Of all the public buildings in Bordeaux, the Grand-Théâtre is unquestionably the most well-known and appreciated. It stands on the site of a former temple (Les Piliers de Tutelle) that was once in the middle of a Gallo-Roman forum.
The Grand Théâtre's construction was made necessary by the destruction of a performance hall in 1755. The latter was located in the outbuildings of the former town hall, near the Grosse Cloche.
Architect François Lhote, assisted by Soufflot, initially proposed a project that was not accepted by the city aldermen. Eventually, Marshal de Richelieu, governor of the province of Guyenne, imposed the Parisian architect Victor Louis (1731-1800). In order to pay for the construction, the land located on the southern glacis of the Château Trompette was sold.
It took more than five years to build the Grand Théâtre and, after many vicissitudes, it was inaugurated in 1780 with a performance of Athalie, a play by Jean Racine.
The rectangular-shaped structure opens up onto Place de la Comédie to the west with a peristyle featuring 12 Corinthian columns supporting an entablature and a balustrade decorated with 12 statues (the nine muses and three goddesses). At the beginning, this peristyle was on the same level as Place de la Comédie. However, in the mid-19th century, it was decided to lower the level to make it easier for horse-drawn carriages to cross.
The Grand Théâtre was nevertheless innovative, and Victor Louis imagined a clever oblique arrangement of stones maintained by a metal tie beam at the angles of the peristyle in order to support them. This ingenious combination became known as "Victor Louis's nail".