Last Wednesday James and I went on a guided tour of the Palais Garnier…and it was amazing! It’s the first time either of us have been inside and it hasn’t been high on my “things to do in Paris” list basically because of the price (It’s 13 euros a person when you reserve a guided tour online. You also have the option of an unguided visit for around 8 euros, but I really thought having the extra information was worth it. ). I would have definitely have done the tour earlier had I realized what an amazing place it is!
The Palais Garnier was commissioned under Napoleon III during the renovation of Paris by Baron Haussmann. Unfortunately for Napoleon III, he would never see it complete and actually use his fancy Emperor entrance because he was in exile in England when it was finished (following his defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and the creation of the Third Republic). The only thing that saved the Palais Garnier from being destroyed at the beginning of the Third Republic was the fact that it would have been more expensive to destroy than to finish. Quelle chance!
Garner’s idea was to slowly introduce the opulence of his work, so as you enter the opera house, it almost looks like a grotto. Lots of details, but hardly any color.
As you come to the grand staircase you’ll see a definite change with the numerous different colors of marble he used. At the time, this was the place to see and be seen.
Inside the opera house itself is supposed to be rather serious with only two main colors: gold and crimson red. This was done to make sure the audience paid attention to what was happening on stage.
The painting on the ceiling by Marc Chagall is rather new (obvious?) and was installed in 1964 as a way to get young people interested in the opera again. It, of course, caused quite a controversy, but did it’s job in publicizing the Palais Garnier to a new audience. (The old painting is behind the new one, still in tact. You can see a smaller version of it in the mini art gallery.)
I was (pleasantly) surprised by the grandeur of the grand foyer, where people hang out during the intermissions. Doesn’t it look like the hall of mirrors at Versailles?! It’s quite a bit smaller, but still very impressive.
The Palais Garnier is also famous as the location of the “Phantom of the Opera” by Gaston Leroux (we didn’t see him though!). Our guide talked a little bit about the book, and explained to us that there is no river or lake underneath the opera house, but actually a large water tank built to manage all the water they found when building the foundation. There are even fish in it!
It was a really great experience and well worth the 13 euros! We decided to do the 11:30 tour (in English) so we could grab lunch at the Cantine California food truck at the Marché Saint Honoré after and it worked out perfect. (I’d recommend the carnitas tacos, delish!)