Théâtre du Châtelet
The theaters stands on the land that was once the site of the medieval fortress of Grand Châtelet. The fortress was built around 1130 by King Louis VI at the Pont au Change (bridge) to defend the Île de la Cité, Paris's historic center. Later, under the rule of Phillippe-Auguste in the 12th century, the fortress became one of the city's most dreaded prisons and home to the Prévôté (provost marshal) of Paris, a sub-division of the tribunal, presided over by the Bailli, a representative of the king. It is said that some of the worst tortures known to mankind were inflicted upon prisoners at this facility.
The area around the fortress was one of the city's most dangerous and criminality was rampant in the neighborhood. During the rule of Napoleon, in the year 1808, the whole neighborhood including the Grand Châtelet was destroyed in an attempt to eradicate the criminality. After the area was cleared, the idea for a public square was devised and carried out.
On either side of the Place du Châtelet sits a theatre. The first, Théâtre du Châtelet, is reserved for music and dance and has been host to myriad operatic and ballet productions and, more recently, a number of popular Broadway-style musicals.
In contrast, the Théâtre de la Ville, which sits on the other side of the square, is dedicated to theatrical performances, both classic and contemporary. This theatre was once owned by Sarah Bernhardt, who was born and died in Paris and lived much of her life there.
The two theatres were designed by the French architect Jean- Antoine-Gabriel Davioud, and built around 1862 in an effort to attract more upper-class people to the area. The two buildings are almost mirror images of each other.