All posts by Julien Anido

Fun facts about the Opera Garnier

Symbol of the French Second Empire and the transformations that profoundly marked Paris during this period, the one that was called “the Paris Opera” until the birth of his little brother in Bastille in 1989 is today a key monument of the capital . A rich heritage of stories and anecdotes, which contribute to the reputation of this Parisian cultural center.

The attack against Napoléon III

A tragic fact is behind the birth of the opera Garnier. On January 14, 1858, Napoleon III went to the opera, then located rue Le Peletier, in the current 9th arrondissement. When his coach parks, several bomb explode, reaching horses and riders. If the imperial couple will recover unscathed, despite some scratches, there will be eight dead and several wounded in the attack perpetrated by an Italian revolutionary, Felice Orsini.

The next day, the Emperor decided to build a new opera, from which he could easily and safely go from his residence in the Tuileries.

Charles Garnier, the anonymous

In 1860 an international – and anonymous – competition was launched for the construction of the Imperial Academy of Music and Dance. 171 candidates answered the call, including the architect of the City of Paris, Rohault de Fleury, and Viollet-le-Duc. It was finally a 35-year-old unknown man, Charles Garnier, who won the competition.

The avenue de l’Opéra

To go to the Opera from his residence in the Tuileries, Napoleon III asked Haussmann to create the Avenue de l’Opera, which was not originally part of the plans.

Charles Garnier, thrilled that such a beautiful prospect enhances his monument, asked only one thing : no tree planted on the edges of the avenue, so that nothing could disturb the view of passersby! That’s why, even today, there are no trees on this avenue.

The lake of the opéra

If financial restrictions slow down the end of the project, it is also technical and unexpected constraints that undermined the architect. Indeed, during the excavations, he discovered a particularly unsuitable and marshy soil. Garnier incorporated a cistern into his design to redistribute the water and relieve the water pressure on the basement walls. It is today a reservoir for firefighters in Paris.

A secret masterpiece

The foundation stone of the opera was laid in 1862, but the work lasted more than 15 years, because of budget restrictions, the Franco-Prussian war and the Paris Commune.

During the works, scaffolding masked the facade of the opera to not betray the work of artists. A building considered by Garnier as a true work of art, which wanted to arouse the curiosity of Parisians by unveiling the facade in stages.

La Danse de Carpeaux scandal

In 1869, the carved groups of the facade are discovered. One of them, directed by Jean-Basptiste Carpeaux, representing women joyfully whirling around the genius of the Dance, causes a scandal. On the night of August 26-27, 1869, a bottle of ink has been thrown on it.

It is a copy that is visible today on the facade of the opera, the original work being exposed since 1986 to the Musée d’Orsay.

An ungrateful inauguration

On January 5, 1875, the Opera is inaugurated. Napoleon III, exiled to England and died in 1873, never saw the achievement of his work. The new government run by the very conservative Mac Mahon wanted to erase all traces of the Second Empire. Thus, for the inauguration, Charles Garnier has not even been invited, and had to pay his own place to participate in the show!

The fall of the chandelier

On May 20, 1896, 2000 people attended a performance of “Faust” when one of the chandelier fall and killed a spectator who… An episode that inspires – again – Gaston Leroux in one of the most famous episodes of the Phantom of the Opera.

The 17th century portal deserted in the heart of the Marais

Rue Beautreillis, in the 4th arrondissement, is one of those charming little streets that we cross everywhere in the Marais. Narrow, quiet, lined with small shops and elegant buildings, it has kept since 1965 a curiosity, which attracts the eye of all passers-by : an abandoned gate of a 17th century mansion.

A real curiosity to see if you walk in the Marais.

Only hint given to passers-by, the inscription “Hotel Jean-Louis Raoul” that can be hardly deciphered on the pediment. Manufacturer of files, Jean-Louis Raoul bought this mansion, built in the early 17th century for Paul Ardier, King Henry IV advisor, in 1810.

In 1959, a building permit allows the construction of 78 apartments in place of the Raoul Hotel. Part of it is destroyed, but the portal remains. Meanwhile, Albert Laprade, architect in charge of the Marais’ protection, asks for the conservation of the portal.

Ever since, nobody, neither the city hall, nor the family of Mr Raoul, want to pay for its maintenance…

The magnificent “Sgraffito” facade of the rue Mouffetard

In the 5th arrondissement, rue Mouffetard is one of the most charming historic streets of Paris. In addition to its pleasant shops, the street hides indeed some small treasures, including the magnificent “Sgraffito” facade of rue Mouffetard located at 134 rue.

If the building dates from the early 17th century, the fresco is more recent. Made between 1929 and 1931 by an Italian bricklayer, Adigheri, to decorate the facade of a butcher, the technique used is that of sgraffito, a technique widely used during the Renaissance period, that Art Nouveau has brought up to date at the beginning of the 20th century.

A decorative art you can find in some European cities influenced by Art Nouveau like Brussels or Prague, but unique Paris. This facade is since 1993 a historical monument.

What does this sumptuous sgraffito represent ?  Animals of course, and edible. Do not forget that it was originally intended for a butcher !

Pigs, deer, goats, game and poultry of all kinds, this facade is a real country walk, enriched with volutes, flowers and arabesques typical of Art Nouveau. A original work in the heart of historic Paris.

The funny origin of the names of districts of Paris (Champs-Élysées, Montorgueil, Montparnasse)

Contrary to what it may seem, the Parisian is teasing, and knows how to show self-mockery. It is indeed to make fun of his condition, or the vices of his environment, that he baptized certain districts of Paris. Neighborhoods today known throughout the world, which we do not suspect the original humor…

The Champs-Élysées

In Greek mythology, the kingdom of the dead (Greek Underworld) was divided into different gardens where souls lived according to their earthly life. The Champs-Elysees was a pleasant place, reserved for heroes and virtuous souls.

Created in 1674 by André le Nôtre to extend the Tuileries Garden, the Champs-Élysées was built in a swampy area outside Paris, crossed by a huge sewer. To make fun of this royal road laid out in an unsavory area, Parisians named it Champs-Elysees, eternal paradise!


Another loan to Greece, since Mount Parnassus (Mont Parnasse in French) is a mythical mountain, dedicated to the god Apollo and his Muses, where the famous sanctuary of Delphi is located.

Apollon et les Muses, Andrea Appiani, Galerie d’Art Moderne de Milan

In the 17th century, students from the nearby Latin Quarter liked to be at the top of a small artificial hill in the south of the city, where sand and rubble were piling up, to recite poems. The hill then took the name of Mont Parnasse, not without irony, in reference to the sacred mountain.


In the Middle Ages, the Rue Montorgueil, named after the 13th century, led to a hill made of litters. Its summit, which is located at the current rue de Beauregard (could be translated by “Looking-Good Street; hence the name…) was called Mont-Orgueilleux (Proud Mount).

Ironic again that this “Mount Orgueil”, one of the 7 deadly sins !

Exhibition Bacon Books and Paintings at the Centre Pompidou, the cultural event in Paris

From September 11 to January 20, 2020, the Pompidou Center will continue its reinterpretation the Centre Pompidou continues its re-examination of key 20th century works by devoting an exhibition to Francis Bacon.

Known for his distorted bodies and his expressive ,and sometimes, violent paintings, his art is deeply inspired by literature, from Nietzsche to Georges Bataille via Conrad or Michel Leiris. Influences that the exhibition highlights through texts drawn from the artist’s library, and which allow to understand the poetic universe that has always animated Francis Bacon.

An exhibition focused mainly on the relationship between the literary tastes of the artist and his painting, which particularly marked his works between the years 1971 (the pivotal period when the exhibition at the Grand Palace consecrates it internationally) and 192, date of his death .

Sixty paintings from the most important private and public collections, including 12 triptychs and a series of portraits and self-portraits, are presented in this exhibition. Undeniably one of the main cultural events of the return to Paris!



The extraordinary journey of the Obelisk of the Concorde

It is impossible to imagine today the Place de la Concorde without its obelisk. A remarkable monument, fruit of a fascinating history and a fantastic journey to Paris!

Place de la Concorde, originally, was not intended to welcome this sumptuous obelisk. Built in the 18th century, this royal square paid tribute to Louis XV. The French Revolution replaced the statue of the king by the guillotine, and Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Charlotte Corday, Danton, Robespierre, and many others were executed there.

In 1829, the Viceroy of Egypt, Mehemet Ali, offered to France the two obelisks that Ramses II had raised in the 13th century BC at the front of the temple of the god Amon, Luxor. Champollion, first decipherer of Egyptian hieroglyphs and curator of Egyptian collections at the Louvre Museum, was the mediator between the two countries.

Faced with multiple constraints, it is decided to bring back at first only one of the two obelisks offered, the one located to the right of the entrance (looking at the temple). To transport this colossus of 230 tons, a boat was specially designed, thought to be able to navigate the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, go up the Seine and the Nile, and pass under the bridges of Paris. A journey that lasted seven long years!

Arrived at Luxor on August 14, 1831, the first difficulties appear. After packing and felling the monolith, he had to be dragged for 400 meters to join the Nile. Ready in December, the crew had to wait until August 1832, and the flood of the river, to leave. Arrived at Toulon in the night of May 10th to 11th, 1833, the obelisk reached Paris on December 23rd of the same year.

But the story does not end there !

Once there, a new problem appears: a group carved on the base of the obelisk represents baboons who get up and raise their legs, revealing their sexes. An exhibition that shocks the prudishness of the time. The base is sent to the Louvre (still visible today) and a new block of granite is ordered in Brest. A trip that delays, once again, the installation of the monument…

The inauguration finally took place on October 25, 1836. 200.000 people are present place de la Concorde to attend the show. Champollion died in 1832. He will never have the chance to see the completion of his work. At 11:30 the lifting work begins, thanks to a counterweight system developed by the engineer Apollinaire Lebas. While 350 gunners operate the lift with the strength of their arms, the engineer remains voluntarily under the obelisk. He could not be left alive a fault in his system. Question of honor.

A few hours later, the long mass comes to a standstill. The royal family, gathered on the balcony of the Hotel de la Marine, applauds, followed by the crowd. At the end of a journey of 9000 kilometers, which lasted no less than 7 years, the obelisk of Luxor becomes the obelisk of the Concorde!

To thank Egypt, Louis-Philippe offered in 1845 a clock that now adorns the citadel of Cairo. Which, according to the Cairotes, has never worked properly! As for the second obelisk, he has never been repatriated to France, officially returned to Egypt by President François Mitterrand on September 26, 1981.

10 archeological fun facts about Paris

Parisian basements also contain treasures, and tell us, through the work of archaeologists, the history of the city, its development, and its population. A very rich history, since Paris has been occupied by men for millennia, but rather unknown by the general public. To disseminate this knowledge, an interactive map presenting more than 2000 archaeological discoveries made in Paris was put online by the Department of History of Architecture and Archeology of Paris (DHAAP).

  • 1 place du Puits de l’Hermite (5e arrondissement)

A bronze medal with the effigy of Louis XV was discovered in 1923, during the construction of the Muslim Institute and the Mosque.

  • 1 rue des Ardennes (19e arrondissement)

Prior to a real estate project located at the corner of rue des Ardennes and rue de Thionville, in the 19th arrondissement, a series of surveys was conducted. This area, well beyond the limits of ancient and medieval cities, had not previously been the subject of archaeological investigations or observations.

All the polls were negative. No trace of human occupation prior to contemporary times has been detected in this sector.

  • 53 ter quai des Grands-Augustins (6e arrondissement)

An anthropomorphic coffin of lead was discovered in 1938. Hermetically welded, it contained the absolutely complete skeleton of a little girl. He was on the site of the former convent of the Grand Augustins.

  • 47 rue Raynouard (maison de Balzac -16e arrondissement )

Erected around 1730, the house of Balzac was probably built on troglodyte dwellings used at the end of the Middle Ages. Passy was at the time a village outside the city. A rural setting populated by farmers, winemakers or quarrymen who probably used these troglodyte dwellings to sleep.

Also note that this place is the first underground cavity studied in an archaeological dig process in Paris.

  • Île aux Cygnes (15e arrondissement)

During excavations for the metropolitan in 1904, at Bir-Hakeim bridge, a Gallo-Roman phallus was discovered in a sand and gravel field.

  • 45 rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine (11e arrondissement)

This area is the first update of an ancient settlement east of Lutetia. The remains, from the end of the 4th century to the beginning of the 6th century, covering a surface area of 300 m2, probably comprised a larger site that extended to the south and west.

Several types of activities were discovered: the extraction of silt, the conservation of agricultural products, as well as the practice of artisanal activity like the exploitation of materials of animal origin (bone, horn and antler), or still weaving. Finally, a cat and a paw of ox were found inside an isolated burial, dated between 367 and 380.

  • 12 rue de Rome (8e arrondissement)

In 1903, under four meters of embankments, a layer of argyllburous black earth rich in vegetable debris was observed over a thickness of one meter. The Old Paris Commission interpreted these data as a river arm of the Neolithic period whose course gradually slowed down in the Gallic period, before filling in the historic period.

  • 18 rue de la Chaussée d Antin (9e arrondissement)

In 1977, during the rue de la Chaussée-d’Antin works in the courtyard of a mansion, the carved heads of the Kings of the Notre-Dame gate, destroyed during the French Revolution, were exhumed by chance. They are now exhibited at the National Museum of the Middle Ages of Cluny.

  • 1 rue Pelée (11e arrondissement)

Part of the pedestal of the first equestrian statue statue of Louis XIII, located Place des Vosges (17th century) and destroyed during the French Revolution, was discovered in 1935, during the demolition of a small building.

  • 1 place André-Honnorat (6e arrondissement)

In 1991, the construction of an underground car park enabled the discovery of levels of dwellings of the High Empire (I – II centuries). The site was located on the outskirts of Lutèce, and corresponds to either a public crossroads or a residential courtyard. There is no record of pre-Roman occupation in this area.

The abandonment of the site is in the first part of the 3rd century AD. J.-C, occupied again from the 13th century by a convent.

The tumultuous history of the Mona Lisa

Being one of the most famous paintings in the world is not without danger. Subject of all attention since its creation at the beginning of the 16th century, the Mona Lisa has known a tumultuous life, made of travels, theft, and lusts. But isn’t it what contributes to the success of a masterpiece ?

Made by Leonardo da Vinci, the most famous painter of his time, around 1503, the painting was commissioned by a rich Italian merchant, Francesco del Giocondo, who wanted to place a portrait of his wife, Lisa, in their new home. But doubt remains today on this origin…

The painting was probably incomplete when Leonardo da Vinci left Florence for Milan in 1506, then, invited by François I ten years later, he took the work with him to France. Like its identity, the story of the Mona Lisa and its journey to Paris remains obscure. It is not known if Francesco del Giocondo once had the pleasure of seeing the portrait, nor how it has entered the royal collection.

When the French Revolution created the Louvre Museum, the painting, hanging on Versailles, was not retained to be presented to the shown. It entered the museum in 1798 . In 1801, the Mona Lisa made a brief stay at the Tuileries in the apartments of Josephine de Beauharnais, before returning to the museum. But the story does not end there !

The theft of the Mona Lisa

After a century of relative tranquility, the Mona Lisa was stolen on August 21, 1911.

Salon carré du Louvre en 1909. C’est à cet emplacement (au milieu sous le Véronèse) que le tableau fut volé.

Hanged in the Salon Carré du Louvre, it already knew a certain success, protected by a glass.

That day, Vincenzo Perrugia, an Italian glazier, slipped around 7am in the Salon Carré after spending the night in a broom closet. He unhooked the Mona Lisa, dismounted the frame, then hided the work under his clothes before leaving the museum quietly. Familiar manipulations, since he was the man who had placed the work under a glass a few years earlier!

The scandal erupts, and the director of the Louvre was forced to resign. The crowd rushes to see the empty space, and the accusations abound.

While the French believed the work definitely lost, this one was only a few kilometers from the Louvre, hidden under the thief’s bed, in an apartment in the rue de l’Hôpital Saint-Louis, in the 10th arrondissement. It stayed there for 2 years, until Perrugia decided to return to Florence and tried to sell the work to an art dealer, which denounced him.

During his trial, he claimed to have acted out of patriotism, thinking that the painting had been stolen during the Napoleonic wars.

The Mona Lisa’s travels

During the two world wars, the Mona Lisa was evacuated for fear of bombing. Between September 27, 1938 and June 17, 1945, it traveled ten times, hidden in a box identified by the number “MNLP No. 0”, for “National Museum of the Louvre Paintings No. 0”.

Chambord, Louvigny, abbey de Loc-Dieu, castle of Montal… The Mona Lisa moved at the mercy of military defeats, invasions and occupations, finding again its place in the Louvre on June 15, 1945.

His last trips were more peaceful. From December 14, 1962 to March 12, 1963 it was exhibited in Washington and New York, and in 1974 in Moscow and Tokyo.

Being the most famous painting in the world is not so easy!