So while I was in Paris for my fall break I literally went to one of the most beautiful places in the world. I went to the Paris Opera house which is formally called the Palais Garnier. It was built in 1861 to 1875. I was able to take a tour through it thanks to this cool pass I bought for my trip called the Paris Pass which was a really good investment because it allowed me to skip the lines of monuments and get into a bunch of museums and monuments for free. It ended up being worth the heavy charge at the beginning because it made the whole trip in Paris really easy and less stressful because we had so any options open to us.
We took our tour in English with a tour guide lady who was actually dutch. I really liked her and she made the tour really fun and gave us some cool facts that I would not have known from just walking around the building by myself. She also pointed out some hidden elements that I wouldn’t have seen on my own.
We first got there and entered into a big room with a really cool looking and ornate ceiling. It was a little dark but very nice. Our tour guide told us that we had entered through the doors of the entrance reserved for the King of France and that we were now by the entrance where the rich nobles entered. She told us that when people got to the opera house they didn’t look at each other until they had formally entered a few rooms ahead. This was in order to make sure you had time to check yourself and be sure you looked perfect before being seen by everyone. The idea was that if you didn’t look at anyone and they didn’t look at you, that no one would see each other before they all looked perfect. She told us that this was the thirteenth opera house that was built and that we couldn’t visit any of the other ones because they had all burned down because they were made of wood. They would typically take 5 years to make and then because they were made of wood and used candles for lighting up the rooms at night, they would burn down within 1-2 years. That made me laugh but it totally made sense.
It was actually a competition to determine who would be the architect for this Paris Opera house and over 200 people submitted designs and models for Napoleon the third. It was Napoleons wife who got to choose our guide told us and when she saw the design by Charles Garnier she thought it was the most hideous building ever because he didn’t use a known style. So she made him come see her and she was like, “what the heck is this syle?” And he was like, “oh it’s a new style called Napoleon Trois” So then she had to pick it because it was named after her husband.
It was really funny though because the architect thought that he was going to be forgotten so he actually hid a bunch of his own elements in the architecture of the building. For example on one of the ceilings he has his name spelled out and in the Grand Foyer (gold room), there are 8 busts of his head as lamps which when people saw them criticized him but he told them that they were just the busts of Apollo. He told everyone it was a compliment that he looked like the busts of Apollo. The entire theater actually has the theme of Apollo and a Lyre throughout the building.
He wasn’t far off though in thinking that he would be forgotten because there was a transfer of power while the Opera house was being built and all work on the building came to a halt during the Franco-Prussian War due to the siege of Paris. The new government of the Third Republic maintained an intense dislike of all things associated with the Second Empire, and many of them wanted to replace Garnier as the architect for the building. Economies were demanded, and Garnier was forced to suppress the completion of sections of the building. But then because the other theater in Paris was destroyed by a fire overnight there was a resurgence of support to finish the building. The theatre was formally inaugurated on 5 January 1875 with a lavish gala performance, which Garnier wasn’t invited to at first. Then upon hearing this the public was outraged and support for the political leader Adolphe Thiers who was in charge fell so in order to gain it back he sent a letter of invitation to join provided that Garnier could pay for his seat which they made sure was ridiculously expensive. So Garnier didn’t actually get to go to his own designs debut. I thought that was pretty sad. He did go later once things calmed down but he wasn’t able to go and see everyone’s reactions to it for the first time.
While we were there a prinicipal performer for the current production was there so when we went in to see the inside of the Opera theater she was practicing ballet onstage. Now this building is used mostly for ballet and there is another building in Paris where Opera and Plays are done. Our guide told us that there is no seat number 13 in the theater because once a lamp fell on the woman sitting in that seat and she died. Over time though the story has changed to a man and he still haunts the theater as the Phantom of the Opera. Yep! This is the real Opera house of the Phantom! Our guide also told us that it is true that there is a lake below the Opera house and that it is still accessible but that you have to have lots of clearance and such. But that the water was kind of a hassle during the construction of the building but they wanted to have it close in case of fires.
It was by far the most beautiful building that I have ever been in and it was really cool to see in person. I was glad that my friend and I on a whim decided to go there because it will probably stay one of my favorite places in Paris because of my love for theatre. One other little known fact is that it is at this Opera house that the idea of Macaroons came about because they were bit sized and wouldn’t ruin ladies gloves!