With its gleaming golden facade and imposing columns Palais Garnier dominates Place de l’Opera in 9th Arrondissement. This grand opera and ballet house is one of the most beautiful buildings in Paris. Built during a turbulent time in Paris’ history, it took nearly fifteen years to complete, finally inaugurated in 1875.
It’s the primary venue for the Paris Ballet company and the best way to experience the sumptuousness that is Palais Garnier is to attend a performance there, which is exactly what we did.
1. When it was completed in 1875 Palais Garnier was one of the largest opera houses in the world. Emperor Napoleon III’s vision was to create a temple to the arts, a world centre for artistic pursuits, and an architectural wonder of the age.
2. The architect Charles Garnier faced a number of challenges during its long construction (originally estimated to take seven years). One problem arose with the discovery of an underground lake — it took almost a year to pump out the water. Then, of course, there was that pesky Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71. Oh, and the destructiveness of the Paris Commune.
3. Charles Garnier’s study of Greek and Roman classics, and his Beaux-Arts training is evident in the design and decoration for the opera house. He expertly employed classic principles such as symmetry and concentric forms within rectangular frames, and gave the opera house the pomp of a palace.
4. The front facade with massive columns references the Louvre. Garnier chose six types of stone and precious metals to reference classical temples.
5. The dominant interior colours are red and gold. Garnier said he chose red for the soft velvet interiors to “complement the ladies’ blushing low necklines”! Evidently he was a bit of a charmer.
6. Garnier’s goal was to make everyone who entered the opera feel as if they were the stars of the show. He achieved this with the lavish Neo-Baroque style — grand marble staircases, elegant corridors and hidden alcoves.
7. The six-ton chandelier was a marvel for its time, although critics complained (as they will) that it obstructed the views and that the light was too bright. There is a persistent rumor that it was this chandelier that specifically inspired Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera.
8. One hundred sculptors and painters worked around the clock to complete the artwork. (But not, we assume, for the entire 15 years.) Most of the interior and exterior statues portray Greek deities.
9. The facade is ornamented with seven archways, each decorated with two marble columns, sculpted statues, and a pair of gold statues.
10. Guilded bronze busts of great composers are located between the columns on the front facade — Gioachino Rossini, Daniel Auber, Ludwig Beethoven, Wolfgang Mozart, Gaspere Spontini, Giacamo Meyerbeer and Fromental Halevy.
Charles Garnier’s design would go on to inspire architects around the world. You can see influence of his design in a number of other buildings including for the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress in Washington DC.