Paris Opera House Exterior Restored To Original Splendor

The building has gained mythic status with the popularity of Phantom of the Opera.

A different sort of curtain was raised at the celebrated Paris Opera

House on Tuesday when a yearlong renovation of the building's exterior

was completed.

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,"

Perrot said.

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ornamental excess, which was "inspired by an out-of-date and imperialist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

through 2007.