Cirque de Plainpalais | Cirque Rancy

Switzerlands only circus building once stood at the top of the now famous circus location Plaine de Plainpalais. In 1857a wooden circus was build on the site by the family Guichard. In 1865 it passed ownership to Théodore Rancy of the French circus dynasty Rancy.

In the spring of 1876, Théodore Rancy inaugurated in Geneva a second circus, still a wooden one, just a few meters from the first, but this time on the Plaine de Plainpalais. No information can be found as to why Rancy would keep two buildings in the same town so near to each other or how he used them. On the other hand, in his notes, Th. Rancy indicates that he did good business in Geneva every year. This is why in 1880, he demolished his two wooden circuses to replace them with one, but in stone, still at the end of the Plain of Plainpalais, at the Place du Cirque. Stables were attached to the main building, the specialty of the Rancy circus were horse acts. An advertisement from 1876 mentions that the spectators “of the boxes and premieres can visit the stables during the intermission” and that the building has a comfortable buffet. The exterior architecture was very similar to the Médrano circus in Paris, built in 1875 and demolished in 1971.

The possession of a fixed circus in Geneva and another in Lyon (where he spent the winter season) did not prevent Théodore Rancy from touring. During this time, he rents his circus of Geneva for concerts, mask competitions during the Escalade (the “carnival of the Genevans”, commemoration of the resistance to the attack of the Savoyards on December 12, 1602), etc. On February 28, 1881, it hosted readings of texts by Victor Hugo on the occasion of the writer’s seventy-nine years.

If the sources do not mention the length of Rancy’s stays in Geneva, they were long enough for his daughter Sabine to attend school in this city. On this subject, Th. Rancy says that Sabine’s school friends often came to attend performances in which the 8-year-old girl participated during the holidays. However, her classmates no longer thought of imitating their friend and, dissipated, spent their time chatting, so much so that the school principal asked Rancy to delete her daughter’s numbers to restore calm in the classroom!

In his notes, Th. Rancy indicates that the Genevans appreciated the acts of bears and monkeys, but that they especially liked comic acts rich in allusions to famous people. We can therefore imagine that Th. Rancy was trying to satisfy the tastes of the Geneva public. Since his specialty was the training of horses, this animal occupied a large place in the programs. The presence of a pantomime is also not surprising as this genre was all the rage at the time. We know that Rancy presented in Geneva other pantomimes such as “the Chinese Festival” and “the Carnival on ice”. Horsemanship also played a big part in these pantomimes.

We can imagine that Geneva has had parades in the city, music in mind, because that’s what Rancy usually did when he arrived in a city with his circus.

End of an era

After the death of Théodore Rancy in 1892, the Cirque de Genève was operated by his widow Olive and his son Alphonse. In 1897, it was demolished and rebuilt to meet safety standards. Later, it was transformed into a cinema (the screen cut the circular auditorium in two) before meeting the same fate as many other circus building: it was demolished in 1955. With this building, replaced by a building, the only permanent circus in Switzerland and the link between Geneva and a great figure of the 19th century circus has disappeared. A pity because the city of Geneva had recognized the honor of the presence of this man in its city as in 1876 it offered the City Cup to Théodore Rancy during a gala evening.


Place du Cirque 4
1204 Genève

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