Palais Garnier: Architecture & Facts

Instructor: Summer Stewart

Summer has taught creative writing and sciences at the college level. She holds an MFA in Creative writing and a B.A.S. in English and Nutrition

The Palais Garnier is a French opera house in Paris, France and was designed by architect Charles Garnier. Let's learn about the architecture of the Palais Garnier and talk about its main features.

Who Designed the Palais Garnier?

Charles Garnier, a young French architect, designed the Palais Garnier after winning an architecture competition. Prior to the design of the Palais Garnier, nobody knew his name. Many considered Garnier's style of choice for the Palais Garnier to fall under Neo-Baroque. Neo-Baroque architecture used characteristics of the Baroque period and included vaulted ceilings, buttresses, ornate wall carvings, archways, the use of stone, and illusion. In architecture, architects can create optical illusions by making a hallways appear longer than it is or the curvature of a wall can be made to give a building a much larger appearance.

All About the Palais Garnier

Palais Garnier Front Facade

The Palais Garnier is an exquisite opera house in the heart of Paris, France. During the Second French Empire, Napoleon III wanted to give the Paris Opera a new home after he was almost assassinated at the building where the opera was being held.

After many years of planning and problems that stopped construction, it was opened in 1875 during the Third French Empire. Altogether, the opera house seats approximately 2,000 patrons. The building has had such an impact on French culture that it has been used in many movies, and perhaps most famously, as the setting in The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. Not only that, but many countries have modeled their own buildings based off the Palais Garnier. Now that we've learned a little bit about the Palais Garnier, let's dive into the interior and exterior architectural components.


The Grand Staircase
grand staircase

The inside of the Palais Garnier is exquisite with a grand staircase, foyer, and auditorium. Both the Grand Foyer and Grand Staircase are made from marble with heavy ornamentation and sculpture. Many of the alcoves in the Grand Foyer feature sculptures of nymphs and Greek gods. Many famous artists painted the ceiling of the Grand Foyer, including Paul Baudry, who painted two different panels on the ceiling. The Grand Staircase is made from white marble, onyx, green marble, and red marble. Thirty hand-carved marble columns surround the stunning staircase.

The auditorium is where the shows take place; a 14,000-pound bronze and glass chandelier hanging from the center of the ceiling.


In addition to being influenced by Neo-Baroque architecture, the Palais Garnier was heavily influenced by the Second Empire Beaux-Arts. Second Empire Beaux-Arts was marked by heavy ornamentation, sculptures, and symmetry that makes the building look the same from all angles. The building is made of stone and iron. The exterior façade of the building is loaded with decorative ornamentation in the forms of sculptures, carvings, and columns. On the front face between each column is a sculpture of a famous composer including, Beethoven, Rossini, Auber, Mozart, Spontini, Halévy, and Meyerbeer. Many of the carvings along the building were inspired by Greek mythology with references to Apollo and many other gods. The Palais Garnier is a wonder to look at.

To the left and right of the main building are two wings. The west wing, Pavillon de l'Empereur is home to the Paris Opera Library-Museum, which is loaded with books, artwork, photographs, and state records.

The east wing named Pavillon des Abonnés, has served as a fancy valet zone for folks coming to see a show.

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