A Complete Look At Teatro Massimo (Massimo Theater)

In this article, find compelling reasons to visit Teatro Massimo in Palermo and get all the details you need to plan your visit and truly understand this iconic monument.

Buongiorno! Nico here, your trusty Sicilian sherpa, ready to guide you through the heart of Palermo.

Today, we’re talking about a real heavyweight in the opera world – the Teatro Massimo. This place isn’t just big, it’s the biggest opera house in Italy, and a heavyweight champion in Europe too.

We’re talking bigger than big – think Opera National de Paris and the K. K. Hof-Opernhaus in Austria, but with an Italian twist.

Now, let me paint you a picture. Imagine sitting in the Teatro Massimo, the air buzzing, and then, boom! The stage lights up with legends like Luciano Pavarotti.

This guy wasn’t just a singer; he was a force of nature. I still get goosebumps thinking about his performance in the ‘60s Butterfly. And “Rigoletto” under maestro Tullio Serafin? Pure magic!

If you’re scratching your head wondering who Pavarotti is, well, you might need a quick music lesson from the big guy upstairs. But don’t sweat it! You can redeem your opera creds by learning all about the Teatro Massimo and planning your visit. Trust me, it’s a pilgrimage every music lover should make.

Alright, let’s cut to the chase. Before you dash off to visit the Teatro Massimo, there’s a few insider tips you need to know. Get ready to step into a world where history, music, and grandeur collide!

First Off: Three Unmissable Reasons to Visit Massimo Opera House

First off, let’s see why you can’t skip a visit to the Massimo Opera House – it’s a must on your Palermo itinerary.

First things first, this is not your run-of-the-mill opera house; it’s Italy’s biggest, and it proudly claims the number three spot in all of Europe. Picture the White House, now double it – that’s Massimo for you. But it’s not just about size; it’s a stunner.

The architecture screams Neoclassical, which, in simple terms, means it’s a classy throwback to the good ol’ Greek and Roman styles. They went for this look after they got tired of the flashy Baroque stuff. Massimo embodies it perfectly – symmetry, grandeur, and clean, classical lines. It’s a beauty!

Numero due, this place has seen legends. We’re talking Richard Wagner, Maria Callas, and the big daddy of them all, Luciano Pavarotti. If those names don’t give you goosebumps, I don’t know what will. And guess what? The show’s still going strong!

Today, it’s a continuous parade of top-notch singers, dancers, and orchestras showing off their chops. If you want to truly experience this theater, catch an opera here. Check their official websites for events during your stay.

Here’s a treat for ‘The Godfather’ fans – this is where they filmed that unforgettable scene in ‘The Godfather Part III.’ Michael Corleone watches an opera here, and you know what happens with his daughter Mary on those theater steps.

Al Pacino delivers one of the most memorable and heart-wrenching cries in movie history.

Now, here’s a spooky twist for the paranormal enthusiasts. They had to tear down some old monasteries to make room for this theater, and the ghost of a nun is said to still wander the place.

Legend has it she trips up anyone who doubts her existence at a particular step. If you’re brave enough to venture inside, watch your step!

Last but not least, you can’t just stroll in; you’ll need a guided tour. But don’t worry, it won’t break the bank, and it’s worth every penny. In about 30-40 minutes, they’ll regale you with the theater’s captivating history and show you some cool stuff. Hit the link to book your tour.

Trust me, this is one adventure you don’t want to miss!

A Quick History Lesson

Learning a little of the history is important here, so don’t whine because it might be a little long winded. There is just a good bit that you should know beforehand to get the most from your experience.

This structure was built back in the late 19th century and it was designed by Giovan Battista Basile, but he was not able to complete it in his lifetime. The construction was completed by his son, Ernesto Basile, who stands as one of the Art Nouveau pioneers of Italian heritage.

Its unique style made it renowned across the world, as it was inspired by Greek temples and classic art. The massive structure always sought to be one of the biggest in all of Europe, but its expertly decorated interior and detailed exterior make it one of the greatest Italian music temples.

Facade inspired by Greek temples

Ernesto Basile could not complete the project alone, however. He enlisted the help of famous painters such as Ducrot (wainscoting) and Ettore De Maria Bergler (painting). The building itself is a great expression of Neo-classicism in the 19th century, which was a contrast of absolutist Baroque styles.

The stylings of the 19th century can easily be seen throughout the exterior of the building as well, as its decoration directly shows a focus to antique monuments through a variety of Pompeian motifs named by Classical Greek ornaments.

Palermo, at this time in history, was guided and structured around the fortunes of the Florio family. Palermo was the official capital of the Florio kingdom and it is believed that this opera house was constructed as a means of entertainment for the family and the locals, but also a place for the Florio family to discuss business and politics.

Teatro Massimo was inaugurated in 1897 with Falstaff opera by Giuseppe Verdi, and at this time established itself as perhaps the most important Italian theater in terms of quality and quantity of operas that would grace its stage.

And as I saidm for those enthused about (the film version of) the mafia, this auditorium of Teatro Massimo was used for some scenes in The Godfather – Part III which starred Al Pacino, Andy Garcia and Sofia Coppola and was directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

Visiting The Theater

You might not want to hear this, but the only way you can even see inside the Teatro Massimo, unless you are there to see a play or production, is by a guided tour. You cannot simply pay an entrance fee and roam freely throughout the building.

You will find that these guided visits are available in both Italian and English, and for some reason the Italian tours are more frequent. About every 50 minutes or so, a new English speaking tour begins, and there are about seven throughout the day starting at 9:30 in the morning and ending at 6 pm Tuesdays through Sundays.

These guides are going to detail basically the same information that I am giving you in this article, so if you do not have the means to sync your schedule with an English speaking tour, you can print out this article and walk along with an Italian tour and get a similar experience.

Once you get to the gates, you turn left and head to the ticket office. Tickets for a guided tour are only 12€, and each one lasts roughly 30 minutes. While I think that they could be a bit more generous with the time, I do not make the rules so we have to deal with whoever does.

The Foyer

This visit to the theater begins in the foyer of the building, which is a rectangular structure which stands at 11.75 meters by 31.7 meters in size. In whole, the building is roughty 7,730 square meters, and boasts nearly 1400 seats.

Within this part of the building, you will see a beautifully created scale model of Teatro Massimo and also sculptures by Salvatore Valenti. You will also see two bronze candelabra decorated with graceful putti and also a bronze bust of Filippo Basile by the famed sculptor Antonio Ugo.

This room is draped in a calm red, also called “ottobrino”, which is roughly translated to October due to its likeness to autumn leaves. There is a wardrobe inside with two side doors which lead to the Coffee Room of the structure.

scale model of Teatro Massimo
Scale model of Teatro Massimo

Once you have taken all the pictures you care to in this area, the guide will take you into the Auditorium and the Royal Box.

Auditorium and Royal Box

Fortunate tourists can witness artists rehearsing their craft on stage, but if not, you can at least soak in the grandeur of the auditorium. Years ago, this room was designed to hold up to 3,000 spectators but these days, regulations have limited this to just under 1,400 (1,381 to be exact).

This auditorium is most known for its incredible acoustics, as it has a distinct horseshoe shape at a 4% slope which contrasts the slope of the stage which is 6.5%. There are five floors worth of boxes and galleries.

The room is overtaken by the “Symbolic Wheel” that forms the ceiling of the room. It is designed to resemble a flower with eleven petals, each of which is a portion of the cooling system originally installed with the construction of the theater, as each can be separately opened to allow hot air to vent out.

Auditorium of Teatro Massimo

Among the center of the second tier of boxes is the Royal box. It has a total of 27 seats and private foyer all its own known as the Royal sitting room. While we no longer have valiant kings to fill these seats, they are now reserved for members of the Regional Parliament and the Mayor of Palermo.

“Normal” people can also sit in these seats, which cost the same as a seat in parquet circle, but you have to book very far in advance as these are the most wanted seats of the entire theater.

Getting a ticket to a show here will range from 20€ to 100€ depending on where you would like to sit.

As for the Royal Sitting Room, this area is covered almost exclusively in gorgeous mahogany wood and is furnished with comfortable sofas and chairs adorned with red brocade.

In the middle of the room is a Murano chandelier and a total of 9 mirrors are positioned on the walls around the room. The entrance doors is the Casa Savoia coat of arms (House of Savoy [Casa Sovoia] is a royal Italian family), which is a white cross on a red field. The design of this room is solely credited to Ernesto Basile.

Your tour then takes you to Pompeian Hall.

Pompeian Hall

This unique room is a circular shape and it was originally believed to be a smoking room and an area exclusively reserved for nobility. This is also informally known as the Echo Room due to its incredible acoustics, allowing sound to increase more and more as you near the center of the room.

Pompeian Hall
Pompeian Hall

The room was intended for men to discuss business, and the echoes in the room were perfect for this setting because other sound would muddy together, causing you to only hear the conversation you are involved in.

This provided a privacy, yet the design of the room allowed you to speak to everyone at once if you stood in the center.

The tour guide will encourage you to play with the acoustics of the room from the center, so have some fun and don’t be too shy to try it out for yourself.

Choir Room

This is the final stop on the tour throughout the building. This has the appearance of a salon from 19th century parties, painted in fresco walls and massive windows facing out to the city centre of Palermo.

As discouraging as it might seem, no one is allowed in the choir room but the dancers who rehearse and perform there. The floor cannot be damaged. Instead, one by one, you are allowed in the threshold to take pictures and see the magnificence.

Unfortunately, this could be closed if dancers are rehearsing, and there is little to be done about that.

Choir Room
Choir Room


In conclusion, a visit to the Teatro Massimo is an absolute must for anyone exploring Palermo. This iconic opera house, the largest in Italy and third-largest in Europe, offers a cultural experience like no other. Let’s sum up the key takeaways:

  1. Architectural Grandeur: The Teatro Massimo is not just big; it’s a masterpiece of Neoclassical architecture. Think of it as a blend of Greek and Roman influences, a refreshing departure from the flashy Baroque style.
  2. Legendary Performances: This opera house has witnessed the likes of Luciano Pavarotti, Maria Callas, and many other music legends gracing its stage. The tradition continues with top-tier performances happening to this day.
  3. Cinematic History: If you’re a fan of ‘The Godfather,’ you’ll be thrilled to know that iconic scenes from ‘The Godfather Part III’ were filmed here. It’s a piece of cinema history that adds to the theater’s allure.
  4. Paranormal Intrigue: For the paranormal enthusiasts, there’s a spooky tale of a ghostly nun haunting the theater. Legend has it she trips up non-believers at a particular step. Keep an eye out if you’re feeling brave!
  5. Guided Tours: Here’s the catch – you can’t just stroll in. To explore the Teatro Massimo, you’ll need to join a guided tour. These tours provide a wealth of information about the theater’s history and architecture. They’re available in both Italian and English.

So, if you’re ready to immerse yourself in the world of Italian opera and explore this architectural gem, don’t miss out. Hit the link to book your guided tour and embark on an unforgettable journey through the Teatro Massimo. Trust me, this is an adventure you won’t want to pass up!


Nico Barcellona

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About Nico

I am a 100%, authentic, full blooded Sicilian loves Palermo like Romeo loves Juliet. I will talk obsessively about this city and I know every part intimately. I know all of Palermo secrets. I want to share with you everything great about this city, but I will not hide its flaws. After all, love is made out of flaws as well.

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