Each Thursday morning, my professor for my History of Paris: An Architectural Perspective course, takes us to a different site in Paris for lecture. Moving chronologically throughout the semester, she uses the buildings and evolving architectural styles throughout Paris to teach us the fascinating, and often complicated, history of this city. One of the reasons I love this class is that I get to cross sites in Paris off my list without any extra effort or time: a free, guided tour built right into class time, what could be better?
This past Thursday this class helped me discover my favorite building in Paris: the Opéra Garnier. Also known as the Palais Garnier (Garnier Palace), it is named for its architect, Charles Garnier, who built the structure in two parts from 1861 to 1875. It is famous for many reasons, one of them being that the famous Phantom of the Opera is set in the building. The architecture at the time of its construction, was unlike anything that had been in Paris before: colored marble on the outside contrasted with the white-only facades of other structures in the city and elaborate designs throughout stood out against the simplicity of the apartment houses surrounding it.
The inside auditorium is much smaller than most European opera houses, however the stage remains the largest in Europe. This theater was built originally for the emperor of the Second Empire, Napolean III, who died before its completion. At the time, the opera house's primary purpose was for the upper classes to show themselves, rather than for theater performances. Of course, performances still occurred frequently, and the large road leading up to the building, as well as two major stores, Printemps and Galeries Lafeyettes, aided the rich in preparing to show themselves at this exclusive building. One could not simply enter the opera house: a person must have a good deal of money and social standing just to get in the building. A side rehearsal stage, which could be closed off, was used for men to choose mistresses from a group of performers, and until the queen of Spain showed up and entered on her own, women were not allowed inside without a male escort.
Today, the building remains one of the most elaborate and, in my opinion, beautiful buildings in Paris. I am lucky that my class took me there, as a guided tour costs a few euros. Currently, my Flickr is under a little rearranging (I'm only allowed 200 photos without upgrading to a Pro account, so I need to delete some which takes some time), but for those of you who are Facebook friends with me, you can see the rest of my photos in my Paris album.