We all know that the Parisian cityscape is filled with beautiful architecture and landmarks.  Think the Eiffel Tower, think Arc de Triomphe, think Les Invalides. What makes them so famous, and why?  How have they lasted this long? In this upcoming series, we will explore just why--and how--such monuments have retained their longevity and fame.


The Opéra Garnier was inaugurated on January 5, 1875 after Napoléon III, having recently survived an assassination attempt, wanted to leave his mark on the Parisian landscape. Architect Charles Garnier won a contest out of 170 other contestants to provide architectural plans for the opera.  Its construction spanned many wars and battles, but such political spats did not detract from its design-work, as the space contains gold, marble, high ceilings, and mosaics in every room to the modern day.  

Allegedly, Empress Eugénie criticized Charles Garnier by saying, “What is this?  It’s not a style, it’s neither Louis Quatorze, nor Louis Quinze, nor Louis Seize!”, to which Garnier responded, “Why, Madam, it’s Napoléon Trois, and you’re complaining!”

The Opéra Garnier even housed many operatic firsts, some of which include being the first opera with a power plant in the basement in order to not only light the opera house, but the stage as well. It was also the first to televise a live opera (Mozart’s Don Giovanni in 1975).  

It has been a historic monument since 1923. 

The Music of the Night

You might be saying, “Why, this sounds quite familiar…”   For many Americans, the Opera Garnier might better be known as the fictitious Opéra Populaire, the opera house from Gaston Leroux’s Le Fantôme de l’opéra, popularized by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical and Joel Schumacher’s 2005 film by the same name.  

For those unfamiliar, The Phantom of the Opera is a character who lives underneath the opera house, having been denied from society on account of his disfigured face.  He wears a mask and has a penchant for fashion, attending the opera’s masquerade as Red Death. He falls in love with a ballerina, and uses all of his power, operatic ability, and talent for killing with his handy punjab lasso in order to make her the prima donna.  But at what cost?

Did You Know?

For those who are familiar with Le Fantôme de l’opera, you might be pleased to discover that there actually is a “lake” underneath the opera house!  It was built to contain the water table on which the Opéra Garnier was built, though this portion of the opera house is off limits.

And for those of you planning to visit Paris soon and perhaps might want to see a ballet, you can even rent out Box No. 5--the Phantom’s own personal loge, with his name featured on the door.

The Opera Today

With the modernization of Paris, the Opéra Garnier sits just in front of the Opéra stop of the Paris Métro Ligne 7, making it easily accessible for sight-seeing and self-guided tours.  As a monument historique, you can tour the grounds for free so long as you are under 26 years old and have a visa!  

It now has a gift shop filled to the brim with CDs, DVDs, postcards, and Phantom of the Opera merchandise.  It’s a fine arts lover’s dream come true!

Today, the Opéra Garnier no longer shows operas--those are saved for L’Opéra Bastille!  However, they do feature ballets and orchestras, which are equally as enchanting. Tickets aren’t cheap, but this exquisite piece of history and modern performance is well worth the splurge.  So next time you’re in Paris, consider stopping by this historic--and literary!--landmark.  

(Just beware of the opera ghost!)

Works Cited

“13/14 The Palais Garnier or the ‘New Opera’ - 350-Years.” Opéra National De Paris, Opéra National De Paris, www.operadeparis.fr/en/magazine/350-years/1314-the-palais-garnier-or-the-new-opera.

Franke, Loui. “Down Under at the Palais Garnier Opera House in Paris.” Bonjour Paris, 22 June 2016, bonjourparis.com/monuments-and-sights/underneath-palais-garnier-opera-house/.

Amy Layton

Library Assistant

Amy grew up in a small rural town in Washington and left home to study French and English literature at Southern Oregon University. This led her to La Ferté-sous-Jouarre to teach high school students English through the TAPIF program. From there, she travelled back to the states and received her Masters of Library and Information Science and Children’s Literature at Simmons University. In her spare time, she practices latte art and watches Danny Phantom.

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