Paris has been mad about opera since the mid-1600s, during the reign of Louis XIV, AKA the Sun King, who founded the first Paris Opera house in 1669. Since then there have been no fewer than thirteen buildings that have housed the Paris Opera company. Through kings and revolutions, emperors and presidents and wars there has always been opera playing in Paris.
A surprisingly number of the Paris opera houses were destroyed by fire — others have simply outlived their usefulness and been razed. For instance, the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin built for Marie Antoinette in 1781, abandoned during the Revolution, and destroyed in a fire during the Commune of 1871. Luckily for us, however, the grandest example of them all still exists and it as glorious as ever.
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The story of the Palais Garnier Opera House takes in 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 the period when Baron Haussmann, under the direction of emperor Napoleon III, undertook the modernization of Paris — demolishing existing buildings, rues, and avenues; replacing them with straight, broad streets, flanked by uniform five-story buildings. When the emperor was nearly assassinated in a narrow street outside the then-current opera house, Napoleon III decided enough was enough and commissioned a new opera building to be located in an imposing spot on one of the new-created places.
The commission was give to a then-unknown architect, the young Charles Garnier, and building began almost immediately. Construction was delayed, however, by the disastrous Franco-Prussian War and the aforementioned Commune in the period 1870-71. The grand opera building finally opened on January 5, 1875.
Palais Garnier 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.
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.
During normal times, there has always been something happening at Palais Garnier, and certainly during the season between September and May. When performances begin again at Palais Garnier, we recommend you book seats by buying tickets online before you leave home. You won't regret it!
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WHAT TO WEAR
If you want to look and feel the part dress up! Men are recommended to wear a jacket and shirt and women a dress or elegant outfit. There are coat rooms but be warned that travel bags and suitcases are not allowed inside Palais Garner.
Landmarks & Historic Buildings
• Chateau de Versailles…
• Hotel de Ville – The City Hall…
• Palais Garnier Opera House…
• The Notre Dame Towers…
• Opera Bastille…
• The Conciergerie…
• Les Invalides in Paris…
• Palais-Royal & Its Gardens…
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