As a massive Phantom of the Opera fan, this place was always on my list to go visit. Gaston Leroux used this opera house as the scene in his famous book.
While the story of Erik and Christine Daaé is fictitious, there are a few nuggets of truth mixed into the play:
The iconic scene where the chandelier falls from the ceiling actually happened. On May 20, 1896, during a performance of Helle the counterweight that was being used to hold the chandelier up fell through the Palais Garnier’s ceiling. One person was killed, and several others were injured. Investigators later said that a nearby electrical wire heated and melted the steel cable holding up the counterweight to fall.
The basis of the novel was taken from a rumor that was circulating around the Palais Garnier. The rumor claimed that a deformed man lived beneath the Opera House and was committing all types of crimes. The character Erik was born.
Another Erik legend comes from a story of a stage fire that happened in 1873 and destroyed the company’s old building, the Salle Le Peletier. A ballerina died and her fiancé, a pianist, was disfigured. This part is true, the rumor is that the pianist retreated to the underground of the Palais Garnier, the company’s new venue, and lived out the rest of his days as an outcast.
Leroux was also inspired by the story of a ghost that haunted the Palais Garnier. He became obsessed with proving that the ghost was real. In the prologue of the Phantom of the Opera, he speaks of the mysterious disappearance of Vicomte de Chagny. It is said that he vanished in Canada for 15 years without a trace. He reappeared in Paris and immediately went to the Palais Garnier and asked for a free opera ticket. Leroux claimed that Chagny and his brother were fighting over Christine Daaé, the fictional character. He insinuated that there was a tragedy that occurred between the two. Vicomte is the inspiration for Vicomte Raoul de Chagny.
There was a legend circulating that a faceless man once lived in the “lake” or spring under the opera house. The truth is that when the workers broke ground for the opera house in 1861 found a large amount of water swelling from the ground. The workers channeled the water into a large tank and it remains there to this day.
The last rumor, that apparently Leroux believed, was that a ghost of an old woman haunted the building. Leroux claimed that a woman’s body was unearthed from below the Palais Garnier and that was the source of the ghost. The reality is that during the revolution the government used the opera house’s basement to hold prisoners. This was probably the source of the body if there ever was one.
Now about the Palais Garnier itself. Napoleon III wanted to build a new opera house and started a contest that drew over 170 entries. In the end, a young architect, Charles Garnier was selected. Construction began in 1860 and wasn’t finished until 1875 with pesky things like war getting in the way.
It took 14 painters, craftsmen, and 73 sculptors to finish the building that was finally opened in 1875. However, Garnier was not invited to the inauguration because he had contact with Napoleon, what that means, I have no idea… Anyway, he was required to purchase an admission ticket to access the music hall like all the other Parisians.
The interior of the Palais Garnier is opulent with gold leafing, stunning mosaics, and beautiful ceilings. Don’t miss the famous marble Grand Staircase!
Visits are available every day from 10 am to 5 pm, except on days with afternoon performances and exceptional closures. Click here for tickets to tour the inside.
Best Time to Visit: Address: Pl. de l'Opéra, 75009 Paris, France
In order to tour the Palais Garnier you will need a ticket and go through security. No bulky luggage is allowed.
Metro: Stations Opéra (lines 3, 7 and 8), Chaussée d’Antin (lines 7 and 9) or Madeleine (lines 8 and 14), Auber (RER A)
Bus: Routes 20, 21, 27, 29, 32, 45, 52, 66, 68, 95, N15, N16
Car park: Q-Park Edouard VII - 16, rue Bruno Coquatrix 75009 Paris