he Opera House is one of the finest buildings in Paris, France. It was designed by Charles Garnier and is sometimes known as the Palais Garnier (‘Garnier’s Palace’) in his honor. Designed to seat over 2,000 people and fashioned in the Neo-Baroque style, it was and is considered to be one of the premiere architectural achievements of its time.
Everything started in 1861 with the open competition of architects as part of Emperor Napoleon III ‘s Second Empire effort to reconstruct Paris. Architects from across France submitted plans for consideration. Surprisingly, the award went to Charles Garnier; he was a relative amateur at the time and yet was chosen over the many esteemed professionals who also submitted plans.
The Emperor’s desire for a new opera house was more than the grandiose schemes of reconstructing a city. A previous assassination attempt using gunpowder killed eighty people. The new opera house contained two entrances; one grand one for the public use, and a subtle side entrance for the royals.
One of the most unique aspects of the Paris Opera House is its seven underground levels used for the storage of props and scenery. Two of these levels contain the infamous lake used to such great effect in the story and film The Phantom of the Opera. The lake is believed to be caused by swampy land conditions, although another version includes a large broken water-pipe caused by a clumsy workman.
Another interruption was the Franco-Prussian War and the subsequent fall of the Second Empire. Construction was sporadic and nearly halted altogether. Since the cost of the building was around 47 million francs and supplied by the state, it is not to be surprised that funds were relegated elsewhere. Construction stopped in 1870 and the incomplete building was used as warehouse, observation post, communications center, military post and a powder store. Construction was finished in late 1874 and in 1875 came the formal inauguration, complete with music, dancing and other grand enjoyments.
In 1896 a falling counterweight for the great 6-ton chandelier killed a single person. This incident, combined with the lake and other aspects of the Opera House, inspired Gaston Leroux to write his 1910 Gothic Horror novel, The Phantom of the Opera.