Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
Eiffel Tower is the symbol of Paris and likely the most
recognizable landmark of the city. It was built by Gustave Eiffel for the
World Exhibition of 1889 and it was never meant to be a permanent addition
to the city's skyline. Initially the artists and writers of Paris expressed
their strong disapproval in regards to the tower but later generations
commended it. The figures are impressive (like the fact that it weights
7000 tons) but forget about them and try to enjoy the sight (you'll forget
the numbers soon but you'll always remember the tower's profile on the
Paris sky). Everyone wants to visit this landmark so expect the lines to
be long (or arrive there early).
Located by the Seine on Ile de la Cite, La Conciergerie
was originally part of the Royal Palace. It first became a prison at the
end of the 14th century and today it is better known for the role it
played during the French Revolution (18th century) when it housed over
4000 prisoners including Danton, Robespierre and even Marie-Antoinette.
From here people (including the three mentioned above) were being sent to
the guillotine. The name of the building comes from the superintendent of
the palace (concierge) which was in charge of renting out shops and
gathering taxes. Some highlights not to be missed include the impressive
Salle des Gens d'Armes (Room of the People at Arms) a vast Gothic room
that was used as a banqueting hall and Marie Antoinette's cell. Address:
1 Quai de l'Horloge.
Musee d'Orsay opened in 1986 in a beautiful building
which served as a train station until 1960's. The museum is devoted to
the period dating from 1848 to 1914 providing a bridge between the
classical Louvre and the modern Centre Pompidou. The main attraction of
the museum are the Impressionists with numerous paintings by Renoir,
Monet, Manet (which is considered a class of its own), Pissarro, Sisley.
Included here are also the post-Impressionist Cezanne, Degas and Vincent
Van Gogh. I enjoyed a lot my visit here; the collection of Impressionist
art is truly impressive and Musee d'Orsay is one attraction of Paris that
is well worth a visit. Address: 1 Rue de Bellechase.
Musee du Louvre
The Louvre is the world's largest museum and one of the
world's greatest art collections in the world. The palace stretches for
about half mile between the Seine and rue de Rivoli. It was originally a
fortress built by Philippe-Auguste in the 13th century. 300 years later
Francois I replaced it with a Renaissance style building. Many French kings
continued to add to the construction and improve it. Some of the kings used
it as their residence before the court moved to Versaille. Louvre was first
opened to the public in 1793 and has been used as a museum ever since. The
latest addition to the building is the glass pyramid (also a museum
entrance) that sits in the courtyard which was designed by I. M. Pei.
The pyramid was unveiled in 1989.
The Louvre's collection is overwhelming in size and it includes paitings,
drawings, sculptures, antiquities, furniture, coins etc It is impossible
to see everything in one day, in fact I believe it is impossible to see
everything even if you spend a few years here. Most people run to see the
two ladies, Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and the statue of Venus de Milo.
They are always surrounded by a crowd of people. But try to see more than
that; walls are practically lined with masterpieces.
There are many entrances to the museum, not only the one through Pyramid
which is always the most crowded. The museums pass card works here and
helps in skipping the lines. After 3PM and on Sundays the ticket is half
When we arrived to Sacre-Coeur we were surprized to
recognize the Byzantine style in the architecture of the basilica. We
weren't quite expecting it, after days of seeing only Gothic architecture
in most of the city's churches. That made me very curious about
Sacre-Coeur's past. The French government decided to erect the basilica
after France's defeat by the Prusians in 1870 to symbolize the end of
the misfortunes and the return to strength of the 19th century France.
The construction was started in 1875 to Paul Abadie's design. Like many
other buildings in Paris, this one was controversial with people loving
it and hating it with the same passion. The basilica was finally
consecrated in 1919. Because of the location and size its effect is
grand. The inside has beautiful mosaics.
I read in my travel guide that in the Middle Ages this
church was likened to a "gateway to heaven"; once I got there I could see
why with my own eyes. This is one of the most beautiful churches that I've
seen in my life.
It was built in 1248 by Louis IX to house what was believed to be the crown
of thorns from Christ's crucifixion and fragments of the true cross. The
building is actually two chapels in one. The first floor chapel which was
for servants and lower members of the court is beautiful with its flying
buttresses but the upper chapel is infinite more striking. To get upstairs
you have to climb a dark spiral staircase. Once you enter the chapel you'll
be moved by the light that inundates the room created by the 15 magnificent
stained glass windows separated by the narrowest columns. This chapel was
for the king and important members of the court - I'm glad that simple
folk like us can marvel at it today ;-) The church is approached through
the court of Palais de Justice.
Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe sits at the western end of
Champs-Elysees. It's the biggest triumphal arch in the world, about 164
meters high. The traffic around the arch is crazy and in order to reach
it you'll have to take an underground passage. The arch was commisioned
by Napoleon in 1806 to commemorate his victory but wasn't ready for his
bride entrance into Paris, 4 years later. It wasn't actually completed
until 1836, under the reign of Louis-Philippe. Since then it has been
used for state funerals and parades. The Arc saw its happiest moments in
1944 when the parade for the liberation of Paris passed under it. You
can take an elevator or climb the stairs to the top. There you'll find a
small museum depicting the history of the Arc and from the terrace you'll
get a nice view of Paris with the many streets radiating from the "Star".
From around the middle of the 19th century to the World
War I the slopes of Montmartre used to be the place where artists throve.
Toulouse-Lautrec made Montmartre its home and so did Van Gogh, Cezanne,
Degas and many others. It was cheap and pretty and it had an abundance of
disreputable nightlife. The famouse Moulin Rouge is to be found here. After
World War I the area lost its spark and today the area swings between being
very touristic during the day and the same shady nightlife during the night. Among many things you'll find here make sure not to miss the Sacre-Coeur
church. The views of Paris from its steps make you understand why artists
will come here to find their inspiration.
Hotel de Ville
The beautiful building which serves as Paris City Hall
is a 19th century reconstruction of the 17th century town hall that was
burned to the ground during the Commune of 1871. The building overlooks a
charming pedestrian square, a nice place to walk and a nice place to skate
in winter when a ice-skating rink is to be found here. The square was once
a site for public executions.
Located in the lovely neighbourhood of Marais, the
beautiful seventeen-century palais named Hotel Sale houses the largest
collection of works by Picasso in the world. Many of the works were owned
by the artist himself and were obtained by the French state on Picasso's
death in 1973 when they were taken as compensation for the inheritance
taxes owned by Picasso's heirs. The works are displayed in chronological
order; they span some 75 years of Picasso's life and all changes in his
style during this time, all the major periods of the artist's life from
1905 onwards. You can see Picasso's experiments with Cubism and
Surrealism including some studies for his famous Demoiselles d'Avignon, the
painting considered to have launched Cubism in 1907. Then follows his
latest works many on themes related to war and peace; many of the works
picture his wives and children. In addition the museum displays Picasso's
art collection, paintings that he bought or was given by contemporaries
such as Matisse, Cezanne, Braque, Renoir and Miro and his collection of
African masks and sculptures. The displays include photos and information
about the artist's work and life. It all makes for a rewarding visit. The
museum is closed on Tuesdays. Address: Hotel Sale; 5 rue de Thorigny.
Notre Dame de Paris
Located at the center of Paris and that of France
(distances from Paris to all parts of France are calculated from the center
of the plaza), Notre Dame had witnessed some of the greatest moments in the
city's history. Its setting on the banks of the Seine is beautiful and
inspiring. This spot had seen people praying for over 2000 years; a Roman
temple, a Christian basilica and Romanesque church preceded the Gothic
masterpiece that is the cathedral. Construction on Notre Dame was started
in 1163 under the auspices of Bishop de Sully and completed around 1345,
roughly 180 years later. Despite various changes during the following
centuries, the cathedral remained largely unaltered until the French
Revolution when it was damaged by the revolutionaries. Napoleon restored
some of the cathedral's prestige by crowning himself emperor here in 1804,
but even after this event the building was left in decline until 1840's
when much needed restoration started (largely due to a petition written by
Victor Hugo, who brought the public's attention to the poor state of the
cathedral). The task of restoration was entrusted to Viollet-le-Duc, who
carried out extensive works remaking much of the statuary on the facade
and adding the gargoyles, which you can see up close if you brave the
ascent of the towers (actually, the ascent wasn't the tough part, but
waiting in line for an hour before the ascent was). Surely the view from
the top was worth it (even though the gargoyles were surrounded by fences
and you couldn't get very close).
The beautiful facade is divided neatly into three levels, with three
overwhelmingly carved portals guiding your entrance (the Portal of the
Virgin on the left, the Portal of the Last Judgement in the center and
the Portal of St. Anne on the right). Don't forget to walk around the
cathedral to see the array of flying buttresses supporting the choir.
They are really beautiful. Address: Ile de la Cité 6, Place du Parvis,
Musee Rodin is located in an elegant eighteen century
mansion surrounded by a beautiful garden. The mansion, which is owned by
the French government, was Rodin's studio from 1910 until his death in
1917. In return for being allowed to use this house Rodin left all his
work to the state upon his death. Some of his most famous sculptures are
on display in the garden: The Burghers of Calais, The Thinker, The Gates
of Hell and Balzac. The indoor exhibits include numerous works, marble
sculptures, plaster casts, reproductions, originals and sketches, all
giving a sense of why Rodin is considered the father of the modern
sculpture. The works have a certain fluidity, they appear to be emerging
from marble into life. Particulary beautiful is his renowed "The Kiss"
(which appears in the picture) and people will form a big crowd around it.
One room inside the museum is devoted to Camille Claudel, Rodin's pupil,
model and mistress. Her sculptures I believe display a touching delicacy
which makes them look fragile and beautiful. Behind the mansion there is
a rose garden, and an alley which winds its way around a pond, making this
museum one of the most idyllic spots in Paris (Well, we were there
off-season; maybe during the peak tourist season this place is not so
quiet, but I hope that it retains its beauty even with the crowds). Address:
77, rue de Varenne 75007.
Atelier Brancusi is located in a small one level building
in front of the Centre George Pompidou. Constantin Brancusi is a major
figure in the history of modern sculpture. Born in Romania in 1876, he
settled in Paris in 1904 at the age of 28 and lived there until his
death in 1957. When he died, Brancusi left his 15e arrondissement studio
to the state on the condition that it will be reconstructed exactly as the
artist left it. This condition came from the artist's obsession with the
spatial relationship of the sculptures in his studio, going so far as to
replace each sold work to a plaster copy, and towards the end of his life
with the refusal to sell his work. The atelier was reconstructed and opened
in 1997 at the Pompidou Center in this small building designed by Renzo
Piano. There are four interconnected rooms which faithfully adhere to
Brancusi's arrangements. Studios one and two are crowded with fluid
sculptures including his well known abstract bird and column shapes. In
one of the rooms the artist's tools are displayed and they make an
interesting sight. My only disappointment was that the rooms are behind
glass. I believe that the impact of the works would have been even
stronger if not for the glass shielding.