Opéra Garnier - History

Opéra Garnier - History (25A)

Napoleon III wanted to build an “Imperial Academy of Music and Dance”. With this in mind he organised an international tender for which more than 170 projects were presented as bids. The winner was a young architect about whom practically nothing was known in Paris. His name was Charles Garnier. The construction of the palace formed part of an ambitious restructuring plan for Paris designed by Baron Haussmann in the mid-19th century.

Garnier would not find it at all easy to complete his project. The land where the palace was to be built was very irregular. Moreover, nearby there were several tall buildings. This complicated the works greatly. They lasted 15 years in all, from 1860 to 1875. 

Among the early problems he had to deal with was the shallow depth of the layer of underground water in the area. The foundation works were a torment. The presence of underground water led to the urban legend about the existence of an underground lake beneath the palace. This inspired Gastón Leroux to develop the tale of “The Phantom of the Opera”.

Napoleon III did not want to tire himself too much on his visits to the opera so he entrusted Baron Haussmann to build a grand avenue that would join the opera house with the Tuileries Palace, where he lived. No sooner said than done. Anything so that the emperor could attend the opera comfortably. A whole district had to be expropriated and demolished to do it? Well, it was done and nobody complained. The Avenue de l’Opera was completed in 1879, almost four years after the opening of the Opera House.

This avenue became one of the main luxurious thoroughfares in Paris with the appearance of impeccable mansions, luxury shops and banks.

Other problems that Garnier had to face were economic. The conflicts with Germany were draining the French coffers. Added to that, the empire fell in 1870 and the revolutionary events of 1871 delayed the works greatly. The opening of the building was undertaken with some parts of the palace still unfinished. They say that the selfsame architect Charles Garnier had to pay for his own ticket on the day of the opening and had to sit in a minor box. Anybody who had had dealings with the emperor was not highly thought of. In fact, the emperor himself never travelled down the avenue that had been opened for him. The opera house was finally opened on the 15th of January 1875, during the III Republic.           

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