We are the sort of travellers that don’t have to visit everything that can be visited. Especially the churches that all kind of look the same we usually skip. With the Palais Garnier, we were unsure whether or not to go see it. From the outside, it isn’t all that spectacular and after all, it is just an opera.
Good thing that we decided to go for it.
The opera was commissioned by Napoleon III. He picked the master builder Charles Garnier. Building started in 1860 and it soon after turned out that this was not going to be an easy process. The premises that were chosen had quite a high ground-water level which made it really hard to lay down the foundation. There is also an underground lake directly underneath the building which is still monitored and regularly drained to this day. The war in 1870/71 held up the construction process even more and the building was only finally opened in 1875.
Garnier had the goal to give the interior of the opera his own signature style. In these times, visiting the opera was a social event that was all about being seen. That is why Garnier created marble stairs, the Grand Foyer and a pompous auditorium. The auditorium is horse-shoe shaped which means that the view of the stage gets worse the further on the sides one is sat. But the loges have a brilliant view of the stage. A crystal chandelier hangs from the auditorium’s ceiling. It weighs about 8 tons. The ceiling’s painting was re-designed in 1963 by Marc Chagall. The original painting is still behind the canvas that Chagall’s work is on.
A visit to Palais Garnier
A little side entrance leads into Palais Garnier. After the obligatory bag check, we continued to the very empty desk area where we purchased our tickets. We seemed to have lucked out with timing. Or is the Palais Garnier generally quieter?
Up some stairs we go to the Grand Escalier. My breath was taken away right after the first view I caught of it. Rarely have I ever seem anything that pompous. A high ceiling, almost like in a church, crowns the space that is decorated with different kinds of marble. A big, double staircase leads to the higher levels. I feel reminded of staircases in fairytale castles, where the king and queen majestically descend to join the ball. Light is coming from crystal chandeliers, gold shimmers and sparkles all around. Some other castles that I have visited in the past could really do with some inspiration from this foyer.
We walk up the stairs and I don’t know what to admire first. The chandeliers, the ceiling or should I just enjoy it as a whole?
On the first floor, visitors can step out into a loge from where the view into the auditorium is magnificent. Here, too, marble, stucco, velvet and gold plated elements dominate the interior. You can just about see the stage where theatre staff works on the set for the next show.
I let my eyes wander to the other loges, the rows of seats and finally to the ceiling. What a chandelier! It is made from bronze and crystal and holds 340 flames that light up the room. In the face of that piece, one could almost overlook the (I think beautiful) painting by Chagall.
It takes me a little while to be able to take my eyes of the ensemble before we continue our tour through the Palais Garnier.
We cross the Galiere du Glacier and arrive at the Salon du Glacier. It is a room in the shape of a semi-circle with a painting on the ceiling and tapestries on the walls. Compared to what we have seen before, this room appears almost plain.
But there is more. We step into the Grand Foyer and see set tables in a room full of chandeliers, mirrors and gold plating. This room is suitable for a dinner party or a gala. The light in the room, filtered through the crystals and reflected from the gold and the mirrors, is magical. Too bad that the pictures do not do it justice.
We exit the pompous hall through a door to the Bibliothèque-Muséede l’Opéra. Dark bookshelves hold collections from 3 centuries of theatre history.
Via some stairs and the Galerie de l’Orchestre visitors are led out of the opera.
What a tour! I am so happy that we didn’t jump to conclusions about the interior when we saw the rather unspectacular outside of the building. We would have missed a pretty epic visit.
This very opera is the location where the true story behind “The Phantom of the Opera” took place. During the first-ever show at Palais Garnier, some strange sounds from the underground were heard throughout the building. And in May 1896 a counterweight from the big chandelier in the auditorium fell down and killed the concierge Madame Chomette who used to live on Rue Rochechouar. The cause of this accident remained unknown. Occurrences like that were very unsettling for the theatre staff and the myth of an opera ghost arose who was thought to live in the labyrinth of corridors underneath the building. On his boat, the ghost was said to cross the groundwater lake underneath the building.
8 Rue Scribe
Opening Hours for tours:
September to mid-July: 10.00 – 17.00
Mid-July to September: 10.00 – 18.00
Admission for the tour:
Adults: 11€ (12€ at times with extra exhibitions in the building)
Discounted tickets are available
An audioguide is availabel at an extra cost