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Circuses in Paris
From Philip Astley to the Franconi

From Astley's Amphitheater to the Hippodrome de l'Alma: the succession of Parisian equestrian theaters and circuses is a series of names  which sum up variations on a same theme.

Phillip Astley in Paris

1782: Amphitheatre Anglois (sic)

1783: Nouvel Amphitheatre

1784: Amphitheater des Sieurs Astley père et fils

1793 : Astley must leave France, he rents his establishment on the Fbg du Temple to various entertainment contractors including the Franconi.

1802: Philip Astley comes back to his establishment and  shares  the management alternately with his son John Astley. 

1803: Philip Astley is arrested and imprisoned in France as an enemy of the Nation.

1805-1816: The Amphitheater seems poorly used - little known 

1816 : Sale of the Amphitheater of the Fbg du Temple to Laurent and Henri Franconi



The Franconi in Paris

During four generations, the history of the circus in France and even more particularly so, the history of the Parisian circuses were intrinsically linked to the Franconis' entreprises.

Names of places dedicated to equestrian entertainment led by the Franconis follow one another according to variable criterias. Sometimes the size of the establishments and its conformation - from the moment the stage is added to the ring the term "theater" is anchored but disappears when the stage vanishes - but also according to terms en vogue as well as to the succession of political regimes ("national" or "imperial"). 

Manège Franconi, Cirque Olympique, Théâtre du Cirque, Théâtre national ou Théâtre impérial, Cirque des Champs Elysées, Hippodrome de l'Etoile...: the circus is sometimes the designation, sometimes the noun. But above all, the denomination is linked to description of the space devoted to horse riding exercises and theatrical staging.

Manège, circus and hippodrome materialize the spaces devoted to equestrian exercices and spectacles attached to riding sports. Theatre, then circus and then "hippodrome", are also the spaces of equestrian, acrobatic and theatrical scenographies. which rely on the presence of horses to anchor the theatricals and the spectaculars of dramas on horses. The "hippodromes de spectacles" ("entertainment hippodromes" or "hippodromes dedicated to spectacles"), between 1845 and 1910 are in fact the town version of the three-rings (pistes) of stable circuses that one can see at Barnum & Bailey under their big top.

Until they disappeared from the urban sphere at the beginning of the 20th century, these "hippodromes de spectacles" epitomized the largest entertainment venues in cities. Horsereces were not yet taking place in so called hippodromes' racetracks and when the term came to be associated with horse racing in the mid-19th century, before then "hippodromes" referred to places of spectacular... equestrian stagings. The shift is therefore just not only semantic but sporty. .

Beyond describing a space and a place, the name of the Parisian establishments is also linked to each period of the history of the Franconi companies and to an economic and legal status. Tenant, owner, limited partnership, the walls do not always belong to the name that embodies the dynasty which is one the major strenghts of the Francionis:  to have established a genre, a style, an expertise, an art that has associated their name with a century of history of equestrian shows eventhough there were not always those in command.

From Manège Franconi au Cirque Olympique,
From Théâtre du Cirque Olympique to the next...

Date - Name of establishment - place - owner(s)

In brown, establishments that correspond to a new location in Paris : change of address


1802-1806:  Manège Franconi,  Gardens of the Capucines Convent - Antonio Franconi

1807-1816: Cirque Olympique then Théâtre du Cirque Olympique(1812),   rue du Mont-Thabor - Laurent and Henri Franconi

1816-1826 (fire): Théâtre du Cirque Olympique , rue du Fbg du Temple - Laurent and Henri Franconi


1826-1862: Théâtre du Cirque Olympique bd du Temple, Olympic Circus National Theater  (1834) - National Theater (former circus) (1848) - Imperial Theater (1853)

1826-1830 (first bankruptcy): limited partnership - management Adolphe Franconi, Ferdinand Laloue and Geoffroy Villain de Saint-Hilaire

1830-1832 (final handover): direction Laurent and Henri Franconi

1832-1836 (second bankruptcy): Owner Louis Dejean - management Adolphe Franconi (manège), Ferdinand Laloue and François Sergent

1836-1844: Creation of the Société des Deux Cirques (Théâtre du Cirque Olympique and Cirque des Champs Elysées)  Louis Dejean, owner and administrative director, Adolphe Franconi director of the carousel, Ferdinand Laloue, director of staging.  

1844-1847: Théâtre du Cirque Olympique  - Jules Gallois

1847-1848 (winter): Opera National   (lyric theater)  - Société Mirecourt (Adolphe Adam and Adolphe Tranchant)

1848-1850: National Théâtre National du Cirque Olympique Fournier (owner Louis Dejean)

1850-1858: Theâtre impérial du Cirque (1853-1862) - Charles-Louis Billion

1858-1862: Theâtre impérial du Cirque (1853-1862) - Hippolyte Hostein

1835-1841-1902: Cirque des Champs Elysées , Cirque de l'Impératrice (1853-1873), Cirque d'Eté (demolished in several stages between 1902 and 1908) 

1835-1838: Cirque des Champs Elysées - owner Louis Dejean - direction Adolphe Franconi

1838- 1844: Cirque national des Champs Elysées - owner Louis Dejean - François Baucher, Adolphe Franconi, Ferdinand Laloue

1844-1847: Cirque des Champs Elysées - Jules Gallois

1848-1870:  Cirque national de Paris then Cirque de l'Impératrice (1853-1870) - Louis Dejean

1870-1897: Cirque d'Été - Victor Franconi

1897-1900: Cirque d'Été - Charles Franconi

1852: Cirque Napoléon, Cirque National (1873), Cirque d'Hiver  

1852-1870: Cirque Napoleon - Louis Dejean

1870-1897:   Cirque National then Cirque d'Hiver - Victor Franconi

1897-1907: Cirque d'Hiver Charles Franconi

Théâtre du Cirque Olympique et Théâtres du Bd du Temple vers 1860

Hippodromes "de spectacles" in Paris

Apart from the direction of Pierre-Célestin Arnault, from 1851 to 1855, who duplicated the Hippodrome de l'Etoile - west of PAris - by having the National Arenas built near Bastille - east of Paris-, in order to alternate the programming, Paris actually housed only one hippodrome at a time, despite all the names we know about.

It is the successive urban developments, the construction of new streets or the redefinition of the districts of western Paris which - apart from the fire of 1869 - are each time the reason why hippodromes close their doors one after the other. Rebuilt almost immediately, not far away from the previous establishment, and renamed according to the same principle as that used later for racecourses that rose around Paris at the end of the 19th century, these places are always designated under the name of Hippdrome, merging the purpose of the place (big shows based on horse entertainment) and the reference to its architectural model. A double meaning covered by one word to which is added the district of the establishment. Actually, nothing in the name makes it possible to distinguish hippodromes dedicated to entertainment and shows from hippodromes dedicated to horse races which is perhaps why these gigantic leisure venues fell into complete oblivion though they played an enormous part in thehistory of stadium and huge arenas welcoming leisure spectaculars.

1845-1856 Hippdrome de l'Etoile   (destroyed for development of the Place de l'Etoile)

1845-1848: Ferdinand Laloue and Victor Franconi

1848-1856 :   Pierre-Célestin Arnault

1851-1855: The National Arena (then Imperial Arena)  - Pierre-Célestin Arnault

1856-1869 (fire) : Porte Dauphine racecourse (or Plaine de Passy racecourse) - Pierre-Célestin Arnault

1875 (provisional) -1877 (final construction) - 1892: Hippodrome de l'Alma - Charles Zidler

1894-1899: Champs de Mars Racecourse

1900-1911: Hippodrome de la Place Clichy (or Hippodrome Montmartre)

Voir aussi à propos des Hippodromes, Hodak (Caroline), Les Hippodromes de spectacles à Paris au XIXe siècle, in Le Cheval et ses patrimoines, Ministère de la Culture.

See also:

Locations: maps of circuses in Paris and London
The Franconi
on the stage
of the Opera
The Franconi
The Franconi Dynasty
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