Teatro Español y Naves del Español


Vanessa Rabade 
Teatro Español


Discover the history of the emblematic Teatro Español and the Naves del Español at Matadero. Two spaces that create a brotherhood between the 16th century and the avant-garde.

Teatro Español

A unique building with a history that dates back to the 16th century

The history of the Teatro Español in Madrid can be traced back to 21 September 1583, when it staged its first performance. Its activity continues to this day, making it the oldest theatre in the world in terms of uninterrupted performance.

The story of the Teatro Español begins in 1582 when the Brotherhood of the Sacred Passion and the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Solitude purchased the backyard or stockyard of a private house (basically a vacant lot used to house domestic animals) on Calle Príncipe -  hence its popular name of ‘Corral del Príncipe’, given that it stood on the same street.

With regard to the physical appearance of the ‘Corral’ (the stockyard), the Madrid Town Archive contains a floor plan drawn up by architect Pedro de Ribera in 1735. If you look at the plan of the Teatro Español, you will see that the current structure coincides with the plan drawn up by Pedro de Ribera. It is surprising to see that the stage is located in exactly the same place on both plans.

In 1744, the ‘Corral del Príncipe’ was torn down and a new theatre built on the same site. It was inaugurated in 1745 under the name of the ‘Coliseo del Príncipe’. The theatre was built in the Italian style by Juan Bautista Sachetti, the senior architect of Madrid, with the collaboration of Ventura Rodríguez.

A great fire broke out in 1802 and only the exterior structure of the theatre was left standing. Juan de Villanueva, the architect responsible for the Prado Museum, was commissioned to draw up the new plans. He added an extension to the stage and the façade that we know today, with its balconies and a triangular pediment, typical of the Neoclassical period. The interior decoration followed the decorative style of the time of Charles IV, in line with such models as El Pardo, Aranjuez or the Royal Palace. The theatre, rebuilt on the same site as the previous one, was completed in 1807.

In 1849, during the reign of Elizabeth II, the ‘Corral del Príncipe’ became the National Theatre and was renamed the Teatro Español. The Madrid City Council took it over in 1851, and it has kept the same name to this day.

Throughout the 19th century and the early 20th century, the theatre underwent numerous reforms and extensions until, in 1995, architects Andrés Oñoro and Enrique Ortega carried out the most important extension to date, which included a rehearsal room, a library, a cafeteria and an exhibition hall, as well as offices and storage spaces. They both recall their first chronicles, take a historical look at the Arab world, talk about the changes in the newspaper world, the machismo in the newsrooms and their passion for chronicling the world and wanting to know more.

Charmingly appointed halls:
Home to the greatest directors and playwrights

To enter the Teatro Español is to enter a unique building, not only in terms of its history, but also in terms of its life, its anecdotes and, needless to say, its current relevance. It contains two major spaces: the Main Auditorium and the Margarita Xirgú Hall.

The Main Auditorium, with 735 seats arranged on three floors, each offering perfect visibility and prodigious acoustics. Works by Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Tirso de Molina, Calderón, Duke of Rivas, Zorrilla, Pérez Galdós, Unamuno, Valle-Inclán, Benavente, the Machado brothers, García Lorca, Mihura and Buero Vallejo, among others, first came to life on its stage. Located to the right of the audience at the mouth of the stage, the King's Box is reached by means of the royal lift, which dates back to the beginning of the century and is in a perfect state of repair. The Mayor's Box, on the other hand, is located to the left of the audience, at the mouth of the stage.

In 2006, the former Café del Príncipe was turned into the Margarita Xirgu Hall, a theatre that can accommodate approximately 110 people - the exact number can vary depending on how the tiers of seats are arranged, given that they can be laid out in different configurations: on one, two, three or even all four sides.

Other charming spaces within the Teatro Español include: The Tea Room, which features a turn-of-the-century grandfather clock, is used for institutional events. Originally a private room in which actors and actresses of days gone by would entertain their guests, on account of its beauty, the Tirso de Molina Hall is now used for interviews and as a backdrop for photographs of the artists. The Parnasillo, a place that is particularly memorable as it was here that playwrights would meet with the company for the first reading of their plays. This last-mentioned space was decorated in 1929 with a valuable collection of portraits of artists and writers, unique in its genre, by the painter José Sánchez Pescador. Finally, the Andrea D'Odorico room, situated above the Sala Margarita Xirgu, serves for a wide range of purposes, including press conferences, talks, meetings and exhibitions.

Since that first performance on 21 September 1583, when “neither seats, nor windows, nor corridor” had as yet been built, as the chronicler of the time, Casiano Pellicer, tells us, countless artists from the most varied disciplines have trod the boards of the Teatro Español and it has been steered by various personalities from the world of theatre, such as Isidoro Máiquez, Julián Romea, Rafael Calvo, Benito Pérez Galdós, Jacinto Benavente, Cayetano Luca de Tena, Miguel Narros, Juana de Orozco, Petronila Jibaja, Águeda de la Calle, María Guerrero and Margarita Xirgu.

Today, the Teatro Español is run by Natalia Menéndez, who took over from director Carme Portaceli in 2019. Her immediate predecessors include such renowned directors as José Luis Alonso, José Luis Gómez, Adolfo Marsillach, Gustavo Pérez Puig, Mario Gas and Juan Carlos Pérez de la Fuente.

See the rooms of the Teatro Español
 Vanessa Rabade
Naves del Español

The theatre’s artistic directors down through history

18 49
Ventura de la Vega
Ventura de la Vega
18 50
Tomás Rodríguez Rubí
18 90
Federico Balart
Federico Balart
19 05
Fernando Díaz de Mendoza & María Guerrero
19 30
Jacinto Benavente, Rafael Calvo, Enrique Borrás, Margarita Xirgu, Cipriano Rivas Cheriff
19 36
Manuel González (1936 - 1939)


19 40
Felipe Lluch
19 42
Cayetano Luca de Tena
19 53
Modesto Higueras
19 54
José Tamayo
19 62
Cayetano Luca de Tena
19 64
Salvador Salazar, Luis Escobar, Miguel Narros, José María Loperena, Huberto Pérez de la Ossa
historia-miguel-narros-jose-carlos nievas
19 65
Adolfo Marsillach
19 66
Miguel Narros
19 70
Alberto González Vergel, José María Loperena, José Tamayo, Juan Guerrero Zamora
19 80
José Luis Alonso
19 81
José Luis Gómez
José Luis Gómez
19 84
Miguel Narros
19 90
Gustavo Pérez Puig
20 04
Mario Gas
Mario Gas
20 12
En este periodo, el Teatro Español fue regido desde la dirección de programación de Artes Escénicas del Área de Cultura y Deportes del Ayuntamiento de Madrid.
20 14
Juan Carlos Pérez de la Fuente
Juan Carlos Pérez de la Fuente
20 16
Carme Portaceli


Carme Portaceli
20 16
Mateo Feijóo


20 19
Natalia Menéndez

2019 - actualidad

Natalia Menéndez