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Charlotte Bara built Teatro San Materno on the site of an old Romanesque church, where she liked to dance within the perimeter hosting the ancient apse.

Teatro San Materno is Weidemeyer’s first and most well-known work undertaken in Ascona. Commissioned by Mr. Paul Bachrach for his daughter Charlotte Bara, the Teatro was intended to be a "temple for the artistic expression in the spirit of the dance school." The building is the first chamber- theatre of the modern age in Switzerland. Its multifunctional requirements had an obvious impact on its architecture. Dance, theatre and music performances all had to be hosted, its spaces were needed as a gym for the school, and students were to be able to stay in the furnished rooms located on the top floor of the building. The large terrace was planned for dance exercises in the open. Charlotte Bara danced and organised performances from 1928 to 1958.


Teatro San Materno, built in 1928 by Architect Carl Weidemeyer (Bremen 1882 - Ascona 1976) on the instructions of the father of mime dancer Charlotte Bara (1901-1986) and later sold by Bara herself to the Commune of Ascona, is one of the finest examples of rationalist architecture to be found anywhere in Canton Ticino; in addition, it was the first “chamber” theatre built in Switzerland to modern building standards.

The theatre is an important building in the story of our region. Its rationalist architecture, in marked contrast to the traditional vernacular to be found in the area, makes it a practical example of the culture which developed between the beginning of the Twentieth Century and the Second World War, when Ticino, and Ascona in particular, became a refuge and home to a large colony of thinkers, writers, musicians and artists from both Switzerland and abroad.

The Teatro is located at the foot of Ascona’s Monte Verità, between the Commune’s cemetery and San Materno castle, the latter being Charlotte Bara’s home from 1919.

Charlotte Bara

The dancer, daughter of a wealthy industrial entrepreneur, was at the height of a brilliant career in the early inter-war period, when the new languages of theatre, stage, and indeed, dance, were finding their full expression, perfectly echoing the innovative spirit of the liveliest artistic avant-gardes of that fervent time.

In 1927 Charlotte Bara decided to found a school of dance, theatre and singing, and consequently, to build a new theatre, primarily to serve the students of the school.

Carl Weidemeyer

The task of designing the building was given to German Architect Carl Weidemeyer, who then settled in Ascona.

Carl Weidemeyer graduated in architecture from Bremen’s Baugewerbeschule in 1901, after which he resumed his study of painting, previously abandoned to satisfy his father’s desire for him to work in the field of construction. He participated, as a painter and decorator, in the Worspswede cultural group, which was pursuing a modern, naturalistic approach. After a variety of experiences with painting and applied art, he devoted himself to architecture in the period between the two wars, with a strict rationalist approach influenced by Heinrich Tessenow.

In Ticino, Weidemeyer, together with Emil Fahrenkamp (who designed Ascona’s Hotel Monte Verità in 1928), were among the organisers of the first debate on the role and impact of modern architecture on an area and its built environment. His houses, featuring simple shapes with flat roofs, such as Casa Tutsch in Ascona-Ronco (1929, much altered today), Casa Mez in Ascona (1930, demolished in 1972), and Casa Oppenheimer (1936) in Moscia, sparked hostile reactions from the Ticinese population, especially as regards their use of flat roofs.


Teatro San Materno itself features a flat roof and a rigorous style, which justifies the extensive use of reinforced concrete. The large windows characterise the building as a place of study.

The entire work features an exceptionally dynamic appearance, especially its elevations. The balcony runs all along its façade, a curve highlighting the side door opening onto the stage. Nonetheless, the plan of the building immediately reveals its derivation from the classical structure of a small Romanesque basilica. Apse, nave and vestibule are clearly visible; however, San Materno sees the succession of rooms reversed, entering from the apse, which acts as vestibule. This structure symbolically evokes the plan of Castello San Materno and its Romanesque church, acquired by Charlotte Bara’s father and subsequently home to the dancer.

In 1995 Teatro San Materno was included in the list of cultural heritage protected by the Canton.

The historical photos on this page are the property of Ascona’s Museo Comunale d'Arte Moderna. Use by third parties is prohibited.