People are starving, but Emperor Napoleon III wants to build an opera house of gold, plaster, and marble. Unwanted constructions of a new opera begin, Parisians try to stop the process, and the architect struggles to save his amazing project. What a sad story is hidden behind the walls of the magnificent Paris Opera?
The Attack Led to Construction
The prehistory of the new opera house was dramatic. The building of the Old Paris Opera was on the narrow boulevard of Rue Le Peletier. In 1858, Italian anarchists, taking advantage of the narrowness of the street, dropped a bomb in front of the royal chariot that had stopped in front of the opera. Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie were not injured, but the explosion killed eight Parisians and injured another 150 people. The attack prompted the emperor to announce a competition for a project for a larger and more beautiful opera house with a separate protected entrance for royal guests.
The Opera House building was included in the Paris Renovation Program. This program turned the capital city into a large construction site. In 1861, the competition was won by the almost unknown architect Charles Garnier. His courage impressed the emperor. The sweetness of the victory for the architect was soon overwhelmed by the confrontation with the bureaucracy.
Terribly Working Conditions
The new opera had to be built at the end of Napoleon Avenue, so the building site was planned in swampy and unsuitable land. After digging the foundations to a depth of 11 m, the groundwater immediately began to seep. But Garnier collected water in a double wall with a cavity inside. However, this cavity contained only a small amount of water, so Garnier directed the remaining water to a large reservoir. After several security checks, Garnier introduced electricity in this building. Thus, a decade before electricity was first used massively, the opera house already had a generator and a small network of electrical wires.
Garnier struggled not only with water but also with government over money as France went through an economic crisis. The extravagant project found it difficult to fit into the budget. For example, only a hall lamp costed more than 290,000 Eur. Garnier had also planned to use a lot of sheet gold to cover everything from statues to the intricately carved balconies of the hall.
But there was no money for such luxury. To save the decoration of the balconies, Garnier used a trick. The base of the balcony decorations was painted with the cheapest gold paint and only the details were covered with pure gold. With this chic design, Garnier wanted to create a luxurious, enchanting atmosphere.
Although there were obstacles, the opera continued to be built until the autumn of 1870. After the defeat against Prussia, Emperor Napoleon III abdicated, and France became a republic. The people of Paris were angry about the fancy opera house, so the architect agreed to many changes to save the opera house from demolition.
On the night of October 29, 1873, the fire destroyed the old opera house on Rue Pelétier. Paris without an opera house was unimaginable, so Garnier received an additional money from the Senate and must complete the construction within 18 months. However, no matter how hard everyone was working, some of the work was not completed, but the opera was eventually opened.