The Santa Isabel Theater was the idea of Francisco do Rego Barros, the first governor of the province of Pernambuco. Being short on knowledgable people to build the kind of theater he wanted, he sent for European engineers, mathmaticians, technicians and workers. The French engineer, Louis Léger Vauthier, was the man responsible for making the governor’s idea come to life. For 7 years, he lived in Recife and during that time he was pivotal in the construction of many of Recife’s famous buildings (like the São José Market). The theater featuring neoclassical architecture took 10 years to build and when it finally opened in 1850, it became an important playhouse, place of diversion and social acquaintanceship, and it even played a role in the exercising of citizenship.
According to Joaquim Nabuco, it was at the Santa Isabel that he made his case, through events and speeches, for the abolition of slavery in Brazil. It was a suiting place since the theater was built without the use of slaves, which was uncommon for the era. Of the theater, Nabuco later famously said, “The historical truth is this: it was here that we won the cause for abolition!”
In 1859, the Emperor Dom Pedro II spent his birthday in Recife and became the theater’s most illustrious guest.
Visitors for the first 19 years, the Emperor included, got to see the theater as it was originally built. In 1869, though, a fire almost completely destroyed the theater, leaving not much more than the walls still standing. Seven years went by before it was rebuilt and reopened. Since then, it has been through 3 major restorations, with the latest one happening in the year 2000. This year, it celebrated its 163rd anniversary.
Praça da República – Santo Antônio
Recife – PE, 50010-040
81 3355.3323 / 81 3355.3324