Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Palais Garnier (the Paris Opera House)

by Cindy Kay Stewart

Palais Garnier Opera House (Deposit Photos)

During my summer 2022 trip to Europe, I toured the Palais Garnier Opera House in Paris, which will play a part in one the WWII books I'm currently writing. During the German Occupation, the show went on. 

The Palais Garnier was commissioned by Napoleon III but opened in 1875 after his death. It's located in the 9th Arrondissement and sits at the intersection of several wide boulevards. The architect, Charles Garnier, utilized several different styles to create the exterior of the opera house. When Empress Eugenie asked Garnier what architectural style he was using, he replied that "he'd created a new Napoleon III style."

Garnier experienced a few setbacks during the building of the opera house. A lake was discovered under the site, and it had to be drained. A cistern was built to collect water, which is still in use today. French firefighters train to swim in the dark in this huge cistern or underground lake below the opera house. Although the ornate exterior was completed in 1869, the Franco-Prussian War brought construction to a halt.

The Grand Staircase (Deposit Photos)

The interior of the opera house is so opulent that it earned the moniker "Palais" from the beginning. The steps of the Grand Staircase are made of white marble, and the railing and its supports (balustrade) are made of red and green marble. The stairway leads to various floors and foyers of the theater.

The Grand Foyer (Deposit Photos)

Garnier designed the Grand Foyer to rival Marie Antoinette's Palace at Versailles. The foyer is absolutely gorgeous and breathtaking.

A Closer View of the Ceiling of the Grand Foyer. Courtesy of Author isogood via Wikimedia Commons 

The auditorium, which seats just under 2000, was designed in the classic Italian opera house style. The horseshoe shape allows patrons to view each other as well as those on stage. An enormous eight-ton bronze and crystal chandelier hangs below a colorful painting, and the stage curtain is painted, providing the illusion of many curtains.

The Auditorium (Deposit Photos)

Several legends about the Palais Garnier inspired The Phantom of the Opera book and later the musical. Some of these legends are based on real events which took place long ago. In 1896 during a performance of the opera Helle, one of several counterweights holding up the chandelier in the auditorium broke off and fell through the ceiling. It killed one person in the audience and injured several others. A fire on the stage of the Paris Opera's former location killed a ballerina and disfigured her fiance, a pianist. He supposedly went to live underground at the new opera house for the rest of his life. There's also the rumor that a faceless man lived in the lake.




These true, heartwarming stories portray the love and bravery shown by many individuals who risked their lives to save those in danger and help win WWII for the Allies. Some found themselves at the mercy of their conquerors but managed to escape. Others sacrificed their lives. From snow-covered Norway to Japanese-occupied China, from remote northern Russia to the flatlands of Belgium, larger than life stories give credence to the adage that truth is stranger than fiction. 

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Cindy Kay Stewart, a high school social studies teacher, church pianist, and inspirational historical romance author, writes stories of hope, steeped in faith, and grounded in love. Her manuscripts have won the Faith, Hope, and Love Christian Writers Touched by Love Award, ACFW’s First Impressions contest, the Sandra Robbins Inspirational Writing Award, finaled in the Georgia Romance Writers Maggie Award of Excellence and the Oregon Christian Writers Cascade Awards, and semi-finaled in the American Christian Fiction Writer's Genesis contest. Cindy is passionate about revealing God’s handiwork in history. She resides in North Georgia with her college sweetheart and husband of forty-one years. Her daughter, son-in-law, and four adorable grandchildren live only an hour away. Cindy’s currently writing two fiction series set in WWII Europe.


  1. Thank you for your post today! I am stunned by the features of this building. If that painting above the chandelier is that pretty in a picture, I can't imagine seeing it with my own eyes. Just, wow!

  2. You're right. It's absolutely gorgeous and spectacular. I remember seeing many ornate churches in Germany and Austria, but none were as intricate and beautiful as this.

  3. Wow, those are some gorgeous photos! Do any of your books use this research?