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A short history of the Palais Garnier, Paris


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ParisIt is often said that the best laid plans are always the most challenging. Sometimes, it is the smallest detail which threatens to ruin a project you’ve been planning for years! While the idea of building an extravagant opera house in the centre of Paris seemed simple enough at the time, it almost failed before it even began.

Napoleon III, who turned out to be the last head monarch of France, was renowned for his opulent tastes, and had dreamed of the 2,200-seat architectural feat for years. In 1862, after clearing nearly three acres of land, on the site where the Opera House would be built, an underwater lake was discovered. It turned out that, with all the planning and organizing, no-one had bothered to really check the ground…and the next 12 months were spent implementing projects and measures to dry up the swampy land.

In order to assure the future structure would be left undamaged for centuries to come, architect Charles Garnier devised a double foundation system. Between the first and second layer lies an enormous hidden cave; curiously though, this underground dungeon-like space (certainly big enough for anyone to live in) is what inspired Gaston Leroux to write his most famous play: The Phantom of the Opera.

Building of one of Paris’ most famous landmarks began in earnest in 1863, and the first time the scaffolding was removed was for the 1867 Paris Exposition, even though the building was far from complete. Napoleon’s pride and joy was certainly the talk of the town, and the elaborately designed House soon earned the reputation for being one of the most stunning man-made constructions in the world.

Further construction plans were severely hampered over the next few years, when the Siege of Paris, the Franco-Prussian war and the fall of Napoleon III shifted the city’s focus onto more pressing issues. It wasn’t until 1873 that building works could finally resume, and conclude. Charles Garnier inaugurated the opening of the ‘Académie Nationale de Musique’ on the 15th January 1875, hosting a gala night so lavish; it is forever etched in Parisian history.

The Opera House has gone through many name changes over the years; its most recent change occurred in 1989, when the original architect was finally celebrated and his name bestowed upon one of the most stunning landmarks in Paris. The Palais Garnier is the headquarters of the Paris Opera, and is still nowadays considered the most beautiful Opera House in the world.

The Grand Foyer and Staircase are some of the most luxurious rooms you’re ever likely to see, making a walking-tour here one of the most enchanting things to do whilst on a Paris vacation in Opera apartments. The most popular piece in the Palais Garnier however, would have to be the insanely intricately designed chandelier. The seven-ton bronze and crystal chandelier was designed by Garnier himself, and takes pride of place in the main auditorium.

Extensive restoration works began on Palais Garnier in 1994, which included modernizing all the mechanical structures, remodeling all the dance halls and adapting the underground ‘cavern’ to house all the major technical equipment needed to run this enormous venue. All works were completed by 2007, and even a much-awaited restaurant was finally opened inside the Palais. The L’Opera Restaurant has, in the 12 months since its opening, already established a strong reputations as one of the city’s most prestigious eateries and is heading for the same-kind of cult-following the venue itself enjoys.

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