Cirque Municipal, Châlons-en-Champagne – France
The municipal circus of Châlons-en-Champagne, although construction was planned for 1892 it eventually got built in 1898 and 1899 by the architect Louis Gillet for the Société du Cirque. It openend on the 16th of April 1899 and has been listed as a Historic Monument since 1984.
The building with a surface area of 1,360m2 was made up of three distinct parts:
- the circus, the 12-sided polygon measuring 33 meters in diameter, for performances,
- the stables, designed to accommodate (large) animals, now rehabilitated into a gymnasium,
- the café, designed as a meeting space.
The Société du Cirque was a company of shareholders with a capital of 1,5 million francs.
Louis Gillet choose to make the circus polygon out of reinforced concrete. This made it the very first reinforced concrete building in Châlons.
The remarkable sculpted portal boasts several features. The biggest eye-catcher are the three horses that seem to be jumping out of the façade. The design is actually taken from the Chantilly stables built in the 18th century.
To the left and right one can see clown heads accompanied by music, comedy and circus props and foliage. The foliage on the left is oak and on the right laurel. Above it all coat of arms of the city of Châlons framed by pine cones. It was removed in the 1970’s, rebuild in 1987, broke off during the 1999 december storm and finally restored in 2011.
From 1919 to 1931 the building was used as a cinema, circus performances were hosted only occasionally notably for the 15 days of the Châlons Fair. The Société du Cirque also rented out the other spaces for banquets or events, but the generated income was not enough. So on the first of January 1938, the building was taken over the the city, making it a true Municipal Circus.
The city rents the circus and the annexed buildings to various sports clubs for the training of members and for the storage of equipment.
But the circus is also used in the same way as a village hall for sporting events (mainly wrestling and boxing), concerts (in particular to replace the music kiosk in the park next door when the weather is bad), conferences.
During the Great War (1914-1918), the army took over the place to produce camouflage materials for the units on the front. During the Second World War (1939-1945), the building was occupied and badly damaged. It is believed that the building was notably used as a gas mask depot. The Cirque café remains in operation during this period. It is frequented in particular by German soldiers and street girls, which has led to several raids and some periods of closure.
In 1985 the CNAC (Centre national des Arts du cirque) started operating from the building. But to do so an extension of the buildings was necessary. The architect in charge of the project, Jean-Denis Gouzien, based the architectural style of the entire facade on the original building so successfully that one would swear no extra extensions were made.
In 2009 the building was completely renovated under project management by the City of Châlons-en-Champagne. The work took place under the control of Grzeszczak-Rigaud Architectes and aimed to improve the security and functionality of the circus, while trying to rediscover the original atmosphere of the place. The building was adapted to suit the modern needs of artistic creation and circus arts teaching. Afterwards the building met the new requirements for accessibility and environment. The auditorium now has 800 seats. Total costs of these renovation works was well over 5 million euros.
CNAC, site historique
1, Rue du Cirque
Pictures taken on:
16 September 2023