At the request of Napoleon III, the theatre was designed by the architect Hector Lefuel and built between 1853 and 1856 in order to replace the old Comédie Theatre. The original space was too small, had no modern conveniences, and was inadequate for hosting the numerous guests invited by the imperial couple during their stays at Fontainebleau.
Restricted by the layout of the facades and the attic area, Lefuel managed brilliantly (and with much ingenuity) to build a modern space with enough seating for 400 people. The theatre is directly inspired by Marie Antoinette’s small theatre at Versailles - no doubt to satisfy Empress Eugénie who greatly admired her - and was inaugurated in May 1857. The combination of silk upholsteries, floral carpets, and hand-painted (or gilded gesso) ornaments provides an impressive atmosphere.
The room has remained in remarkable condition, as it was rarely used. Approximately fifteen performances have taken place in the theatre since its construction during the reign of Napoleon III. Additionally, the layout of the stage has remained unchanged and has not suffered from any modernization attempts.
Long closed to the public, fallen into disuse, and isolated from the rest of the château, the Imperial Theatre was at last - thanks to this significant restoration campaign and the patronage of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan - rescued from oblivion.
The Imperial Theatre at The Château de Fontainebleau, one of the premier examples of Second Empire theatres, has long awaited restoration. His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a great lover and patron of the arts, has generously sponsored the renovation of the theatre and its opening to the public. In recognition of this donation, the French Minister of Culture and Communication, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, renamed the theatre on April 27th, 2007 in honor of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Recently restored, the Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Theater is currently accessible by guided tour only.
This tour, dedicated to the Second Empire of Napoleon III, provides additional access to the Empress’ Chinese Museum and the Study of Napoleon III.
Open daily except Tuesdays - visit at 4:15PM.
Average tour length : 1 hour 30 min.
No reservation necessary. Tickets available for purchase at the front desk with a limit of 20 visitors per tour.
Full Price : €6.50 Reduced Fare : €5
Guided Tour + General Admission : €15.50
Available every day except Tuesdays : Guided tours at 2:30pm, 3:15pm, 4 pm, and 4:45pm (Subject to change).
Average tour length : 30 minutes.