A Brief History of the Bolshoi Theatre

Bolshoi (Big) Theatre front facade view at night
Bolshoi (Big) Theatre front facade view at night | © DmitriyGuryanov/Wikimedia Commons
Dasha Fomina

One of Moscow’s most symbolic attractions, the Bolshoi Theatre is known to everyone who has ever seen a hundred rouble banknote. Repeatedly hit by fire, the theatre has been rebuilt many times and survived several regime changes, but is still considered one of the greatest and oldest ballet and opera companies in the world.

Petrovsky Theatre

In March 1776 Prince Pyotr Urusov was granted permission by Empress Catherine II herself, to open a public theatre in Moscow. Unfortunately the newly built edifice burnt down and the project was handed over to Michael Maddox, a mathematician, tightrope-walker and theatrical entrepreneur, who built a theatre all over again on Petrovka street. The new theatre, named Petrovsky after the street it was standing on, opened its doors in 1780 with both professional and serf actors listed in its troupe.

Performance in the Bolshoi Theatre

From hand to hand

Postcard with an image of the Bolshoi Theatre, before 1917‎

Born again

After the Patriotic War of 1812, another Italian-Russian architect Joseph Bove was chosen to oversee the theatre reconstruction. The architect used the only remaining wall of the Maddox’s theatre to raise the 37 meter tall building we know today. In 1824 the phoenix theatre was opened with the allegorical performance “Triumph of the Muses” starring the legend of Russian Romanticism – Pavel Mochalov.

The Great State Theatre Moscow, 1922 ‎

No drama

Gradually there were more opera and ballet performances included on the theatre repertoire list and less dramatic ones. The theatre hosted many historic premieres including “A Life for the Tsar” in 1842 – arguably the most important opera in history of Russian theatre, and “Ruslan and Ludmila”. Sadly a massive fire broke out in 1853 and ruined the building completely, the theatre had to be closed for a three-year-long overhaul, only to open its doors to the public, refurbished and renovated as as the Bolshoi Theatre, right in time for the coronation of Tsar Alexander II.

Scene from Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida opera, 1957‎

20th Century

After the 1917 Revolution the theatre was in danger of demolition along with other traces of the country’s Imperial past. However, in 1919 it was renamed the State Academic Bolshoi Theatre and in 1922 theatre demolition was officially deemed impractical: beside being a showcase for the Russian arts, the theatre’s grand stage was used to proclaim the foundation of the Soviet Union and to announce Vladimir Lenin’s death in 1924. Hit by a bomb in 1941, the theatre reopened in 1943 with the patriotic “A Life for the Tsar”, that was ideologically renamed “Ivan Susanin”. During the post-Soviet times, the theatre was seriously underfunded, which lead to significant deterioration of the building. In 2002 the New Stage was opened, but by 2005 the theatre building had got into such disrepair that there was a 70% chance of losing the historic site completely. The final reconstruction lasted for six years and in 2011 the refurbished theatre opened its doors once again.

Bolshoi Theatre, Theatre Square, 1, Moskva, 125009

A gala concert marking the Bolshoi Theatre’s reopening after a massive reconstruction ‎
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

Edit article