In the garden of the "Arrigo Serpieri" Agrarian Institute, there is a small, open-air theatre, which along with an oratory and an aviary is all that is left of the elegant Villa Altieri. The context within which this theatre operated is currently difficult to interpret, due to the significant changes that took place in the 1960s. In 1958, the last owners, Giuseppe and Anita Galli, sold the entire property (villa, garden, and estate) to the Bologna provincial administration, which elected to build the agrarian institute here. The villa, which had been seriously damaged during World War II, was in very poor condition and was demolished; in order to make room for the new buildings much of the estate was destroyed, and its pond filled in.
When Raffaele Altieri purchased the property from Giuseppe Rubbiani in 1891, the theatre was already an integral part of it. Historic photos (owned by the Altieri family) depict a charming, still intact green theatre. A tree-lined path led to the theatre’s entrance, which was flanked with two lion sculptures. Two orders of Roman brick terraces enclosed the auditorium, forming a bell shape. The auditorium was connected to the stage, framed by two grooved columns with Ionic capitals. At the centre of the proscenium stage, a large mask concealed the prompter’s box, while tall hedgerows served as curtains; the area reserved for the audience was surrounded by trees.
Currently, the theatre’s appearance has changed significantly, although it essentially retains its original form. As some of its integral elements have now been destroyed – historical photographs being the only evidence of their existence – and in the absence of documentation, we can only formulate hypotheses on the origins of the theatre. One clue is the height of the boxwood hedgerows, which can be seen in a photograph taken between the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th. If we assume they were planted when the theatre was built, the first half of the 19th century seems like a reasonable estimate for its creation. (Lidia Bortolotti)
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