Opera House and masterpiece
The Palais Garnier is the thirteenth theatre to house the Paris Opera since it was founded by Louis XIV in 1669. It was built on the orders of Napoleon III as part of the great Parisian reconstruction project carried out by Baron Haussmann. The project for an opera house was put out to competition and was won by Charles Garnier, an unknown 35-year-old architect. Building work, which lasted fifteen years, from 1860 to 1875, was interrupted by numerous incidents, including the 1870 war, the fall of the Empire and the Commune. The Palais Garnier was inaugurated on 5 January 1875.
The main façade
In the year 2000 the main façade of the Opera was completely renovated, thus revealing its original rich colours and golden statue-work.
The Grand Staircase, the library-museum
The Grand Staircase is one of the most famous features of the Palais Garnier. Built in marble of various colours, the double stairway leads to the foyers and the different levels of the auditorium. The Grand Staircase is itself a theatre where, in years gone by, the crinolines of fashionable society ladies would brush. The four sections of the painted ceiling depict different allegories of music. At the foot of the staircase stand two bronze torchères, large female figures brandishing bouquets of light. The collections of the library-museum (Bibliothèque Nationale de France) conserve a record of the three centuries of the Opera's past. Throughout the year the museum presents short thematic exhibitions. It also houses a permanent gallery containing paintings, drawings, photographs and scale models of sets. The library-museum is situated in the Rotonde de l'Empereur, the west pavilion adjoining the main facade, originally destined for the Emperor's use. After the fall of the Empire, building work was never fully completed and the dressed blocks of stone are still to be seen as they were in 1870.
The vast and richly decorated foyers provide the audience with areas to stroll through during intervals. The vault of the avant foyer is covered with delightful mosaics in sparkling colours on a gold background. There is a splendid view of the Grand Staircase.
Garnier intended the Grand Foyer, restored in 2004, to resemble the gallery of a classical chateau. The mirrors and windows accentuate its vast dimensions. The magnificent ceiling painted by Paul Baudry portrays themes from the history of music. The lyre, the dominant decorative element, is to be found on capitals, heating grates and doorknobs alike. A copy of Charles Garnier's bust by the sculptor Carpeaux stands in the centre of the foyer, near one of the windows that look down the avenue de l'Opéra towards the Louvre.
The Salon du Glacier
At the end of the bar gallery is to be found the Salon du Glacier, a light and cool rotunda adorned with a ceiling painted by Clairin depicting dancing bacchantes and fauns, and tapestries illustrating different drinks (tea, coffee, orangeade, champagne...) as well as fishing and hunting. Completed after the opening of the opera house, this room has a very distinct 1900s flavour.
Red and gold, lit by the immense crystal chandelier hanging below Marc Chagall's brightly coloured ceiling, the Italian-style horseshoe-shaped auditorium has 1,900 red velvet seats. The magnificent painted-canvas house curtain imitates a draped curtain with gold braid and pompoms.
The Opera in 9 figures
Surface area: 11,237 m2
Length: 173 m
Maximum width: 125 m
Height from the foundations to Apollo's lyre: 73.6 m
Grand Staircase: 30 m high
Grand Foyer: 18 m high, 54 m long, 13 m wide
Auditorium: 20 m high, 32 m deep, 31 m wide (maximum)
Weight of the chandelier: 8 tonnes
Stage: 60 m high consisting of a 45 m flytower and a 15 m under-stage area. 27 m deep and 48.5 m wide (proscenium width 16 m).