A different sort of curtain was raised at the celebrated Paris Opera
House on Tuesday when a yearlong renovation of the building's exterior
Workers, using state-of-the-art technology, removed grime and damage
caused by air pollutants and acid rain to restore everything from the
chiseled limestone to the intricate mosaics at the fabled home of the
Paris Opera Ballet company.
"Heads, arms and legs had fallen off statues, pieces of mosaic were
falling on people's heads and the floor was ripped up," chief architect
Charles Perrot told the Associated Press.
Perrot tried to stay true to the work of original architect Charles
Garnier, who constructed the building in the 1860s. Garnier originally
used material he requisitioned from all over Europe and Africa. Perrot
went back to those places to find pieces for the reconstruction.
"Some mosaics had pieces missing, and we were able to fill them in after
we located the company in Italy that had furnished them 133 years ago,"
The Opera House was planned and built by Garnier, who was given the
contract after winning a contest that included more than 170 other architects. Construction
began in 1861, and the first opera performed was
COLOR="#003163">Fromental Haléévy's work La
Juive on Jan. 8, 1875.
While today the building stands as a much-lauded work of architecture,
it wasn't always thought to be. Critics at the time decried its
ornamental excess, which was "inspired by an out-of-date and imperialist
showmanship expressed in a language already debased," according to the
editors of the book "Great Architecture of the World."
Composer Claude Debussy once said of
the building, "It looks like a railway station. But once you're inside
you'll be more likely to mistake it for a Turkish bath."
In recent years, thanks to the Andrew Lloyd
Webber musical Phantom of the Opera in which
the fictitious "Phantom" lives in the cellars he was contracted to build
by Garnier the building has taken on mythic status. Tourists from
around the world come to tour the actual cellars that were the
inspiration for the book by Gaston Leroux.
"After years of grayness, the 'Palais Garnier' has come to life, its
exterior in full harmony with the passion and light of its interior,"
France's Minister of Culture, Catherine Tasca, told the AP.
The restoration of the exterior, which cost
$7.7 million, ends the second phase of a renovation that will continue