Le Manège, Reims – France
In 1880 the city youth asked for an equestrian riding school to be build. Several years later the Lord Mayor Édouard Werlé (1801-1884) took this idea and took it to the next level. He created the concept with a combination of a gymnasium, riding school and permanent circus. He asked city architect Narcisse Brunette (1808-1895) to draw up the plans.
In 1865 the work on the Manège (Riding school) and the circus started after the needed 200.000 Francs were secured. The city paid 44.000 Francs the rest of the money was raised with the financial aide of 262 subscribers to the project of the three buildings.
The circus was inaugurated on the 21st of April 1867. The riding school was completed first, but its occupation by the Prussian cavalery meant it couldn’t be inaugurated as an actual riding school until the 11th of November 1872.
Narcisse Brunette created a circus that was inspired by the Parisian circuses designed by Hittorf (Cirque d’Été and Cirque d’Hiver). They too were the shape of a 16 sided polygon. The diameter used in Reims is 33 meters and the circus ring the standard size of 13,5 meters. The building has a metal skeleton roof and 16 metal roof support columns. The metal structure has a measures a height of 15 meters at its highest point. The exterior is made of limestone ornaments and blocks combined with red brick. The interior seating is completely made of wood and originally sat about 2000 people. The metal columns divide the seating in two sections. The first rows offered upholstered benches, after the columns the benches were made of wood with the very last row being a woodenbench of just 21cm depth to sit on.
Under the seating vestibules and dressing rooms were created as well as a circular hallway. A special feature is the tunnel to the center of the ring that, with a trapdoor, can be used by illusionists. The New Circus of Ghent also possessed such a tunnel.
The circus horses would use the stables of the riding school next door and at one point the two buildings were connected by a corridor shaped building to ensure the horses could enter the circus ring without being exposed to the elements. This corridor connected to one of the four big wooden doors providing acces to the circus building.
In the 1930’s the interior decorations were re-done to the latest fashion and colour scheme and they more-or-less still exist today.
Nowadays the old riding school has been turned into a theatre. The two buildings are exploited by the same organization called “Manège – Scène National Reims”. Their focus mainly lies on productions within the movement art such as dance. The Circus Arts shown today are represented by Companie / Collectif productions. Circus* is no longer presented there since the Cirque Éducatif did not return to Reims after the Covid pandemic. But who knows what the future will bring.
*: Circus as defined as a part of The Circus Arts. Some use the synonym: ‘Classical Circus’.
Manège, scène nationale-Reims
2, Boulevard du Général Leclerc
Pictures taken on:
15 & 16 September 2023