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Visiting the Paris Opera, France: amazingly opulent architecture

Updated on August 17, 2016
Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
Garnier's Opera from the Avenue of the Opera, Paris, France
Garnier's Opera from the Avenue of the Opera, Paris, France | Source
Paris Opera, 1875 engraving
Paris Opera, 1875 engraving | Source
Map location of Paris, France
Map location of Paris, France | Source

Words fail

The Paris Opera (Opéra de Paris) seems quite simply to be made for an illustrated dictionary's definition of opulence, in an architectural sense. The work, in Neo-Baroque style, of distinguished architect Charles Garnier (1825-1898), it was commissioned in 1861 by French Emperor Napoleon III. For this reason, the building's style is sometimes also referred to as Second Empire. The term Neo-Renaissance has also been used. The building was not complete until 1875, with the Franco-Prussian War and the collapse of the Second Empire intervening. The new republican government continued to retain Garnier, however.

Marble friezes and columns are complemented by statues of Classical deities and bronze busts of distinguished musicians, including Mozart, Rossini and Beethoven. In an interior refurbishment in 1964, the ceiling was painted by Marc Chagall.

The Paris Opera, sometimes referred to as the Garnier Palace (Palais Garnier ) used to be the home of the National Opera of Paris (Opéra National de Paris ) until President Mitterrand moved it in 1989 to a modern building known as the Opéra Bastille, designed by Uruguayan architect Carlos Ott. The Paris Opera is still used for ballet productions of the National Opera company. The Paris Opera has also been traditionally the hub of grand receptions among prominent people in the world of music, the arts and politics.

Inside the building, the Grand Staircase (le Grand Escalier ) was the scene of an effusive opening ceremony in 1875. Seating is available for a total of 2,200 people. The stage itself is so hugely proportioned that up to 450 artists can be accommodated on it. Amazingly, the building it replaced, dating from before the French Revolution, was even bigger.

Housed within the Opera is the Library-Museum of the National Opera of Paris (Bibliothèque-Musée de l'Opéra National de Paris ). This museum traces the three centuries of the history of the Paris Opera, which has operated under various names, as régimes came and went.

The fantasy world which this building evokes is testified by the fact that the edifice inspired Gaston Leroux's 1910 The Phantom of the Opera . The appearance of the Paris Opera is arguably reminiscent of an enormous wedding cake with Imperial décor. One discerns the immense confidence and desire to manifest artistic flair which its architect and Imperial patron seemingly effused. The impact upon the senses which this building exercises gives rise to thoughts of all sorts of overblown terminology, as one tries to grasp the essence of this almost unbelievably opulent edifice: its 'evidence of elephantine megalomania?'; 'the quintessence of architectural riot?'; 'a drunken excess spurred by wealthy patronage?' — words fail, in the end.

Also worth seeing

See the links, below, for some details of other sights of Paris, including the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and the Bourbon Palace.


How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle ), from where car rental is available; however, visitors to Paris may wish to explore the city via its excellent public transport system. The Métro station for the Paris Opera is called Opéra . Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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