The Opéra Garnier was built during the great reform of the French capital orchestrated by Napoleon III and Baron Haussmann in the 19th century. Built in 1862 by the young architect Charles Garnier in the Second Empire style. It was completed in 1875 in the early days of the Third Republic. It was then the largest opera house in the world.
It is the thirteenth theatre of the Paris Opera since its foundation by Louis XIV in 1669. It was built by order of Napoleon III as part of the great Parisian reconstruction project led by Baron Haussmann. The opera project was put out to tender and won by Charles Garnier, an unknown 35-year-old architect. The construction work, which lasted fifteen years, from 1860 to 1875, was interrupted by numerous incidents, including the War of 1870, the fall of the Empire and the Commune. The Palais Garnier was inaugurated on 15 January 1875. It should be noted that this massive edifice was built on an underground river that continues to feed an underground lake. Created by Gaston Leroux, Le Fantôme de l’Opéra, continues, it is said, to carry on its activities there.
The Second Empire style was a landmark in opera architecture, in particular thanks to the Opéra Garnier, which became a reference in this field.
The theatre is richly decorated. The grand staircase, the first ten steps of which form a pompous stairwell, leads to the large foyer which opens onto the dressing rooms with their flowery mouldings.
Outside and inside, the play of white stone and coloured marbles with the golden bronzes of the statues underlines the majesty of the proportions. The new ceiling frescoes in bright colours were designed and created by Marc Chagall in 1964. In the middle hangs a huge six-ton crystal chandelier.
“The Opera House”
The Opera is an academy of music and dance as well as a place of enchantment imbued with the passion that has animated the lyric arts since their origin. Genius composers and choreographers, great instrumentalists, singers and dancers have given the best of themselves in a range of registers from the desperate to the sublime. This is how the most spectacular intrigues of a romantic world were woven and unravelled on stage, in the artist’s or spectator’s dressing rooms and in the wings of this mythological palace.
Tickets for a ballet are not easy to obtain. However, if you can’t get one, don’t miss the golden and red velvet atmosphere of the building itself (the main hall is open from 11am to 4.30pm).
A few figures :
Surface area: 11,237 m2
Length: 173 m
Maximum width: 125 m
Height of the foundations at the Apollo lyre: 73.6 m
Large staircase: 30 m high
Large fireplace: 18 m high, 54 m long, 13 m wide
Auditorium: 20 m high, 32 m deep, 31 m wide (maximum)
Weight of the chandelier: 8 tons
The construction was accompanied by the opening of a large avenue which, at the time, linked the Palais des Tuileries to the new opera house. Burned down in 1871, during the violent days of the Paris Commune, the Palais des Tuileries now has only its garden.
For the construction of this avenue, an entire district was destroyed.
The Paris Opera is a building that brings together different styles, a little baroque, a small copy of the Italian Renaissance. In any case a beautiful work, with a facade decorated with sculptures that at the time scandalized the Puritans and an impressive interior decoration.
The large central staircase is famous for its layout, marbles, paintings and mosaics.
Even more impressive is the exhibition room, which is all gold and red, with a ceiling that contrasts with the rest of the décor. Chagall painted his angels and light, floating figures there.
Attend a show
If you can, during your stay in Paris, attend a show at the Opéra Garnier.
Winter is the ideal time to take advantage of the rich cultural program of Paris.
How to get dressed
Dress like you’re dining at a fancy restaurant. Since you’ve come so far, pick out a nice dress and enjoy the evening. No costume is required for men. And at intermission, have a glass of champagne at the opera bar.
Myths and Legends
Among Parisian legends and myths, some of them relate to the Opéra Garnier.
The fact that Garnier was the thirteenth opera house built in Paris contributed to the emergence of superstitions and legends around the monument. A fatal accident in 1896 has again loosened the imagination. This year, on May 20, the counterweight of the enormous chandelier in the opera house was broken during a performance that struck the person occupying seat number 13. For a while, comments were made about the curse, the noises and whispers in the corridors of the dressing rooms.
This fact was probably the source of inspiration for Gaston Leroux for his famous book Le Fantôme de l’Opéra.
Garnier is also linked to the myth of an underground lake in Paris.
The soil in this area was very humid and, during the construction of the opera house, to channel the humidity and avoid infiltration, a huge “basin” was built under the stage of the opera house. Today, this pool still exists and has several functions. Once a month, the fire brigade drills there to search for survivors in the flooded basements. It also serves as a reservoir in case of fire.
How to visit the Opéra Garnier
You can visit the Paris Opera as if you were visiting any monument. You don’t have to go to a show to see the inside.
The ticket to visit it costs 14 euros. The opera is open every day from 10am to 5pm.
Place de l’Opéra, 75009 Paris
Bus: 20, 21, 22, 27, 29, 42, 52, 66, 68, 81, 95
Metro line 3, 7, 8 : Opera
RER A: Auber