Why Abu Dhabi is restoring a 160-year-old theatre in France

Theatre was designed for the Imperial family in the 1850s, and was used by Napoléon III before it was closed for a century

Château de Fontainebleau's Imperial Theatre, renamed as The Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Theatre in recognition of Abu Dhabi's contribution to the restoration

Château de Fontainebleau's Imperial Theatre, renamed as The Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Theatre in recognition of Abu Dhabi's contribution to the restoration

A 160-year-old French theatre, set to be renamed after UAE President Sheikh Khalifa, has entered its final stage of restoration.

Château de Fontainebleau's Imperial Theatre, renamed as The Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Theatre in recognition of Abu Dhabi's contribution to the restoration, will be fully restored in 2019, 12 years after work the famed theatre began.

The agreement to restore the theatre, between the Government of Abu Dhabi and France, began in 2007, also includes the Louvre Abu Dhabi project. Thanks to the contribution by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

The first phase of the restoration was completed in April 2014 and saw the rejuvenation of the main auditorium with 25 specialists and 135 craftsmen working on site, reviving the theatre's original décor.

The second phase of renovation will begin in June 2017, with the focus turning to certain machinery, the upper levels of the salons and the podium upon which one of the most important stage sets in France has been preserved.

In spring 2019, the public will be able to experience this Second Empire architectural masterpiece in its entirety.

The theatre was exquisitely designed by Hector Lefuel for the Imperial family between 1853 and 1856, and was used by Napoléon III on no more than a dozen occasions, before its doors were closed for more than a century, thus preserving it in its original state.

Following these restoration works, The Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan theatre will represent a museographic space dedicated to the performing arts and decorative arts of the Second Empire.

“The protection of cultural heritage anywhere is of the upmost importance to ensure that the history of our societies and civilisations is passed onto future generations,” said Mohammed Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman, Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority said.

“It is through our common commitments to this cause that we have been able to make great strides in our cultural cooperation with France. The renovation of the Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Theatre represents our nation's dedication to the preservation of this heritage, not just within our own region, but internationally as we strive towards a global community united by culture.”

A classified UNESCO World Heritage Site, Fontainebleau, which hosts 1,530 invaluable artefacts and rare furniture, was home to 34 French monarchs and emperors. There, Napoleon bade farewell to his Old Guard and went into exile in 1814.

With modifications of the chateau's structure, including the cobblestone entrance wide enough for his carriage, Napoleon helped make the chateau the place that visitors experience today. Fontainebleau was the setting of the Second Empire court of his nephew Napoleon III. The chateau is also home to the Ecoles d'Art Americaines, a school of art, architecture, and music.

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