Sydney Opera House marks its 50th anniversary in 2023, hot on the heels of unveiling its renovated main concert hall in July 2022, which was originally designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon. The architect’s iconic design—which draws on a sail motif and which locals joke resembles a stack of drying dishes—arguably changed the face and fortunes of the Australian city, and it earned him a Pritzker Prize. Expert evaluation to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, in 2007, described it as “one of the indisputable masterpieces of human creativity, not only in the 20th century but in the history of humankind,” and it has provided the backdrop for innumerable standout moments.
In 1980, the Concert Hall was where Arnold Schwarzenegger won his final Mr. Olympia bodybuilding title; Pope John Paul II took to the same stage seven years later. In 1990, a recently freed Nelson Mandela addressed a crowd of 40,000 on the Opera House’s Monumental Steps. When Australia celebrated its bicentenary in 1988, the forecourt became a venue for sheep shearing and ski jumping into the harbor. Today, the Opera House remains Australia’s top tourism destination, welcoming nearly 11 million annual visitors while staging more than 2,000 shows per year across its various spaces.
And though some of the aforementioned facts have become common knowledge about the building, below are some lesser-known facts about the inimitable Opera House.