Forget the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. Forget Sacré Coeur and Notre Dame. Forget the Arc de Triomphe. The prize for Paris’ most beautiful building goes to the Palais Garnier.
Made famous by Gaston Leroux’s 20th century novel, The Phantom of the Opera, and by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, the Paris Opera House was built between 1861 and 1875, and seats just under 2000 people.
It’s a huge building, and the attention to detail is phenomenal. Everywhere you look, there’s something new to see: a mask, a grotesque face, a beautiful figure, carved foliage, swirls and shells and geometric shapes. Nestled in a crook of the stairs, semi-concealed, largely unnoticed by people passing by, was an intricate bronze reptile, complete with tongue flickering over the banister.
No wonder it took 6 years to build.
When I visited, the building was scattered with people sketching. This could have been an organised art class. But it could just as easily have been that they were so overcome by the intricate beauty of the building, that they couldn’t help themselves but drop their bags and whip out their sketch books.
It was as if there was so much to capture, that once you started to draw, your pencil would lead you on and on into the never-ending detail of the building, and you would never be able to stop.
That’s certainly how I felt with my camera. I took photo after photo, and still felt that none of them could quite capture the grandeur of this building properly.
Of course, loving a building depends hugely on tastes. I’m sure that for some people, the architecture of the Palais Garnier is way too fussy and over the top. There will be some people who prefer the simple geometric latticing of the Eiffel Tower.
But for me, the sheer extent of the detail of the Opera House felt like a library, as though each carving, statue and panited ceiling were a story, just waiting to be read.