Palais Garnier – The Belle Époque Opera House of Paris

Paris has been mad about opera since the mid-1600s, during the reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King, who founded the first Paris Opera house 1669. Since then there have been no fewer than thirteen buildings that have housed the Paris Opera company. Through kings and revolutions and emperors and presidents and wars there has almost always been opera playing in Paris.

A surprisingly number of the opera houses in Paris were destroyed by fire, others have simply outlived their usefulness and been razed, such as the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin built for Marie Antoinette in 1781. Luckily for us, the grandest example of them all still exists and it as glorious as ever.

Palais Garnier History

Palais Garnier

The story of the Palais Garnier Opera House includes the demolition and rebuilding of Paris as well as the attempted assassination of an emperor. From the middle to the end of the 19th century, Paris was transformed from a city of narrow, unclean and unsafe medieval streets into a well-lit modern city with broad boulevards and a great sewer system!

This was when Baron Haussmann, under the directive of Napoleon II, undertook the modernization of Paris by demolishing, building, and plowing through straight, broad streets. When the emperor was nearly assassinated in the narrow street outside the current opera house, he decided enough was enough and commissioned a new opera building to be located in an imposing spot on one of the new-created places.

Palais Garnier

The commission was give to a then-unknown architect, the young Charles Garnier, the new palais was designed, and building began. Construction was delayed by the Franc-Prussian War in 1870-71, but the opera finally opened on January 5, 1875.

Palais Garnier immediately became the center of Paris cultural life during the Belle-Époque period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It continued on as France's most prestigious opera house right through the World Wars and into the 1960s.

Performances at Palais Garnier

 Performances at Palais Garnier

Over the decades — through the wars and with the advent of the automobile — the exterior of Palais Garnier became dull and grimy. But a recent multi-year cleaning and renovation has restored it to its original glory.

The interior is just as breathtaking, and it's a must-visit place — particularly to attend a performances of the Paris Ballet Company, small opera productions, or other special performances.

In most months of the year, and certainly during the season between September and May, there is always something happening at Palais Garnier. We recommend you book seats at a performance by buying tickets online before you leave home. You won't regret it!

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