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The Paris Opera District

Professor Arnie Greenberg

Paris is a city of wonderful neighborhoods. You can move around every day and always find different sights, sounds, smells and pleasures.

I am enthralled by the wide boulevards and upscale shops around the Opera.

A first glimpse up the Avenue De L’Opera is memorable. The wide avenue has one of the most exciting backdrops. While some say it’s eclectic and overdone, I think the Garnier Opera is one of the sights you will carry with you forever. Along the way there are fashionable hotels and upscale shops. As you cross the Boul Des Capucines, you enter Paris’ ninth; the Opera Quarter. And as you get closer you see this ‘giant wedding cake’ made up of stone, marble and bronze. The style ranges from Classical to Baroque with the many columns, friezes and sculptures, its copper green roofed cupola. Atop is the statue of Apollo holding a golden lyre 76.3 meters above ground. Along the sides is the line of lamppost statues of vestal virgins lighting the way. And this is only the beginning. A dazzling interior built for grand theatrical events awaits you. But this is only once corner of the 9th arrondissement. Read on. There’s so much more.

The Palais, designed by Charles Garnier, was not the first theatre to house the Paris Opera. From the time it was founded by Louis XIV in 1669, it was the thirteenth. And lucky thirteen it was. The project was put out to competition and an unknown, thirty-five year old architect won the competition. Because of the Franco-Prussian War and the fall of the Paris Commune, the building construction took fifteen years. It was completed in 1875. While the outside is ornate and inviting, the interior is a warren of richly decorated foyers covered with beautiful mosaics in spectacular colors on golden backgrounds, The flowing designs of the Grand Staircase is itself a showplace when the Paris whose who gather for a gala performance. This is the theatre of The Phantom, with the famous, eight ton, crystal chandelier and the main theatre’s ceiling, adorned by a magnificent Chagall painting.

One climbs the Grand Staircase greeted by two bronze torcheres, large female figures brandishing bouquets of light. The thirty-meter staircase leads to the orchestral stalls, which offer a splendid view of the stage. The five-tiered auditorium is not large by modern standards but beautifully decorated and twenty meters high it is totally impressive. It is built in a horseshoe shape and contains 1,900 red velvet seats. Even the painted canvas curtain imitates drapery with gold braid and pompoms.

 I chose to walk around freely and admire the various corners at my own pace. I saw the bookstore-boutique, a charming museum and the 20th century Salon du Glacier at the end of the bar gallery. The riot of colors and the painted ceiling was completed after the opening of the opera house. Today, one can stroll through the foyers or have a refreshing drink between acts.

Guided tours are available. They last one and a half hours. Call ahead at: 1 40 01 25 17 or 1 40 01 22 63 

Walking around freely is fun even if there is a fee.

But there is more to the Opera Quarter. It is an area of shoppers, bankers, brokers and sightseers. There is still that 19th century grandeur along the Grands Boulevards designed by Baron Haussmann. The great stores like Au Printemps and Les Galleries Lafayette.

Around December they are brightly adorned with colored lights and extremely inviting for shoppers. Boul Des Capucines, Italiens, Montmartre, Poissoniere, Bonne-Nouvelle, St Denis or St Martin (technically on the border of the 10th) run all the way to La Republic. These tree lined streets offer fashion. The term boulevardier was given to those well -dressed shoppers seen in the area in the 19th century. Of course, the area has changed but there are still hints of 19th century charm behind the gaudy new facades.

Here too, one can partake in the great and lively auctions of rare objets d’art that take place at Drouot (Hotel des Ventes) at 9 Rue Drouot. They have been conducting auctions here since the 1850s.

This is also a district of Museums. The wax museum or Musee Grevin is a popular place to visit at 10 Blvd Montmartre. Tel: 47 70 85 05. Also a 19th century creation, it is as good as London’s Mme Tussaud’s. Famous figures from history and the Belle Époque are brought to life with historical scenes like the arrest of Louis XVI. There are even theatrical, sports and political figures meticulously done in wax.

Everything changes when you get to the northern boundary on Boul De Clichy. Here the shops are basic and the street crowded with tour buses waiting for the tourist groups to visit Montmarte. But within the 9th there are reasonable small hotels and some great restaurant finds.

My favorite is the inexpensive, traditional Chartier at 7, rue du Faubourg Montmartre. I discovered it by accident when I stayed in the old Follies Bergere district at a 104 room, 3 star Hotel Alexanrda, 38 rue du Faubourg Montmartre tel: 45 23 01 27.  The large Chartier is a noisy but friendly restaurant dates back to the 1890s, built to offer ‘beef or vegetable broth’ on marble tables and catering to middle class working people.

You sit wherever you can and watch the people. Everyone discusses the menu, which is beef stew, calf’s head, beef bouruignon, white or mutton stews and heady beers. Many great names of the entertainment world dropped in for a typical meal. They include, Edith Piaf, Tino Rossi, Maurice Chevalier and the entire Compagnons de la Chanson. Add actors, film makers like Romy Schneider, Alain Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo who shot scenes in this historical melting pot and theatrical area. Nobody famous showed up the night I was there. Oh, well.

There are paintings and murals dating back to the Twenties by artists who traded their work for free meals. Today, they serve over 1200 meals a day due to their policy of good food and low prices.

Their menu announces “Un repas sans vin est une journee Sans soleil” (A meal without wine is a day without sunshine.” And while there is little sunshine in this wonderful old restaurant with high ceilings and great ambiance, it is made up for by the mood of the diners and the service of this unique place. 

The ninth has a nice feel to it. It reminds me of a working class district but the fashionable streets cut it in two and there is something for everyone. Even St Trinite, in the center of the area is imposing. A walk around the Opera is its own reward and I always think of Picasso when I walk through the Place Diaghilev, at the back. It was here that the great artist fell in love with one of his many lovers, or so he said.

Interested in shopping. You’ve come to the right place with all the fashionable stores nearby. Add the Galleries Layayette and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. It’s visual and elegant.

Nearby on the square, the Café de La Paix was, for years, a place to pause, see the glamorous people and be seen. I spent hours as a boy looking at pictures of the people near the old Grand Hotel and dreaming of a time when I’d follow in their footsteps.

The Grand Hotel Intercontinental-De l’Athenee has replaced the hotel I always associate with Greta Garbo and 12 Boul des Capucines and the Café de La Paix became a fabled place. Not all the accommodations are that expensive, There’s something for every budget.

Here, nearby, is the headquarters of American Express Paris.

On my first trip to France I would come here to collect my mail. How times have changed. Or have they. A walk through the ninth is like a walk through history. It has a worm feel to it. Try it. You will be rewarded.

A historical sight and good place for a beer or light lunch csan be found at “SANK ROO DOUGH-NOO”. That’s cinq rue Donou  if you speak French or No. 5 rue Danou a site that every Parisian and tourist knows. This is where you’ll find Harry’s Bar and American Grill, a place frequented by the great expatriate writers like Ernest Hemingway. There’s a Harry’s in many cities. But this is where it all started. I wouldn’t go to Paris and miss Harry’s.

Also recommended:

Au Petit Riche,   25 Rue le Peletier 47 70 68 68 (Authentic Bistro atmosphere with the auction crowd)

Musee de la Vie Romantique, devoted to musicians, writers & painters who visited the painter Ary Scheffer when he lived here. They include George Sand, Chopin, Delecroix, Liszt, Dickens and Turgenev.

16 rue Chaptal TEL; 48 74 95 38 Closed Mondays.

Musee Gustave Moreau, the symbolist artist influence of Rouault and Matisse At: 14 rue de la Rochefoucauld Tel: 48 74 38 50 Closed Tuesdays.

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You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at


Over the past few years, Professor Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the globe including Italy and most of China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters from St.Petersburg to Moscow. 

"He took a group to Greece and another to northern Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico.  His newly found spare time is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders..  "So You Want To Be A Tour Leader." 

Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.  Keep reading his web for travel ideas.  His next novel HELLSTORM'S Folly, will be available this fall. He now lives in British Columbia.

Go to: or contact him directly at

(More about the writer.)


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