre decided to expand and undergo a complete make-over. Up and coming architect, Charles Siclis, was entrusted with the task of masterminding the renovation and came up with an exterior that distinguishes the theatre even today. Ignoring the conventions of the time, Siclis decided to contrast his facade starkly with the classic Parisian apartments that sit above, blending modernity and tradition in a single building. The architect would go onto replicate this unique approach in the design of two other Parisian theatres, Théâtre Saint Georges and the Théâtre Pigalle.

Mathurins today

It was under the auspices of Théâtre des Mathurins that iconic actor, director, and writer Sacha Guitry made his playwriting début as a fresh-faced twenty year-old. His first major play, comedy Nono proved an instant success with its audiences in 1905. Nono was to return to the Mathurins stage 15 years later, this time starring Guitry himself. Since then, the theatre has played host to various other leading lights of contemporary theatre. Changing hands and directors multiple times throughout the 20th century, the Mathurins’ programme has featured works by Oscar Wilde, Jean-Paul Sartre, Marguerite Duras, Florian Zeller and many many others. Nowadays it is jointly run by the team behind another of our favourite historic theatres, Paris’ Théâtre de la Gaîté Montparnasse.

Want to experience the magic of Mathurins yourself? Summer 2019 will see an all new musical hit the stages of this oh so historic theatre. Discover The Tower of Monsieur Eiffel, an all-singing, all-dancing romp through the true story behind the building of the Eiffel Tower. Find out what’s currently playing at Théâtre des Mathurins.

Get your tickets for Théâtre Mathurins

Discover the stories of some of Paris’ other great theatres:

A History of Paris’ Théâtre Gaîté Montparnasse
A History of Paris’ Théâtre de la Huchette
A History of Paris Théâtre Ranelagh
A History of Paris’ Théâtre Edouard VII
A History of Paris' Théâtre Mogador