The main intention of this publication is to provide both theatre professionals and other curious visitors with a brief insight into Croatian theatre venues, primarily into the historic and architectural features of the buildings, the history of the companies and their esthetics and repertory profile. In addition to the venues mentioned in this publication, there are several venues that occasionally serve as theatres and also worth mentioning are various open air stages, particularly in Split and Dubrovnik, which house environmental theatre performances during large summer festivals.
Croatia has a long-established and very rich theatrical tradition dating back to the medieval ages. Until the mid 19th century, several Adriatic towns- Dubrovnik in particular- were the local points of Croatian theatrical life, which throughout history subsequently moved to Zagreb and to other towns in the continental parts of Croatia. The first theatre venues in today’s Croatia were built during the Roman period the remains of a Classical theatre can be seen in ancient Salona near Split, and in Pula there are remains of a smaller Roman theatre, both dating from the 1st century. The first theatre venue in more recent history was built on the island of Hvar at the beginning of the 17th century. By that time, but also later, theatre plays were performed in various places, including on squares, at palaces and in public buildings such as arsenals and town halls. At the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th century many coastal towns, among them Dubrovnik, Split, Trogir and Zadar, received their permanent theatre premises, while the first venues equipped to serve as theatres were built in Zadar (1783) and Zagreb (1835). The golden age of construction of theatre halls in Croatia came between 1859 and 1895, when large theatres were built in Split, Dubrovnik, Šibenik, Zadar, Osijek, Varaždin, Pula, Rijeka and Zagreb.
All these theatre venues still serve their primary purpose, with the exception of the New Theatre in Zadar, which was damaged during WWII and later torn down, and Bajamonti’s Theatre in Split, which burnt down in a fire in 1881, to be replaced soon afterwards with today’s Croatian National Theatre. The dynamic growth of theatrical art in Croatia entailed the opening of new theatre venues throughout all of the 20th century, many of them within the adapted buildings of former movie theaters and cultural centers. This trend continued to the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century, when several new theatre venues were opened in Zagreb (Small Stage Theatre, EXIT Theatre, Histrion House), and a number of existing venues have been reconstructed and adapted