A historical monument in the capital, the Opéra Garnier, better known as the Paris Opera, is one of the most important places in French culture and one of the city’s most famous historical buildings, a must-see during a stay in Paris.
The Opera House tells part of the capital’s history and symbolises the theatrical scene and Parisian luxury of the late 19th century. A cultural nerve centre, the theatre majestically occupies the square of the same name and offers a rich programme of performances.
Considered by all to be one of the most beautiful neo-Baroque buildings in the world, the Opera Garnier leaves its visitors breathless with the richness and magnificence of its opulent interior.
Be careful not to get confused with the Opera Bastille, the new modern opera house created to decongest Charles Garnier’s historic theatre and create a new cultural centre in Paris.
This incredible building saw the light of day by decision of Napoleon III: the sovereign wanted to provide the nobility and the national upper middle class with a safe place dedicated to culture. Indeed, on two different occasions, the royal court had suffered terrible attacks by political dissidents, right at the end of a theatre performance.
The design was entrusted to Charles Garnier, a promising young architect aged 35. The construction of the building took several long years: in fact, during the Franco-German war, it was interrupted and only resumed at the end of the conflict, during the fall of the Second Empire.
The Opera was officially inaugurated on 5 January 1875 in the presence of the President of the Republic, Patrice de Mac-Mahon. A symbol of Paris during the Second Empire, the Opera Garnier established itself as a symbol of luxury and would become a privileged place of French culture.
The building leaves its visitors speechless thanks to the beauty and richness of its structure. Indeed, the theatre has record-breaking dimensions: 11,237 square metres of floor space, a length of 173 metres and a width of 125 metres, and a seating capacity of 2,156.
The wonder begins with its façade: this architectural masterpiece is punctuated by statues representing Harmony, Poetry, Music, Rhetoric, Song, Dance and Melodrama, sculpted by Gumery. There are also busts of some famous composers, such as Rossini, Mozart and Beethoven, sculpted by Evrard and Chabaud.
Once inside, you are greeted by the majestic central staircase, guarded by the statue of Pythia: the sinuous play of forms leaves visitors speechless. The upper balconies and the superb marble nave tower above the entrance, 30 metres above the wide steps of the double spiral staircase. Even higher, the sumptuous ceiling invites one to daydream with the works of Isidore Pils. A social meeting place, the staircase allowed newcomers to be observed from the balconies.
The nerve centre is of course the performance hall. Built in the tradition of Italian theatres, the hall was designed so that all spectators could see both the stage and the auditorium: in practice, the seats were oriented so that they could see and be seen at the same time. Its ceiling, covered with a majestic 220 square metre canvas painted by Chagall, a tribute to fourteen choreographers and composers, is the most impressive part: it towers over the spectators together with the huge 340-light bronze and crystal chandelier, which makes everything even more majestic. Moreover, all the decorations and coverings in gilding, velvet and marble sublimate the beauty of the room down to the last detail.
If the hall seemed majestic to you, you haven’t yet admired the Grand Foyer, an immense gallery, gilded and lit by many crystal chandeliers, which allowed spectators to meet during intermission: it was therefore a place for exchange, chats and informal conversations, initially reserved for men, as women remained in the boxes.
The large fresco by Marc Chagall, which dominates the spectators in the theatre hall, is one of the greatest masterpieces of the Belarusian artist.
The painter depicted, in his unmistakable style, the works of 14 composers: Moussorgsky, Mozart, Wagner, Berlioz, Rameau, Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Adam, Bizet, Verdi, Beethoven and Gluck.
The images stand out against a white background and create a virtuoso work, the result of a gigantic construction site, the subject of a media scandal. In fact, the creation had been created in the strictest secrecy, in order to avoid excessively curious gazes: however, the work was discovered in advance and attracted the anger of art critics while still in the making: they cried scandal, reviving the eternal diatribe between classic and modern.
In this fantastic work, and with his unmistakable style that so divided the critics, Chagall succeeded in combining the power of painting with the delicacy of dance and music: he created a kind of harmony of the universe that makes objects and figures swirl, uniting them together in a space without gravity, without limits and without weight.
The Paris Opera is located in the heart of one of the capital’s most luxurious and bustling districts, the Opera quarter.
Nestled between the Opera House and the Grands Boulevards, it is one of the richest and liveliest areas of Paris, characterised by sumptuous architecture and a plethora of shops, restaurants, department stores and banks. It can be considered to all intents and purposes the nerve centre of the capital’s cultural and economic life.
The district is lively and vibrant both during the day, with its wealth of shops and haute couture boutiques, and at night, with its many elegant clubs and restaurants. Along the Boulevard Haussmann are also the PrintempsHaussman department store and the Galleries Lafayette, icons par excellence of Parisian shopping.
Visits take place daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. except on days with afternoon shows (last admission 45 minutes before closing time).
Annual closing days are 1 January, 1 May and 25 December.
The Opera Garnier is easily reached by public transport. Using the metro, possible stops are Opéra (lines 3, 7 and 8), Chaussée d’Antin (lines 7 and 9) or Madeleine (lines 8 and 14).
With the RER, use line A, Auber stop, while by bus you can take lines 20, 21 , 22, 27, 29, 42, 52, 66, 68, 81, 95.
City Card allow you to save on public transport and / or on the entrances to the main tourist attractions.