Want to learn more about this famous French monument? This post will give you all the fun facts about Palais Garnier you probably didn’t know before!
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Apart from these, France’s capital has another landmark with an incredible history. I am talking about the opulent Opera house in Paris, known as Palais Garnier or Opéra Garnier.
If you’re wondering what is so fascinating about this opera house, here is a list of 17 interesting facts about Palais Garnier you probably didn’t know that I am sure will intrigue you.
Before You Go, Here’s How to Plan Your Visit To Paris: Practical Quick Tips
WHERE TO STAY
Best Eiffel Tower Views: Hôtel Le Walt (9.0)
Luxury stay: Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel (8.2)
Mid-range stay: Hôtel Eiffel (8.7)
Budget Stay: People – Paris Bercy (8.9)
Apartment Rental: Résidence Charles Floquet (9.1)
- Don’t forget to take Travel Insurance. Request a free quote from my favorite insurance, World Nomads. (More on this at the end of the article.)
- Prepare your trip extensively with this Paris Travel guidebook.
- Don’t forget a universal travel adapter, a travel neck pouch, and comfortable walking shoes.
- Consider getting either the museum pass or the Paris city pass if you plan to visit a lot of attractions. The city pass comes with free transportation and access to the hop-on-hop-off bus. You can read my Paris museum pass review to see if it’s right for you.
- Book this private transfer from CDG airport to Paris to avoid the hustle of figuring out how to get to Paris.
Fun Facts About Palais Garnier
Palais Garnier’s neo-classical meets Baroque architecture is what sets it apart from other Opera houses and monuments.
Superlatives fall short while describing this larger-than-life monument, but here’s a bit about its history.
A competition for the best design was conducted in 1860, won by an inconspicuous young architect named Charles Garnier apparently because his design had “rare and superior qualities in the beautiful distribution of the plans, the monumental and characteristic aspect of the facades and sections” after the second phase of the competition and it also described the design melange as Napoleon III’s unique style
In addition to this bonus detail, you will find more interesting facts about Palais Garnier, from what inspired its construction to historical events if you continue reading this article.
Psst… You can admire all the beauty I talk about in this article by purchasing this Opera Garnier self-guided ticket.
1. Palais Garnier had a different name initially
The list of Palais Garnier Opera house facts starts with its name!
The original name of this iconic Parisian building was Le Nouvel Opéra de Paris (the new Opera House) since its predecessor, Opera le Pelletier (Old opera house), was no longer usable after it was gutted in a fire.
The new opera house was later renamed Palais Garnier, acknowledging its grandeur and the architect who designed it, Charles Garnier.
This was used as the primary Paris Opera house and theatre until Opéra Bastille came into existence in 1989.
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2. It was commissioned by Emperor Napoleon III post an assassination attempt
Emperor Napoléon III, Napoléon Bonaparte’s nephew had many adversaries and foes and one of them proved almost fatal when he made an assassination attempt on the emperor and his wife near the Salle Le Peletier opera house on 14 January 1858.
The head of state subsequently commissioned the new opera house out of necessity to keep him safe while keeping in mind the public’s interest.
The construction was added as part of the emperor’s public works program known as Haussmann’s renovation of Paris.
3. It was Built With a Special private entrance for the emperor
The new Opera House in Paris was built paying heed to the safety of the imperial couple.
It was designed to have a secure, private entrance called Pavillon de l’Empereur, and a special box for the emperor.
In fact, the emperor wanted everyone, including himself, to have a clear view of the Opera while approaching it.
Hence, as an additional feature, no trees were planted along the Avenue de l’Opéra, which is true to date.
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4. It is One of The largest opera houses in Europe
One of the facts about Paris opera you might not be aware of is that Palais Garnier is honored as one of the largest opera houses in Europe.
It captures everyone’s attention, while the intricate details leave people awe-struck. The opera house has a seating capacity of 1,979 people and a stage that could fit 450 performers.
The Grand Escalier, 18 metres (59 ft) high, the 54 metres (177 ft) long Grand Foyer, the elaborate, multicolored façade, the chandelier-adorned hallways, the auditorium, and the grand stage; everything about it exudes grandeur.
5. The emperor never saw the opera house nor attended any concert In it
Each of these Palais Garnier facts might surprise you, especially this one. Among the many outcomes of the Franco-Prussian war was the capture of Napoléon III and his subsequent exile to England.
This meant that when the construction of the opera house ended, he would not have been able to see it unless he was released.
Unfortunately for him, when the building was completed in January 1875, Napoléon had already passed away 2 years prior.
He never got to see an opera or concert in it or even bask in his dream even though he commissioned it.
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The horseshoe-style auditorium houses the biggest stage in Europe. It measures 52m (170 ft) in width and 62m (200 ft) in height.
For better understanding, in terms of scale, it could fit the entire Arc de Triomphe inside!
The size ensures that as many as 450 performers can share the stage at the same time. Apart from holding this title, it has another unique feature.
The stage is built at a slant keeping the posterior one meter higher than its anterior for better viewing angles and providing an illusion of depth.
7. It was Once used as a military camp
During the prolonged construction of the opera house in Paris, the Franco-Prussian War broke out from July 1870 to May 1871.
Since it was still unfinished, the opera house was converted into a military warehouse to store food.
It also doubled as a military hospital for those wounded in the war. At the end of the devastating war, the French Army was defeated, but the French National Guard briefly took over the city for two months.
It was called the Paris Commune uprising, and during this time, the unfinished opera building was used by the Communards.
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Next on the Garnier opera house facts list involves the Grand Escalier (Grand Staircase) or the double staircase.
This extravagant staircase leads people into the Grand Foyer, where the French would socialize.
Since Charles Garnier hated the idea that the metal used to build the staircase would be visible, he thought of a way to mask it.
After the staircase was built, marbles of different colors (red, green, blue, and white) brought from multiple countries were used on top of the metal.
Wherever else he found that metal or iron would be exposed, he covered it with other materials like the brass torchères, chandeliers on the ceiling, gold, etc.
9. It Took The Longest time to build an opera house
Palais Garnier’s history holds another achievement to its name. It shares a record with the Sydney Opera House in Australia for the longest time taken to build an opera house — 14 years to be exact!
In fact, Palais Garnier might have taken a bit longer too. Despite sharing an equal delay, their reasons were different.
The first of many hurdles and interruptions faced by the Paris opera house was budget constraints, which increased the time it took to build it.
The exile of Napoleon after the Prussian War and the Paris commune uprising also delayed its completion.
Construction started in 1861 and ended in 1875.
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10. Palais Garnier Was the most expensive opera house of its time
No stone was left unturned to make the opera house a grand monument. After all, it was to be the emperor’s pride.
The best artisans were hired, the best materials from around the world were used, and everything was overseen by Garnier.
After having already spent a fortune on the most expensive building of its time, the Franco-Prussian War drained the cash-strapped government.
So, it had to borrow from a wealthy financier to complete the construction, resulting in a hefty debt of 4.9 million gold francs.
An estimated budget of 36 million francs was exhausted, leaving the Empire nearly bankrupt.
11. A 7000 kg chandelier designed by Garnier Once Fell During a Performance
The central sparkling chandelier in the auditorium was designed by Garnier and cost 30,000 gold francs. It was cast with bronze and crystal and adorned with golden details.
It weighed 7 tonnes or 7000 kg, which is why several counterweights had to keep it in place, one which didn’t hold for so long.
In May 1896, during an opera performance, one of the chandelier’s counterweights fell and k*lled a concierge. This eerie incident was recreated in the Phantom of the Opera 1910 novel.
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12. Every inch of the Opera is adorned with decorations, ornaments, and frescoes
By now, you know the Opera Garnier facts surrounding its opulence. From its façade to the interiors, everything is extravagant.
Garnier himself selected the artisans who would build his dream project. The best painters, sculptors, and mosaicists were brought to construct this magnum opus.
However, you might not be aware that Garnier did not want to leave a single wall, window, or space unadorned.
So, you will see paintings, sculptures, ornaments, frescoes, hand carvings, or stained windows everywhere you look inside the Opera.
The magnificent and resplendent Palais Garnier inspired Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel The Phantom of the Opera.
Many of the scenes and details mentioned were based on the environment inside Palais Garnier. Even the subsequent Phantom of the Opera musicals used this opera house as their setting.
While some incidents are facts, others are fiction, including the part where the novel mentions that the Opera is haunted.
Rumor has it that box #5 was reserved for the Phantom, so for the longest time, it remained unbooked.
However, after someone discovered that it had the best views while being discreet, it gets sold out first.
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14. There is an underground “lake” below Palais Garnier
One of the many Palais Garnier facts you may not know is that there is an underground lake.
Before laying the foundation of the opera house, Garnier discovered that water accumulated beneath it, thus making the soil marshy. No matter how much they tried to pump out the water, the soil would return to its swampy state.
So, after many months of unsuccessful attempts to drain it, Garnier decided to build a cistern there instead.
The opera house would be built above and around the cemented reservoir to redistribute the water and its subsequent pressure. This also helped in stabilizing the structure.
15. The Opera Was Designed to watch the show and the spectators
In addition to being an opera house, Palais Garnier was also where the elite would mingle socially.
The middle class would come to the opera house to spectate the shows and the aristocracy that gathered there and the spaces inside Palais Garnier were designed to encourage this.
The Grand Escalier had shallow steps, and inside the auditorium, the middle-class people were seated in the top tier, while the ground-level seats were reserved for the Parisian high class.
Some people even went to the Opera more than they would wish just to see and be seen by others.
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This piece of Palais Garnier’s history might shock you. Being an emperor naturally attracts enemies, and one prominent one was Felice Orsini.
This Italian anarchist tried to blow up the emperor and his wife on January 14th, 1858, when they reached the old opera house Salle Le Peletier on Rue Le Peletier.
Fortunately, their iron-lined carriage protected them from the blast, but 8 of his men were k*lled while hundreds of others were injured.
The old opera house was destroyed in the ensuing fire, while the nearby buildings and the main street were damaged too.
As a way of creating a more secure place for the emperor to watch an Opera, Palais Garnier was constructed.
17. There are Buried secrets in the Opera House cellars
The list of Palais Garnier’s interesting facts ends with this one.
The Phantom of the Opera novel mentions phonographic recordings buried in the opera house cellars.
This is true since there were nearly 50 gramophone records of the greatest singers of the time stored in boxes and locked inside the cellars by the Gramophone Company.
A century later, they were recovered, and the records were digitized. A related story in the novel suggests that the workers found a corpse when trying to retrieve the recordings, but that part is unproven.
FAQs On The Facts About Palais Garnier
How long did it take to build the Palais Garnier?
It took 14 years to build the Palais Garnier.
What is special about the Palais Garnier?
Besides the history surrounding its construction, it is one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world.
From its unique Grand staircase to the Grand foyer dripping with chandeliers and extravagance, no stone was left unturned in making it what it is today.
How much did it cost to build Opera Garnier?
In total, it cost an average of 36 million Francs.
Why was the Palais Garnier built?
The Palais Garnier was constructed after an assassination attempt on Napoleon III.
It was built to offer a safe place where the emperor would watch an Opera after the old Opera burned down due to a fire.
What are the 2 opera houses in Paris?
Palais Garnier (Opera Garnier) which is the most famous and the Opéra Bastille.
Is there a lake under the Paris Opera house?
Yes, the Paris Opera has an underground lake.
How old is the Opéra Garnier?
The Paris Opera is 161 years as of 2022.
When was the Opera Garnier built?
Construction of the Opera Garnier started in 1861 and ended in 1875.
Which building in Paris has an underground lake?
It is Palais Garnier.
Who built Opera Garnier?
The Opera Garnier was built by Charles Garnier.
Is the Paris Opera house still in use?
Yes, the Paris Opera house is still in use today. You can visit for a self-guided to appreciate its beauty by buying this entry ticket or attend a show. Shows range from Opera performances, Ballet performances, and more.
What kind of architecture is Palais Garnier?
It is a Neo-Baroque style kind of architecture.
Final Thoughts on the Fun Facts About Palais Garnier
Did this list of fun facts about Palais Garnier pique your interest enough to pay it a visit?
So, on your next visit to Paris, if you want to attend an opera, concert, or ballet performance, you know where to go. I also suggest touring the Palais Garnier just to admire its luxuriousness and extravagance.
A self-guided tour ticket will cost you €12, which can be bought from here.
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