The theatre evolved out of the first city theatre built in 1836 housed in the present-day Old City Hall. The theater was first established as the Croatian National Theatre in 1860, and in 1861 it gained government support putting it on par with many other European national theatres. In 1870 an opera company was added to the theater and in 1895 it moved to the new purpose-built building on Republic of Croatia Square in Zagreb’s Lower Town, where it is based today.
Austro-Hungarian emperor Franz Joseph I was at the unveiling of this new building during his visit to the city in 1895. The building itself was the project of famed Viennese architects Ferdinand Fellner and Herman Helmer, whose firm had built several theaters in Vienna. Celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the building were held on October 14, 1995.
At the entrance of the theatre is located the wall fountain The Source of Life, designed by Croatian artist and sculptor Ivan Meštrović in 1905.