During my last trip back home I went to visit the Palais Garnier, Paris’ renown Opera House. Built between 1861 and 1875 to symbolise the architecture and opulence of Napoleon III’s Second Empire, it is one of the most beautiful landmarks in the French capital, and possibly the most famous opera house in the world alongside Sydney’s.
Here are a few pictures and 9 fun facts about the Opéra Garnier:
- It was originally called the “Salle des Capucines” because it is located on the Boulevard des Capucines, in the 9th district of Paris. It soon after became known as “Palais Garnier” in memory of its architect Charles Garnier.
- The huge chandelier which hangs from the ceiling (see pictures) weights a ridiculous 7 tonnes of bronze and crystal. Designed by Garnier himself, it was an unpopular feature because its sheer size obstructed the stage view of those sat on the 4th level, and hid Eugène Lenepveu’s amazing painted ceiling.
- The Opera is renown as the set of the famous 1910 gothic novel The Phantom of the Opera, a legendary tale about a ballerina’s skeleton being uncovered inside the palace. The book was inspired by real events that took place in the late 19th century. Box number 5, the Phantom’s requested seat in the novel, can also be visited.
- The opera, and the grand staircase in particular, was designed for people watching. The numerous balconies and open staircases invited the crowd to scrutinise fellow audience members. The stairs themselves were made really shallow to prevent women from showing their ankles when walking up.
- The main façade, which Garnier describe as having “perfect elegance”, was designed to look like a theatre set. Covered in statues and sculptures with large stone columns, it is very Instagram-able indeed.
- At 60m high and almost 50m wide (I’m not using the other ridiculous measurement system, sorry) it is one of the world’s largest stages.
- The opera is surrounded by banks. That’s because rich people who attended would visit their vaults and pick up their most fancy jewels before turning up. Attending the opera was about making a social statement just as much as entertainment.
- The foyers were built for audiences to walk around during intervals. The Grand Foyer was made to look like the gallery of a classical chateau, while the wonderful painted ceilings represent different themes from the history of music.
- People came to see famous people. The top-tier was primarily reserved for middle class people who came to observe the capital’s attending elite. Back then, the lights stayed on throughout performances to allow people-watching during the opera. This changed when Richard Wagner decided all lights needed to be off to better concentrate on the stage.
The Opera Garnier is open every day from 10 am-4.30 pm except on days of afternoon performances and bank holidays. See details here, and visit it if you get a chance! Honestly, the pictures don’t do it justice.