January 1858, and Napoleon III makes a visit to the opera house of the day in the Rue le Peletier, intending to see the farewell performance of a famous singer of the day. Driving into the narrow street the silence is shattered as one bomb, then a second is hurled at the royal procession killing more than 150 bystanders, including the coachman of the procession, yet the Emperor and Empress remain shaken but unhurt. After continuing on to attend the performance despite this incident, the Emperor decided that a new opera house was called for, one with easier access and less opportunity for assassination. It was not to be until the year 1860 that the Ministry of Fine Arts instigates a competition to find a designer for the opera house to be built in the newly constructed Place de L'Opera. Despite having only one month to prepare, 171 entries were submitted, the winner being a previously unknown architect, Charles Garnier.
Work began on the site in 1861 and immediately struck trouble in the form of an underground stream making the site unstable for construction. A year later, after draining the stream and building a double-layered foundation to resist seepage and allow work to continue, thus forming a sealed underground tunnel system beneath the theatre. It was not to be until January 5, 1875 that the new theatre was unveiled. The size was unheard of, and remains the largest theatre on the planet, however not for seating capacity. The auditorium seats a mere 2156 people, small if compared with the likes of La Scala, Milan, but a cross-section of the theatre shows the stage itself to be larger than the entire auditorium and combined with the lavishness of the front of the house, including the grand staircase, forms a most remarkable stage for any occasion.
The great Paris Opera House had taken 14 years, 3 acres of land, and 47 million francs. During construction the so-called Palais Garner had survived being used as an arsenal and warehouse during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 as well as seeing its instigator, Napoleon III, defeated and exiled to England, dying before the house was inaugurated. The most ambitious and enormous project to this time, the opera house remains a house of marvels and excess, as well as having several well known and much talked about legends surrounding its history.