Monday, January 12, 2015

Palais Garnier

 Palais Garnier Opera house, the Parisian 19th century architectural landmark, was inaugurated 140 years ago on January 5, 1875. It was the brain-child of Emperor Napoleon III and his famed urban planner Baron Haussman.  It sits at the top of the wide Avenue of Opera and was meant to replace an earlier opera house located on rue Le Pelletier that had been the site in 1858 of an assassination attempt against the Emperor Napoleon III.  The  Italian  revolutionary Felice Orsini  (who felt the Emperor was an obstacle to Italian independence) hiding in the narrow alley of the theatre, tossed three bombs that  killed 8  people and wounded many.  The Emperor and his wife were unharmed.  Consequently,  the Emperor requested the building of  an opera venue in a  more opened location.

The architect , Charles Garnier, was picked from a design competition that included the architect renovator Viollet Leduc, a favorite of the Empress Eugenie.  Work started in 1861 and took more than 14 years to complete because of  interruptions  due  to the Franco- Prussian war (1870) when Paris was under siege, the subsequent Parisian insurection ( Commune ) and the collapse of the Second Empire (1871).

The  Palais Garnier  is of Beaux Arts style - a mix of classical Roman, Renaissance and Baroque.  Its exterior facades  feature  loggias, balconies and columns sourmounted by busts of  musicians and composers like Mozart, Rossini, Beethoven, Mayerber and Halevy. The sculpture groups adorning the main facade represent artistic muses- music, danse, lyric poetry, drama and opera.  A statue depicting Apollo by Millet rises at top of the dome in the center of the building.

The interior of Palais Garnier  is no less impressive and features a grand white marble staircase framed by an onyx balustrade; a gilded grand foyer, 54 meter long decorated with paintings and frescoes by Paul Baudry and a horseshoe shaped gold and red velvet auditorium  adorned at its center by a six ton crystal chandelier and a ceiling painted  by Marc Chagall in 1964 (it covers the original one painted by Lenepveu in the 19th century).

At the start of the construction, workers discovered a swamp underneath right where the foundations of the edifice were to be laid.  Measures to dry up the swamp proved unsuccessful so a stone tank filled with water was constructed to contain swampy water to rise up through the foundations.  A legend of an underground "lake"inhabited by a strange creature came into being in a 1910  novel by Gaston Leroux which was reprised more recently in the successful musical "Phantom of the Opera " by Andrew Lloyd Weber.

On your next visit to Paris, consider taking a guided tour of the opera house.  English tours run Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday 11:30AM and 2:30M. Of course, attending a ballet or opera performance at the Palais Garnier is truly a memorable experience.

Visit to plan your next trip to Paris and other regions of France.

tags:#Paris, # Paris opera house , #Palais Garnier, # Haussman,#Charles Garnier, #Phantom of the Opera