Cirque des Champs-Élysées | Cirque d'Été

Cirque d’Été | Cirque des Champs-Élysées

In 1836 Louis Dejean, the owner of the Cirque Olympique on the boulevard du Temple, obtained an additional license for a summer tent-circus at the Carré Marigny on the Champs-Élysées. This was replaced in 1841 by a polygonal stone edifice with 16 sides to designs by architect Jacques Hittorff. It was mirrored in shape and location by the Panorama building on the other side of the Champs-Élysées. This building still stands and nowadays is in use as the Théâtre du Rond Point.

Although both buildings stood mirrored to one another they did not share the same design nor architect. The circus had a pedimented porch on the east side was surmounted with a bronze equestrian statue designed by Pradier, and panels on the other sides sported ornamental bas-relief horses’ heads designed by Duret and Bosio. The theatre was spacious and held as many as 4,000 to 6,000 spectators. To the north was a rectangular building which included the stables. The interior was decorated in a Moorish style, and the roof was supported by light iron columns. The ceiling was decorated with compartments enclosing equestrian figures, and a chandelier with 130 gas lights hung over the center of the performance ring, which was surrounded by sixteen rows of seats.

Later in its history the buildings director named Gallois installed heating. It was also he who had booked the famous composer Hector Berlioz to give six concerts in the circus in the winter and spring of 1845.

Although the first two concerts at the Cirque were well attended, the numbers quickly declined and the series closed after the fourth concert. The location, not a popular spot in the wintertime, was probably partly to blame, as were the acoustics of the hall, which was too reverberant. In addition, the ticket prices of 5 francs for the upper level and 10 francs for the lower were significantly higher than the 1 and 2 francs typically charged for a typical circus/ equestrian show.

Berlioz was later to write in his memoirs:

“I do not remember what terms we agreed on; I know only that it turned out badly for him [Gallois]. The takings of the four concerts, for which we had engaged five hundred performers, were inevitably insufficient to cover all the cost of such huge forces. Once again the place was quite unsuitable for music. This time the sound reverberated so slowly in that heart-breaking rotunda that compositions of any complexity gave rise to the most horrid confusions of harmony. Only one piece was really effective and that was the Dies irae from my Requiem. Its breadth of tempo and harmonic movement made it seem less incongruous than any of the others in those booming cathedral-like spaces. It scored such a success that we had to include it in the programme of every concert.

The theatre reached its apogee during the Second French Empire under the name Cirque de l’Impératrice (1853–1870), after which it became known as the Cirque d’Été or the Cirque des Champs-Élysées.

The circus on the Champs-Élysées was demolished in 1902 with the intention be build a new circus nearby. Bonds had been sold to finance the new circus called Olympia-Palace, but after the treasurer took off with all the investments it was never constructed. The old building is the reason why to this day the street leading to the Square Marigny from the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré is named Rue du Cirque (Street of the circus).


Square Marigny
75008 Paris

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