PARIS –‚ A trip to Paris is not complete without a visit to the Palais Garnier, the beautiful and historic theater once home to the Paris Opera.
Located in the heart of Paris’ aptly named opera district, the Palais Garnier is the perfect destination for those travelers keen to avoid tourist-magnets like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Moulin Rouge.
Not only is the theater removed from the crowds but tours and unaccompanied visits run daily for as little as 4-8 Euro, making the Palais Garnier one of the cheapest attractions in Paris.
Commissioned by Napoleon III and designed by Charles Garnier, the theater is an excellent example of neo-baroque design with an opulence that rivals that of the Chateau de Versailles.
Since its official opening in 1875, the Palais Garnier has hosted some of the world’s most famous opera productions including‚ La Traviat‚ and‚ Tristan and Isolde.
However you do not need to be a fan of the opera to enjoy the awe inspiring architecture and rich decadence of the theater itself.‚ The red velvet and gold embellishment of the main auditorium coupled with the elegance and Gothic beauty of the Grand Foyer is simply staggering.‚
The giant chandeliers illuminate the beautiful artistry of the ceilings whilst casting a golden light over the lavish baroque settings.‚ A giant marble staircase leading to the upper levels is flanked by intricate bronze statues, carved in the likeness of ethereal female deities.
Beneath the Grand Staircase is the member’s rotunda, a sumptuous but somewhat eerie room filled with elaborate floor mosaics and dimmed wall lights, which bath the room in a gloomy shadow.‚ Everything about the Palais Garnier is excessive, making a simple walk around the theater an absolute feast for the eyes.
For those visitors keen to learn a little more about the theater and the productions it has played host to, the library-museum houses an extensive collection, documenting the three-century long history of the Paris Opera.
Specialized exhibits are held throughout the year but the permanent display includes stage designs, scale models and drawings used in past opera and ballet performances.
The most intriguing feature of the Palais Garnier, however, is not locked away in the library-museum but lies beneath the theater floors.‚ Located deep within the foundations is a subterranean lake, which inspired (in part) Gaston Leroux’s Gothic novel‚ The Phantom of the Opera, the story of a disfigured musical genius who haunts the Parisian opera house.
Not only does the presence of the lake give credence to the Phantom’s myth but amazingly enough the water level also acts as ballast, supporting the weight of the stage above.‚ Visitors are free to wander through the foyers and auditorium of the Palais Garnier, however entrance to the underground lake is strictly forbidden to tourists.
Luckily, the theater’s upper levels are so amazing there is very little need to venture into the lake’s murky depths.‚ If there truly is a Phantom of the Opera he would be a fool to waste his time underground when he could explore the majesty and opulence of the Palais Garnier above.
The Palais Garnier is open for tours everyday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed January 1‚ and May 1.