Fun Facts on the Garnier Opera House

by Kevin Belhumeur

The Garnier Opera House, known also as The Palais Garnier, was built in grandiose fashion under the auspices of Napoleon III as a part of the Second Empire's great Parisian reconstruction project. The Palais Garnier opened in 1875, and is best known for being the 13th theater to house the prestigious Paris Opera. Rumors regarding a fish-filled lake beneath the construction site would later serve to inspire Gaston Leroux's "The Phantom of the Opera" in 1910.

Contract and Construction

The contract for the Palais Garnier was put out to open competition by the French government and was won by a relatively unknown architect of the time, Charles Garnier. Construction began in 1860 and ended a remarkable 15 years later due to various interruptions, including the 1870 war and the fall of both the Second Empire and the Paris Commune.

'The Phantom of The Opera'

Workers began clearing land in the 9th arrondissement of Paris for the Palais Garnier in 1860. In 1861, the concrete foundation was laid for the large, 2,200-seat opera house. However, water swelled from the swampy ground below and repeatedly interrupted building efforts. Rumors emerged from the arrondissement that a large, fish-filled lake existed beneath the construction site. One Parisian who took note of the rumor and was intrigued by its story was Gaston Leroux. In 1910, Leroux, 42, used the story as inspiration to help write his now-famous gothic love story, "The Phantom of The Opera."

The Grand Staircase

The Grand Staircase of the Palais Garnier is one of the building's most famous interior features. It leads patrons from the entrance of the building to the foyers and the auditorium. Two bronze female statues are at the foot of the staircase, each holding branched bouquets of golden light. The 90-foot-high stairway is made of marble and splits into two symmetrical sections at the top, much like the letter T. Marble friezes and columns decorate the area just past the top of both staircases. The ceiling above is divided into four painted sections, depicting different allegories of music in each.

The Foyers

The Palais Garnier was built with foyers for audiences to stroll through during show intervals. They were adjacent to the auditorium and were 59 feet high, 177 feet long and 43 feet wide. The Grand Foyer in the Palais Garnier was intended to look like the gallery of a classical chateau. In addition, ceilings were painted to show different themes from the history of music.

The Auditorium

The Palais Garnier auditorium is known for its expansive seating area and immense chandelier. After undergoing renovation, capacity in the opera house was minimized from 2,200 to 1,900 seats. Above the horseshoe-shaped auditorium hangs a humongous 17,636 lbs. crystal chandelier. The auditorium itself is 66 feet high, 105 feet deep and 102 feet wide.

About the Author

Kevin Belhumeur began writing and editing in 2008. He has written sports-related articles for the "Newport Beach Daily Pilot" and has copy-edited for the "UCLA Daily Bruin." Belhumeur holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of California-Los Angeles.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/ Images