The oldest cinema in the world is in La Ciotat, where cinema was born, thanks to the Lumière brothers.

oldest cinema in the world

A first projection in 1899

The mythical Eden Théâtre, in La Ciotat, is today the oldest operating cinema in the world. And for good reason: its first commercial projection dates back to March 21, 1899, more than 122 years ago. Around twenty films by the Lumière brothers had been screened at the time in front of some 250 guests who were flabbergasted by the extraordinary novelty of these animated images.
The extraordinary story of Eden, the oldest cinema in the world, begins in Paris. On the occasion of a Masonic convent, the Lyonnais photographer Antoine Lumière met the Ciotaden Antoine Sellier, chief mechanic of the shipyards, who praised to him the exceptional quality of the light of the landscapes of the Gulf of Love favorable to the talents of painter of his new friend. Immediately seduced, Antoine Lumière, who made his fortune thanks to the Blue Labels, photographic plates invented by his son Louis, built a sumptuous residence on the shores of the Mediterranean, the Château Lumière, which in 1893 became the family’s summer residence. Antoine Lumière befriends the owner of the Eden Théâtre, Raoul Gallaud, and it is the friendship of these two men that will make the performance hall on Boulevard de la Tasse the place for screenings of the first Lumière films.

oldest cinema in the world

Copyright Eden cinema

The cradle of cinema

The Eden Théâtre, built in 1889 by entertainment entrepreneur Alfred Seguin, was then a popular hall where theatrical performances, music hall shows and even sporting exhibitions of boxing or Greco-Roman wrestling took place. During the summer of 1895, when he had just registered the patent for the invention of the Cinematograph and was filming in Lyon Leaving the Lumière factories, the first film in the history of cinema, Louis Lumière took advantage of the family vacation in La Ciotat to shoot a dozen films that make the small Provençal port the true cradle of cinema.

On September 21, 1895, Antoine Lumière invited ciotadian good society to the Palais Lumière for “some cinematographic experiences”. During this evening “all family and in daily clothes”, one hundred and fifty people attend dumbfounded the screening of a dozen films shot by Louis in Lyon (Exit from the Lumière factories, Fire of a house, Place des Cordeliers) and in La Ciotat (Bathing at sea, Red fish, Baby’s dinner). For Louis, it is the scientific success of the cinematograph that “moves the image”, for his father Antoine, it is the Masonic sublimation of “eternal life”.

oldest cinema in the world

Copyright Eden cinema – La Ciotat

Difficult beginnings

The friend Gallaud, who of course attended this memorable evening, invited Antoine Lumière to renew the experience in his Eden room, which was done a few days later, on October 14. But the projection is cut short because, if Antoine is a man of initiative, his technical mastery is insufficient. This unfinished session has remained in the memory of the familiars of the protagonists but does not in fact constitute the birth certificate of cinema at Eden.
Convinced that the invention of his sons would bring glory and fortune to the Lumière family, Antoine organized in Paris, on December 28, 1895, in the Indian Salon of the Café de Paris, a new screening of the films presented at La Ciotat. Thirty-three paying spectators, including Méliès who tries in vain to buy the patent from Antoine Lumière. It is this date that is remembered by history as the first commercial cinema session, but the Ciotadens know the preamble. In the months that followed, a double movement took place: the Lumière operators traveled the world to shoot films with their cinematograph, while cinemas opened in the major cities of France and Europe.

The first paying cinema at Eden

On March 21, 1899, two hundred and fifty Ciotadens attended the first paying cinema at Eden. On the program, nineteen Lumière films including Caravan at the Pyramids of Egypt and Ship Launch at La Ciotat. All the rooms from this period having been destroyed or transformed into shops or car parks, the screening of March 21, 1899, the poster of which has been carefully preserved, makes Eden the oldest cinema in the world still in operation.

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