The Arena del Sole is one of the historical theatres of Bologna. Its origins come to 1810. It was reopened in 1995 after eight years of reconstruction.
At the time of the French occupation of Bologna (1796-1816), an outdoor arena was built on the initiative of Pietro Bonini, a leather trader, over the area once occupied by the old convent of S. Maria Maddalena: precisely Arena del Sole, thus called because during the summer months it offered theatre performances from the afternoon to sunset. In 1810 Carlo Asparri, Filippo Antolini's follower, built a terraced semicircular structure in Neo-classic and Enlightenment style and inspiration, which became the typical example of the popular theatre for plays, dramas, carnival balls, circus performances. The façade made by Gaetano Rubbi in 1888 is the only 19th-century structure still in its original form. A high arcade rests on three large arched vaults supported by coupled Corinthian capitals and a large overhanging cornice. A writing runs frieze-like over the arcade with the inscription ‘Place dedicated to day performances’. A crowning pediment by Alfredo Neri displays the statues of Apollo, in the centre, Poetry (left) and Tragedy (right). In 1916 the theatre added movable fixtures to its structure, in order to be fully operating also in the winter season for live performances and as a movie hall. Film screenings increased significantly in the 1930's, a prelude to the thorough renovation into a movie theatre in 1949. In the 70's a project by Cervellati - considered too ambitious at the time - proposed its transformation into a multipurpose cultural centre. The recent history of the arena started in 1986 with the acquisition by the Municipality of Bologna of the building compound, then owned by Opera Pia Giovanni XXIII, in order to provide the city with an adequate prose theatre. Renovation took place in three different stages (1984, 1986, 1991) with the grand inauguration in 1995. Also, for the first time in Italy a modular wooden platform was added, which, thanks to a water-powered mechanism, can raise the stalls to the level of the stage, with a corresponding enlargement of the latter to a maximum of 25 metres. For the design, architect Gianfranco Dellerba drew inspiration from the terraced U-shaped cavea found in the Renaissance theatre of Sabbioneta and the Farnese theatre in Parma. The larger theatre hall has 952 seats, while the smaller one has 220 to 300 seats. On the south side the theatre structure opens to the 15th-century cloister of the old convent, an inner courtyard through a large glass window, and to a courtyard on via S. Giuseppe on the north side.