Yesterday I walked through Buttes-Chaumont, a less known area, containing one of Paris’s biggest and most beautiful parks. I wandered through a charming micro-village , Butte Bergeyre, perched high above the city. It consists of only 5 streets, the unusual houses has contrasting styles. At one point there is a wonderful view across the city, showing Sacre-Coeur on top. The Buttes-Chaumont park was commissioned by Napoleon III and Barn Haussman in 1864. It covers 25 hectares and was built by the architect Gabriel Davioud and the engineer Adolphe Alphand.
Taking the size of the park into account and the number of pathways, it was amazing to see so many people around every corner. Joggers, school groups, tourists and local business people, the latter on lunch break it seems, all enjoying the sunshine. It was a relaxing oxygen filled day, no paintings, no sculptures. Instead there were huge trees in beautiful autumn colors, lakes, streams, waterfalls, bridges and tunnels, like a fairy tale 🙂
Opera national de Paris Garnier is sometimes compared to a giant wedding cake, what a stark contrast to yesterday’s environment. This building was commissioned by Napoleon III, same as the park. Charles Garnier was the architect, construction started in 1861 and it was completed in 1875 after work was interrupted by the Prussian War and 1871 uprising.
A failed attempt to assassinate emperor Napoleon III in 1858, outside the old opera house, prompted the idea of a new safer Opera house in Paris. Garnier included a pavilion on the east side of the building, with a curved ramp leading up, so that the emperor could step out of his carriage, straight into the suite of rooms adjoining the royal opera box. Unfortunately Napoleon III died in 1873 without seeing the finished building or using this entrance. After his death this area was not further developed, interesting to see what the actual building looks like under all this grandeur.
The auditorium has seating for about 2000. The original ceiling was painted by Jules Eugène Lenepveu. Due to the gas lighting, this painting was damaged. Marc Chagall was commissioned for the new painting. This is the only jarring feature in this building, staring at you from above like a sad sick joke. The chandelier in the middle seem so small on the photo, but it is immense at a massive 7 tons!
The detail is magnificent, marble balustrades, domed ceilings covered in paintings and mosaics, cherubs and gold leaf reminds of the opulence at Versailles. Signatures were not shown on these kind of projects, but Garnier managed to incorporate his name, as well as the starting and finishing years of the building, in the ceiling of the one entrance hall. Greek mythology features in almost all the sculpting and paintings. A salamander on the side of the one staircase first covered the gas piping and now the electric wiring. It was also meant as a talisman to protect the building against fire. Underneath the building is a small lake, which provided inspiration for the phantom’s hiding place in Paul Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera. The water is used by firemen for water rescue safety training and closed to the public.
Charles Garnier was 35 years old when his proposal was selected from 170 applications. It is remarkable that he had not designed another building before this. In 1848 at the age of 23 he had won the Premier Grand Prix de Rome, as a result of this he spent a year in Rome at a French Academy. He travelled extensively after this and one could see the influence of Michelangelo in some of his designs. Although he designed another opera house in Monte Carlo, this building must be the crowning glory of his life’s work.