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The Paris Opera

Construction of the avenue de l’Opéra, December 1876

Construction of the avenue de l’Opéra, December 1876
albumen print from collodion negative
Musée Carnavalet, Paris
Image © Charles Marville / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet

The most spectacular building project undertaken by Baron Haussmann during the Second Empire was the new opera house, seen in the distance in the above photograph. Designed by Charles Garnier, the opera encapsulated the bombastic splendor of Napoleon III’s regime. The construction lasted from 1861 to 1875 and required the total reorganization of the neighborhood, where narrow streets were demolished to make way for broad thoroughfares that radiated around the building in a spokelike pattern. Along with many of Haussmann’s other projects, the construction of the avenue de l’Opéra and surrounding streets halted for several years after the fall of the Second Empire in 1870. But with Paris planning to host a universal exhibition in 1878, a number of new streets—including those surrounding the opera—were finished in record time. Marville was commissioned by the city in late 1876 to photograph the progress, resulting in a series of stunning images of demolition that recall similar scenes of the destruction that had been wrought by the Franco-Prussian War and ensuing Commune.