Le Palais Garnier, the Paris Opera

L’Opéra de Paris, also known as L’Opéra Garnier, and Le Palais Garnier is one the architectural masterpieces of Paris.

The grand staircase of Le Palais Garnier
The grand staircase of Le Palais Garnier

Designed by Charles Garnier, in the Néo-Baroque style,  L’Opera Garnier is typically, lavishly and unstintingly decorated. Outside, it is majestic, with marble friezes, columns and statues. Perhaps its most striking external feature and certainly the most memorable, is the row of bronze busts, depicting the great composers (Beethoven, Mozart, Rossini et al) who gaze down on all who approach. Inside, L’Opéra is simply sumptuous – a visual feast of mirrors, velvet furnishings, glittering chandeliers, polished wood, frescos, gold leaf, cherubim and seraphim. In 1964 a painting by Marc Chagall was added to the ceiling and while a stark modern work might be expected to strike an anachronistic or discordant note among this all this 19th century extravagance, it blends in surprisingly well.

L’Opéra de Paris served the opera goers of Paris from 1875 until 1989 when it became the home of the Paris Ballet. Now that it was no longer the centre of Opera, its name was changed to Le Palais Garnier.

Le Palais Garnier  is a place of many stories and one them was the inspiration for Gaston Leroux’s  famous Gothic novel “The Phantom of the Opera”. Does his ghost still haunt the place? There are many who think so and I certainly wouldn’t like to find myself alone there after lights out.

 

Shopping in Paris

Style, taste, elegance, chic, glamour, quality, originality, the classic cut, the perfect fit, le look francais, that petit je ne sais quoi – these are the things that bring shoppers from all over the world to Paris.

A shop window in Paris
A shop window in Paris

The exclusive boutiques of Faubourg St Honore and Avenue Montaigne are the province of the mega-rich. Still, there’s great sport here for ordinary folk in “la leche vitrine” – window shopping (literally, licking the windows!) or in watching poodle and parcel-toting chauffeurs trail superstars, princesses and demi-godesses from limousine to boutique and back again.

Better suited to mere mortals, but still elegantly displaying the expensive but attainable treasures we covet, are the boutiques of Rue Etienne Marcel and La Place des Victoires in the Premier Arondissement, or St Germain des Pres in the Cinquieme.

Better still are Les Grands Magasins or department stores. As the name suggests they are grand, in both the English and the French sense of the word. They are also chic, provide a glamorous ambience and offer everything from designer clothing to kitchen wares. On Boulevard Haussman are Printemps, and Galeries Lafayette, with its beautiful glass dome and tiers of shopping galeries which have been the inspiration for some the new world’s great stores.  Bon Marche, over on the left bank is another beautiful, old Grand Magasin, with exquisite wrought iron elevator cages, curving staircases and luxurious powder rooms.

Then again, there’s Les Halles, under the site of the old Paris fruit and vege market of the same name. It is a subterranean maze of hallways, corridors, with a few French designer boutiques but mainly shops crammed with European and global labels, as well as those “throwaways” found the world over. Fast, loud and hectic, this is the place for the dedicated bargain hunter and the shopper with stamina and perseverance.

The real Paris bargains and indeed treasures, lie in the markets. Most quartiers have their weekly market, mainly selling produce but also clothing, shoes, jewellery, leathergoods and even homewares, some very good and all “une vraie affaire”.  The most famous and the best, however of the Paris markets is Le Marche aux Puces, or flea market, at Saint Ouen, which dates back to 1870 and is now classified as a “protected zone of urban, architectural and landscape heritage”.  In its complex of thirteen covered markets, you can find everything from antiques, to bric a brac, to clothes and yes, it’s here that you’ll find that je ne sais quoi, that unexpected treasure meant just for you.

 

Le Musee D’Orsay

If buildings could talk, Le Musée D’Orsay, which overlooks the River Seine just across from Le Jardin des Tuileries, would have a great deal to say about its life and times.

Sculptures outside Le Musee D'Orsay
Sculptures outside Le Musee D’Orsay

Le Musée D’Orsay was originally built as a railway station and served as a terminus for the train lines of South-Western France.  Launched (like La Tour Eiffel) for L’Exposition Universelle in 1900, La Gare D’Orsay was an example of the contemporary Beaux Arts style of architecture. The interior included a lavish ballroom and a hotel. Four magnificent bronze sculptures, also  produced for L’Exposition Universelle and each representing a continent of the world, stand in its forecourt.

By 1939, the station’s platforms had become too short to accommodate the new, longer trains and for the next 28 years it was used variously as a mail centre, a film set, a theatre and an auction house.

In 1973, the last remaining part of the complex, the hotel, closed and in 1977, the French Government decided to convert the building to a museum.

On December, 1, 1986 Le Musée D’Orsay was opened by François Mitterand.

Le Musee D’Orsay is probably best known for its extensive collection of Impressionist and Post Impressionist masterpieces which includes works by Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley Gauguin and Van Gogh. Le Musee D’Orsay is also home to a fantastic collection of sculpture, photography, furniture and French paintings from 1848 to 1915.

As you browse Le Musee D’Orsay’s great collections, don’t overlook the architectural beauty of the building itself.