Ambra Jovinelli theatre

The Ambra Jovinelli – originally simply Jovinelli – theatre was built in the early twentieth century by Giuseppe Jovinelli, a theatre impresario from Caserta, who wanted to provide an elegant and refined home for variety and comedy shows, a worthy rival to the “nobler” serious playhouse.

The theatre was opened in 1909 in the since demolished Piazza Guglielmo Pepe, on the eastern edge of the Esquiline, in today’s Via Turati. The architects in charge of building the theatre designed an original and innovative building, Rome’s only theatre in pure Art Nouveau style. It is characterized by curved lines and light colours, decorated with stucco pilasters with flowers and medallions, and a magnificent arched pediment that remains its most significant stylistic feature today.

The interior of the theatre was adorned with little cast-iron columns embellished with floral decorations. It could accommodate 1000 spectators, divided among about 600 seats upholstered in red velvet in the stalls, a row of boxes arranged in a horseshoe shape as was traditional in large theatres and a gallery. The square hosting the theatre, which no longer exists, was home at the time to what we would now call “street theatre”, full of booths attended by hucksters, fake savages and colourful characters of all kinds. A few years later, they inspired Ettore Petrolini’s comedy “The Hall of Wonders” (1924). Petrolini had taken his first steps as an actor in this very place; he describes his first contract with the Ambra Jovinelli as follows:
"In Rome, a few days later, I was hired – verbally, without a written contract – for six lire a day by Don Peppe Jovinelli, in Piazza Guglielmo Pepe. Piazza Guglielmo Pepe – which has now completely disappeared – was, at that time, a huge square full of booths run by charlatans; it was home to vagabonds and poor strolling players. There was a bit of everything: even a few interesting, if not good, things. It was a jumble of pastimes for all tastes, one more pleasant than the next, not excluding the disappearance of one’s wallet and watch. The large square housed all sorts of booths, from target shooting to the anatomical museum, from carousels to the theatre of roosters that sang and danced wonderfully on a sheet of corrugated iron (...)"
(From Modestia a parte).

After falling out of favour and a long closure, the Ambra Jovinelli has undergone radical restoration work as part of a broader redevelopment of this area of ​​the Esquiline. It has finally reopened for shows inspired by the light comedy for which it was built.