What is the Sheikh Khalifa Theatre at France's Palace of Fontainebleau?

The theatre, with its aesthetic and historical significance, was renamed in a gesture of gratitude to the UAE President

The meeting reaffirming the ties between Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and French President Emmanuel Macron, that took place on Wednesday, was held at the majestic Chateau de Fontainebleau, or Palace of Fontainebleau.

The former royal palace, an hour south of the French capital, contains its own jewel-like theatre that was refurbished two years ago, thanks to financial help from the UAE.

The epitome of 19th-century imperial taste, the theatre had been closed for almost 150 years when President Sheikh Khalifa visited it in 2007. Today, where there was dust, there is now gold leaf; where there were scuffs, now there is shine; and what was once the Imperial Theatre, is now the Sheikh Khalifa Theatre, renamed after the UAE President in a gesture of gratitude from the French public.

The theatre officially reopened in 2019, just months before Macron visited Abu Dhabi for the occasion of Louvre Abu Dhabi’s opening festivities. The Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi offered a generous contribution for the rehabilitation, which cost €10 million ($11.7m). The refurbishment was completed in two phases: in 2014, after careful research, the auditorium, vestibule and foyer were restored and reopened; and the second phase focused on the stage, the machinery for the sets, and the upper levels of the small space.

The Palace of Fontainebleau was originally built in the 12th century as a hunting lodge, and was transformed into a palace in the 16th century. The theatre was added between 1853 and 1856 under the reign of Napoleon III, inspired by Queen Marie Antoinette’s theatre at the Trianon Palace and its extravagant, meticulous aesthetic.

But it was only ever used a handful of times, and closed after Napoleon III fell in 1870.

The palace was occupied by the Germans during The Second World War, when it was reopened in order to give concerts – a revivification that also proved short-lived. Within the space of a year, they declared the theatre unsuitable for use.

Today, the Sheikh Khalifa Theatre is a popular tourist spot, appreciated for its aesthetic and historical significance. The public has access to the spectator area, with its hand-painted frescoes and individual seats arranged around the small proscenium stage, as well as to the backstage areas.

In keeping with the theatre’s track record as a site for performance, it is still used for plays – but only rarely.

Updated: September 16th 2021, 2:24 PM