Exploring the Palais Garnier opera house in Paris

Staircase | Photo by isogood via 123RF
Staircase | Photo by isogood via 123RF

Exploring the Palais Garnier opera house in Paris

by Jessica Zen
Stripes Europe

There are so many incredible things to do and see in Paris that it gets a little overwhelming when trying to plan a trip. You simply can’t miss the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre; but what other things should be on your “must-see” list? On a rainy morning in November, my travel companions and I decided to make an impromptu visit to the Palais Garnier opera house before we left the city. We only had about two hours and it was within walking distance of our hotel. We thought, “why not give it a try?” 

The fact that I’m writing an entire article on just this opera house gives away what I thought of the experience. Incredible! Amazing! Astounding! You’d think after having been in Paris for a few days and seeing some of the sights, to include the Palace of Versailles, that an opera house wouldn’t stand out much in my memory. This simply isn’t true. I was blown away by the opera house, but more so by the fact that when I was doing research for my trip, this destination didn’t even come across my radar.

The Palais Garnier is a beautiful 19th-century piece of theatrical architecture that is sure to shock and awe. Once you’ve purchased your tickets, you will enter the Pithye Basin that takes you to the Grand Staircase. The word “grand” doesn’t do this lovely staircase justice. It’s magnificent. The staircase is enclosed in a nave that is almost 100 feet tall, made of marble. The staircase itself is a double revolution staircase that brings its visitors to the foyers and the performance hall of the opera house. You’ll spend more time looking at these stairs than you ever thought you would! After you’ve taken plenty of photos, carry on to the Glacier Salon. 

This opulent salon is bursting with details that evoke the Belle Époque. There are lovely mirrors, windows and paintings. And, of course, everything is covered in gold. The ceiling was painted by Paul Baudry and incorporates the theme of the history of music. The lyre is the main instrument you’ll find in the painting. You’ll also find a bust of Charles Garnier in the center, though it is a copy of the original sculpture by Carpeaux. 

The salon itself is extremely beautiful, but it pales in comparison to the main reason you would visit an opera house, for the Show Room. It’s everything you would imagine an opera house to be. It has plush red velvet seats, gold details, a massive crystal chandelier with 340 lights and a painted ceiling that is nothing short of astounding. The performance hall features a French horseshoe shape, which was designed for the guests to see the performers and be seen by the other guests. I imagine the other guests here would be fabulous, but I was most struck by the ceiling. Marc Chagall was commissioned by the Minister of Culture, André Malraux, to paint the ceiling. The 2,400-foot ceiling, now full of lively frescoes, was inaugurated in September of 1964. According to pariscityvision.com, “The ceiling of the Opéra Garnier pays homage to 14 major composers of opera and lyrical music, as well as their oeuvres. Marc Chagall, assisted by Roland Bierge, Paul Versteeg and Jules Paschal, found his way into the history of art in Paris.” Perhaps even more interesting than the frescoes themselves are the facts that the artist was 77 years old when he completed the paintings and declined payment for the completed masterpiece! 

If you’re dying to see this amazing piece of history after reading about it’s splendor and glory, don’t wait to book a trip! You can go on a self-paced tour of the opera house for just 14 euros (kids free under 12). Plan on spending a few hours here admiring the great detail that went into perfecting this incredible piece of architecture. Once you’ve seen your fill, I imagine the day has just begun. After all, you are in Paris.

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