The best advocates for visiting France are the French themselves, convinced as they are that their way of life is best, and their country the most civilized on earth. The food and wine are justly celebrated, while French literature, art, cinema, and architecture can be both profound and provocative. France is a country that stimulates the intellect and gratifies the senses.
France belongs to both northern and southern Europe, encompassing regions ranging from Brittany, with its Celtic maritime heritage, and Germanic Alsace-Lorraine, to the Mediterranean sunbelt and the peaks of the Alps and Pyrenees. The capital, Paris, is the country’s linchpin, with its intellectual excitement, intense tempo of life, and notoriously brusque citizens.
Strangely, as life in France becomes more city-based and industrialized, so the desire grows to safeguard the old, traditional ways and to value rural life. The idea of life in the country – douceur de vivre (the Good Life), long tables set in the sun for the wine and anecdotes to flow – is as seductive as ever for residents and visitors alike. Nevertheless, the rural way of life has been changing. Whereas in 1945 one person in three worked in farming, today it is only one in 20. France’s main exports used to be luxury goods such as perfumes, Champagne, and Cognac; today, these have been overtaken by cars, telecommunications equipment, and fighter aircraft. The French remain firmly committed to their roots, however, and often keep a place in the country for vacations or their retirement.
Though famous for the rootedness of its peasant population, France has also been a European melting pot, from the arrival of the Celtic Gauls in the 1st millennium BC, through to the Mediterranean immigrations of the 20th century. Roman conquest by Julius Caesar had an enduring impact but, from the 4th and 5th centuries AD, Germanic invaders destroyed much of the Roman legacy. The Franks provided political leadership in the following centuries, but when their line died out in the late 10th century, France was politically fragmented.
The Capetian dynasty gradually pieced France together over the Middle Ages, a period of economic prosperity and cultural vitality. The Black Death and the Hundred Years’ War brought setbacks, and French power was seriously threatened by the dukes of Burgundy and the English crown. In the Renaissance period, François I (reigned 1515–47) dreamt of making France a major power, but was thwarted by the Habsburg Emperor Charles V. The Reformation then plunged the country into religious conflict. However, the 17th century saw France, under Louis XIV, rise to dominate Europe militarily and intellectually.
In the Age of Enlightenment French culture and institutions were the envy of Europe. The ideas of Voltaire and Rousseau undermined the authority of the Church and the state, nowhere more than in France itself. The Revolution of 1789 ended the absolute
monarchy and introduced major social and institutional reforms, many of which were endorsed by Napoleon, whose empire dominated Europe at the start of the 19th century. Yet the Revolution also inaugurated the instability that has remained a hall mark of French politics: since 1789, France has seen three forms of monarchy, two empires, and five republics.
Throughout the political turmoil of the 19th century, France remained a leading source of literary and artistic movements. In painting, the French Impressionists were the inspiration for the development of modern art and would-be painters began to flock to Paris instead of Rome. France also retained its position as the arbiter of taste in fashion, food, wine, and good manners.
Rivalry with Germany dominated French politics for most of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The population losses in World War I were traumatic for France, while during 1940–44 the country was occupied by Germany. Yet since 1955, the two countries have proved the backbone of the developing European Union.
For much of the 20th century, domestic politics was marked by confrontations between Left and Right. In 1958 the problems of governing the country led to the introduction of a new constitution – the Fifth Republic – with Charles de Gaulle as president. However, in 1968
protesting students and striking workers combined to paralyse the country and de Gaulle resigned the following year.
The old divide between Left and Right has given way to a more center-focused consensus fostered by François Mitterrand, Socialist President from 1981 to 1995, and forced on the Conservative Jacques Chirac, who succeeded him, by the election of Socialist Lionel Jospin as Prime Minister in 1997. In 2002, however, a landslide victory for the center-right coalition ousted Jospin. The election of Nicolas Sarkozy as President in 2007 confirmed the center-right politics. The Republican spirit lives on in strikes and mass demonstrations. Unemployment has led to growing racism against Arab immigrants.
LANGUAGE AND CULTURE
Culture is taken seriously in France: writers, intellectuals, artists, and fashion designers are held in high esteem. The French remain justly proud of their cinema, and are determined to defend it against pressures from Hollywood. Other activities – from the music industry to the French language itself – are subject to the same protectionist attitudes.
Avant-garde art and literature and modern architecture enjoy strong patronage in France. Exciting architectural projects range from new buildings in Paris – the Louvre pyramid and La Grande Arche at La Défense – to the post-modern housing projects of Nîmes and Marseille in the south.
Social change has resulted from the decline in the influence of the Catholic Church. Parental authoritarianism has waned and there is a much freer ambience in schools – two trends resulting from the May 1968 uprising.
French social life, except between close friends, has always been marked by formality – handshaking, and the use of titles and the formal vous rather than the intimate tu. However, this is changing, especially among the young, who now call you by your first name, and use tu even in an office context. Standards of dress have become more informal too, though the French are still very concerned to dress well.
France is a country where tradition and progress are found side by side. The Euro has taken over, yet some people still calculate in old Francs, replaced back in 1960. France’s agribusiness is one of the most modern in the world, but the peasant farmer is deeply revered. France has Europe’s largest hypermarkets, which have been ousting local grocers. Although American in inspiration, they are French in what they sell, with wonderful displays of cheeses and a huge range of fresh vegetables, fruit, and herbs.
France is a large country and, although it has over 60 million inhabitants, is less densely populated than most of its western European neighbors. Paris belongs to northern Europe, while the south is Mediterranean in climate and lifestyle. Distances limit the amount of the country you can visit, though train services are good and there is an extensive network of highways. Popular tourist destinations include the châteaux of the Loire, the mountains of the Alps and Pyrenees, historic wine-growing regions (see pp186 –7 ), and the resorts of the Côte d’Azur.
SIGHTS AT A GLANCE
Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud
Château de Chambord
Paris is a city of over two million people, and has been the economic, political, and artistic hub of France since Roman times. During the medieval and Renaissance periods, Paris dominated northern Europe as a religious and cultural center. The city was rejuvenated in the mid-19th century, when its slums were replaced with the elegant avenues and boulevards that make modern Paris a delight to stroll around. Today the city strives to be at the heart of a unified Europe. Chic cafés, gourmet restaurants, and fashionable shopping are the major attractions for many visitors.
SIGHTS AT A GLANCE
Arc de Triomphe
Ile de la Cité
Jardin du Luxembourg
Jardin des Tuileries
Musée de l’Orangerie
Musée du Quai Branly
Palais de Chaillot
Place de la Bastille
Place de la Concorde
Place des Vosges
Greater Paris (see inset map)
Bois de Boulogne
Château de Fontainebleau
Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte
Cimetière du Père Lachaise
Parc de la Villette
The Parisian subway consists of 16 metro lines, referred to by their number and terminus names. This is often the least expensive way to get around the capital. In central Paris, these lines overlap the routes of the RER commuter trains, which reach outlying areas. Buses are often the fastest way to travel short distances. The city’s night buses are called Noctiliens. Taxis are expensive, but handy after the metro shuts down.
Ile de la Cité
Châtelet, Cité. Conciergerie 2 Blvd du Palais. Tel 01-53 40 60 80. daily. Jan 1, May 1, Dec 25. (phone to check). www.monum.fr
This boat-shaped island on the Seine is the nucleus of Paris. The capital’s name derives from the Parisii, one of the Celtic tribes who lived here in the 3rd century BC. The settlement was later expanded by the Romans, the Franks, and the Capetian kings.
Remains of the earliest buildings can be seen in the Crypte Archéologique, below the square in front of the mighty Notre-Dame cathedral, which stands at one end of the island. At the other end is another Gothic masterpiece: the Sainte-Chapelle church, surrounded by the huge complex of buildings forming the Palais de Justice. One of these, the sinister-looking Conciergerie, was a prison from 1391 until 1914. During the French Revolution the prison filled to overflowing, and Marie-Antoinette was held in a tiny cell here until her execution in 1793. The Conciergerie has a superb Gothic Hall and a 14th-century clock tower.
Crossing the western end of the island is the oldest bridge in Paris, the oddly named Pont Neuf (new bridge), which dates back to 1578. The colorful Marché aux Fleurs et Oiseaux takes place daily in the Place Louis Lépine and is the city’s most famous flower market. On Sundays caged birds are also sold.
4 Boulevard du Palais. Tel 01-53 40 60 80. Cité. daily. Jan 1, May 1, Dec 25.
Hailed as one of the great architectural masterpieces of the Western world, in the Middle Ages this church was likened to “a gateway to heaven.” Sainte-Chapelle was built in 1248 to house sacred relics, including Christ’s Crown of Thorns, purchased from the Byzantine emperor at great expense by the devout King Louis IX.
The church consists of two chapels. The lower chapel was used by servants and minor officials, while the exquisite upper chapel, reached by means of a narrow, spiral staircase, was reserved for the royal family and courtiers. This chapel has many glorious stained-glass windows, separated by pencil-like columns soaring 15 m (50 ft) to the star-studded roof. Over 1,100 biblical scenes from the Old and New Testaments are depicted, as well as the story of how the relics were brought to Sainte-Chapelle. The 86 panels of the circular Rose Window, which are best seen at sunset, tell the story of the Apocalypse.
Badly damaged during the Revolution, and converted into a flour warehouse, the church was renovated a century later by architect Viollet-le-Duc. The spire, erected in 1853, rises 75 m (245 ft) into the air.
Pl G Pompidou. Tel 01-44 78 12 33. Rambuteau, Châtelet, Hôtel de Ville. Châtelet-Les-Halles. 21, 29, 38, 47 & many others. Musée National d’Art Moderne 11am–10pm Wed–Mon. May 1. www.centrepompidou.fr
With its skeleton of struts, ducts, and elevators scaling the outside of the building, and offering fine views of the city, this famous cultural center has room for a vast exhibition area inside.
Among the artists featured in the Musée National d’Art Moderne are Matisse, Picasso, Miró, and Pollock, representing such schools as Fauvism, Cubism, and Surrealism. Star attractions are Sorrow of the King (1952) by Matisse, and Georges Braque’s The Duo (1937). A library is housed on the first, second, and third floors, while temporary exhibitions are held on the first and sixth floors.
Outside, the Piazza is usually full of crowds watching the street performers. On one side of the square, the Atelier Brancusi is a reconstruction of the workshop of Romanian-born artist Constantin Brancusi (1876–1957), who left his entire oeuvre to the nation.
Hôtel Salé, 5 Rue de Thorigny. Tel 01-42 71 25 21. St-Sébastien Froissart, St-Paul. for renovations until 2012. www.musee-picasso.fr
The Spanish-born artist Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) spent most of his life in France. On his death, the French state inherited many of his works in lieu of death duties, opening a museum to display them in 1986. Housed in a 17th-century mansion originally built for a salt tax collector, the collection comprises over 200 paintings, 158 sculptures, 100 ceramic works, and some 3,000 sketches and engravings. The full extent of Picasso’s artistic development is presented, from the somber
Blue period Self-Portrait (1901) to Cubist collages and Neoclassical works such as Pipes of Pan. Highlights include The Two Brothers (1906), The Kiss (1969), and Two Women Running on the Beach (1922). There is also a sculpture garden. The museum closed at the end of 2009 while a two-year programme of renovations is carried out.
Place des Vosges
This perfectly symmetrical square, laid out in 1605 by Henri IV, and known as Place Royale, was once the residence of the aristocracy. Considered among the most beautiful in the world by Parisians and visitors alike, the square is surrounded by 36 houses, nine on each side. Built of brick and stone, with dormer windows over arcades, they have survived intact for almost 400 years. Today, the historic houses accommodate antiques shops and fashionable cafés.
The square has been the scene of many historical events over the centuries, including a three-day tournament in celebration of the marriage of Louis XIII to Anne of Austria in 1615. Among the square’s famous former residents are the literary hostess, Madame de Sévigné, born here in 1626, Cardinal Richelieu, pillar of the monarchy, and Victor Hugo, who lived in one of the houses for 16 years.
Place de la Bastille
Nothing remains of the infamous prison stormed by the revolutionary mob on July 14, 1789, the event that sparked the French Revolution. A row of paving stones from No. 5 to No. 49 Boulevard Henri IV traces the line of former fortifications.
The 52-m (170-ft) hollow bronze Colonne de Juillet stands in the middle of the traffic-clogged square to honor the victims of the July Revolution of 1830. On the south side of the square (at 120 Rue de Lyon) is the 2,700-seat Opéra Bastille, completed in 1989, the bicentennial of the French Revolution.
No other building embodies the history of Paris more than Notre-Dame. It stands majestically on the Ile de la Cité, cradle of the city. Built on the site of a Roman temple, the cathedral was commissioned by Bishop de Sully in 1160. The first stone was laid in 1163, marking the start of two centuries of toil by armies of medieval architects and craftsmen. It has been witness to great events of French history ever since, including the coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte (1804) and the state funeral of Charles de Gaulle (1970). During the Revolution, the building was desecrated and rechristened the Temple of Reason. Extensive renovations (including the addition of the spire and gargoyles) were carried out in the 19th century by architect Viollet-le-Duc.
Street-by-Street: Latin Quarter
Since the Middle Ages this riverside quarter has been dominated by the Sorbonne – it acquired its name from early Latin-speaking students. The area is generally associated with artists, intellectuals, and a bohemian way of life, and has a history of political unrest. In 1871 the Place St-Michel became the center of the Paris Commune, and in May 1968 it was one of the sites of the student uprisings that briefly engulfed the city.
Place du Panthéon. Tel 01-44 32 18 00 Place Monge, Cardinal-Lemoine. daily. Jan 1, May 1, Jul 14, Dec 25.
Famous as the last resting place of some of France’s greatest citizens, this magnificent church was built between 1764 and 1790 to honor Sainte Geneviève, patron saint of Paris. During the Revolution it was turned into a pantheon, to house the tombs of the illustrious.
Based on Rome’s pantheon, the temple portico has 22 Corinthian columns, while the tall dome was inspired by that of St. Paul’s in London (see p58 ). Geneviève’s life is celebrated in a series of 19th-century nave murals. Many French notables rest in the crypt, including Voltaire, Rousseau, and Victor Hugo. The ashes of Pierre and Marie Curie are also held here.
Jardin du Luxembourg
Odéon. Luxembourg. daily.
This graceful and historic area offers a peaceful haven in the heart of Paris. The gardens, which cover 25 ha (60 acres), were opened to the public in the 19th century by their then owner, the Comte de Provence. They are centered around the Luxembourg Palace, which was built for Marie de Médicis, the widow of Henri IV, and is now the home of the French Senate. Dominating the gardens is an octagonal lake surrounded by formal terraces, where sunbathers gather on fine summer days.
3 Place St-Germain-des-Prés. Tel 01-55 42 81 33. St-Germain-des-Prés. daily.
Originating in 558 as a basilica to house holy relics, this is the oldest church in Paris. St-Germain had become a powerful Benedictine abbey by the Middle Ages, but was largely destroyed by fire in 1794. Major restoration took place in the 19th century. A single tower survives from the original three, housing one of the most ancient belfries in France. Famous tombs include that of 17th-century philosopher, René Descartes.
After World War II, the area attracted writers and artists, including one of the leading figures of the Existentialist movement, Jean-Paul Sartre, and writer Simone de Beauvoir. Bars and cafés, such as Les Deux Magots and the Café de Flore, which were their daily haunts, are now popular with tourists.
Musée du Louvre
The Musée du Louvre, containing one of the world’s most important art collections, has a history dating back to medieval times. First built as a fortress in 1190 by King Philippe-Auguste, it lost its dungeon and keep in the reign of François I, who commissioned a Renaissance-style building. Thereafter, four centuries of kings and emperors improved and enlarged the palace. It was first opened as a museum in 1793 under the First Republic. Major renovations were completed in 1998.
Exploring the Louvre’s Collection
Owing to the vast size of the Louvre’s collection, it is useful to set a few viewing priorities before starting. The collection of European paintings (1400–1848) is comprehensive, with over half the works by French artists. The extensively renovated departments of Oriental, Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman antiquities are of world renown and feature numerous new acquisitions and rare treasures. The hugely varied display of objets d’art includes furniture, jewelry, scientific instruments, and armor.
EUROPEAN PAINTING: 1400 TO 1848
Notable Flemish paintings include Jan van Eyck’s Madonna of the Chancellor Rolin (c.1435). The fine Dutch collection features Self-portrait and Bathsheba (1654), both by Rembrandt. Among important German works are a Venus (1529) by Lucas Cranach and a portrait of Erasmus by Hans Holbein.
Italian paintings are arranged chronologically, and include Fra Angelico’s Coronation of the Virgin (1435) and the celebrated Mona Lisa (1504) by Leonardo da Vinci.
Outstanding French works are represented by Enguerrand Quarton’s Villeneuve-lès-Avignon Pietà (1455) and the delightfully frivolous The Bathers (1770) by Fragonard.
Among English artists featured are Gainsborough, Reynolds, and Turner, while the Spanish collection has portraits by Goya and works by El Greco and Zurbarán.
EUROPEAN SCULPTURE: 1100 TO 1848
The French section opens with a 12th-century figure of Christ and a head of St. Peter. Several works by French sculptor Pierre Puget (1620–94) are assembled in a glass-covered courtyard. Other masterpieces of French sculpture, including Jean-Antoine Houdon’s busts of Diderot and Voltaire, stand in the Cour Marly. A notable Flemish sculpture is Adrian de Vries’s long-limbed Mercury and Psyche (1593). Michelangelo’s Slaves and Benvenuto Cellini’s Fontainebleau Nymph are among the many splendid Italian works.
ORIENTAL AND EGYPTIAN ANTIQUITIES
Important works of Mesopotamian art include one of the world’s oldest documents, a basalt block, bearing a proclamation of laws by Babylonian King Hammurabi, from about 1750 BC.
The warlike Assyrians are represented by delicate carvings, and a fine example of Persian art is the enameled brickwork depicting the king’s archers (5th century BC).
Egyptian art on display, dating from between 2500 and 1400 BC, and mostly produced for the dead, includes lifelike funeral portraits, such as the Squatting Scribe, and several sculptures of married couples.
GREEK, ETRUSCAN, AND ROMAN ANTIQUITIES
The famous Greek marble statues here, the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Venus de Milo, both date from the Hellenistic period (late 3rd to 2nd century BC). A highlight of the Roman section is a 2nd-century AD bronze head of the Emperor Hadrian. Other fine pieces include a bust of Agrippa and a basalt head of Livia. The star of the Etruscan collection is the terra-cotta sarcophagus of a married couple. Among the vast array of earlier fragments, a geometric head from the Cyclades (2700 BC) and a swan-necked bowl hammered out of a gold sheet (2500 BC) are noteworthy.
More than 8,000 items feature in this collection, many of which came from the Abbey of St-Denis, where the kings of France were crowned. Treasures include a serpentine plate from the 1st century AD and a golden scepter made for King Charles V in about 1380. The French crown jewels include the splendid coronation crowns of Louis XV and Napoleon, scepters, and swords. The Regent, one of the purest diamonds in the world, worn by Louis XV at his coronation in 1722, is also on show. An entire room is taken up with a series of tapestries, the Hunts of Maximilian, executed for Emperor Charles V in 1530. The large collection of French furniture ranges from the 16th to the 19th centuries, and includes pieces by exceptional furniture-maker André Charles Boulle. He is particularly noted for his technique of inlaying copper and tortoiseshell. Among more unusual items is Marie-Antoinette’s inlaid steel and bronze writing desk.
Jardin des Tuileries
Tuileries, Concorde. Apr–Sep: 7am–9pm daily; Oct–Mar: 7:30am–7pm daily.
These gardens once belonged to the Palais des Tuileries, a palace which was razed to the ground during the time of the Paris Commune in 1871.
The gardens were laid out in the 17th century by André Le Nôtre, royal gardener to Louis XIV. He created a Neoclassical garden with a broad central avenue, regularly spaced terraces, and topiary arranged in geometric designs. Recent restoration has created a new garden with lime and chestnut trees and striking modern sculptures. Also in the gardens,
two royal tennis courts built in 1851 and known as the Jeu de Paume – literally “game of the palm” – now host exhibitions of contemporary art.
Musée de l’Orangerie
Jardin des Tuileries, Place de la Concorde. Tel 01-44 77 80 07. Concorde. 24, 42, 52, 72, 73, 84, 94. 9am–6pm Wed–Mon. May 1, Dec 25. www.musee-orangerie.fr
The museum reopened in 2006 following a long closure for restructuring. Claude Monet’s crowning work, his celebrated water lily series, still takes pride of place here. Known as the Nymphéas, most of the canvases were painted between 1899 and 1921 in the garden at Giverny, Normandy, where Monet lived from 1883 until his death at the age of 86.
This superb work is complemented by the WalterGuillaume collection of artists of the Ecole de Paris, from the late Impressionist era to the inter-war period. Among a number of paintings by Cézanne are still lifes, portraits such as Madame Cézanne, and landscapes. The collection also features The Red Rock. There are 24 canvases by Renoir, one the most notable of which is Les Fillettes au Piano. Picasso is represented by early works such as The Female Bathers. Henri Rousseau has nine paintings, including The Wedding and Le Carriole du Père Junier. Among outstanding portraits is that of by Modigliano. Works by Sisley, Derain, and Utrillo are also featured. All the works are bathed in the natural light that filters through the windows of the museum.
Place de la Concorde
One of Europe’s most magnificent and historic squares, covering over 8 ha (20 acres), the Place de la Concorde was a swamp until the mid-18th century. It became the Place Louis XV in 1763 when royal architect Jacques-Ange Gabriel was asked by the king to design a suitable setting for an equestrian statue of himself. He created an open octagon, with only the north side containing mansions.
The statue, which lasted here less than 20 years, was replaced by the guillotine (the Black Widow, as it came to be known), and the square was renamed Place de la Révolution. On January 21, 1793, Louis XVI was beheaded here, followed by over 1,300 other victims, including Marie Antoinette, Madame du Barry, Charlotte Corday (Marat’s assassin), and revolutionary leaders Danton and Robespierre. The blood-soaked square was optimistically renamed Place de la Concorde after the Reign of Terror finally came to an end in 1794.
The grandeur of the square was enhanced a few decades later when the 3,200-year-old Luxor obelisk was presented to King Louis-Philippe as a gift from the viceroy of Egypt (who also donated Cleopatra’s Needle in London). Two fountains and eight statues personifying French cities were also installed.
Flanking the Rue Royale on the north side of the square are two of Gabriel’s Neoclassical mansions, the Hôtel de la Marine and the exclusive Hôtel Crillon.
Rue de la Légion d’Honneur. Tel 01-40 49 49 78. Solférino. Musée d’Orsay. 24, 68, 69, 84 & many others. Tue–Sun. Jan 1, May 1, Dec 25. www.musee-orsay.fr
Originally built as a rail terminus in the heart of Paris, Victor Laloux’s superb building, completed in 1900, narrowly avoided demolition in the 1970s. In 1986 it reopened as the Musée d’Orsay, with much of the original architecture preserved. The majority of the exhibits are paintings and sculptures dating from between 1848 and 1914, but there are also displays of furniture, the decorative arts, and cinema. The social, political, and technological context in which these diverse visual arts were created is explained.
Paintings from before 1870 are on the ground floor, presided over by Thomas Couture’s massive Romans in the Age of Decadence (1847). Neoclassical masterpieces, such as Ingres’ La Source, hang near Romantic works like Delacroix’s turbulent Tiger Hunt (1854), and canvases by Degas and Manet, including the latter’s Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe and Olympia (1863).
The museum’s central aisle overflows with sculpture, from Daumier’s satirical busts of members of parliament to Carpeaux’s exuberant The Dance (1868). Decorative arts and architecture are on the middle level, where there is also a display of Art Nouveau, including Lalique jewelry and glassware. Impressionist works on the upper level include Renoir’s Moulin de la Galette (1876). Matisse’s Luxe, Calme et Volupté is among highlights of the post-1900 collection.
79 Rue de Varenne. Tel 01-44 18 61 10. Varenne. Invalides. 6, 9, 82, 87, 92. Tue–Sun. Jan 1, May 1, Dec 25. restricted. www.musee-rodin.fr
Auguste Rodin (1840–1917), widely regarded as one of France’s greatest sculptors, lived and worked here in the Hôtel Biron, an elegant 18th-century mansion, from 1908 until his death. In return for a state-owned flat and studio, Rodin left his work to the nation, and it is now exhibited here. Some of his most celebrated sculptures are on display in the attractive garden and include The Burghers of Calais, The Thinker, The Gates of Hell, and Balzac.
The indoor exhibits are arranged in chronological order, spanning the whole of Rodin’s career. Major works in the collection include The Kiss and Eve.
La Tour-Maubourg, Varenne. Invalides. 28, 49, 63, 69 & many others. Hôtel des Invalides Tel 01-44 42 37 72. daily. Jan 1, May 1, Nov 1, Dec 25. St-Louis-des-Invalides Tel 01-44 42 37 72. daily. Dôme Church Tel 01-44 42 37 72. daily. Jan 1, May 1, Jun 17, Nov 1, Dec 25. restricted.
This vast ensemble of monumental buildings is one of the most impressive architectural sights in Paris. The imposing Hôtel des Invalides, from which the area takes its name, was commissioned by Louis XIV in 1671 for his wounded and homeless veterans. Designed by Libéral Bruand, it was completed in 1676 by Jules Hardouin-Mansart. Nearly 6,000 soldiers once resided here; today there are fewer than 100. Behind the Hôtel’s harmonious Classical façade – a masterpiece of French 17th-century architecture – are several museums.
The Musée de l’Armée is one of the most comprehensive museums of military history in the world, with exhibits covering all periods from the Stone Age to World War II. Among items on display are François I’s ivory hunting horns and a selection of arms from China, Japan, and India.
The Musée de l’Ordre de la Libération was set up to honor feats of heroism during World War II, while the Musée des Plans-Reliefs has an extensive collection of detailed models of French forts and fortified towns, considered top secret until as late as the 1950s. St-Louis-des-Invalides, the chapel of the Hôtel des Invalides, is also known as the “soldiers’ church.” It was built from 1679 to 1708 by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, to Bruand’s design. The stark, Classical interior is designed Page 163 | Top of Articlein the shape of a Greek cross and has a fine 17th-century organ by Alexandre Thierry.
The Dôme Church was begun in 1676 to complement the existing buildings of Les Invalides, and to reflect the splendor of Louis XIV’s reign. Reserved for the exclusive use of the Sun King himself, the resulting masterpiece is one of the greatest examples of grand siècle architecture and a monument to Bourbon glory. The crypt houses the tomb of Napoleon – six coffins with an enormous red sarcophagus on a pedestal of green granite. Marshal Foch, the World War I hero, is also buried here.
Built for the Universal Exhibition of 1889, and to commemorate the centennial of the Revolution, the 324-m (1,063-ft) Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel) was meant to be a temporary addition to the Paris skyline. Designed by Gustave Eiffel, it was fiercely decried by 19th-century aesthetes. It was the world’s tallest building until 1931, when New York’s Empire State Building was completed. A number of crazy stunts have been attempted here. In 1912 a local tailor launched himself from the tower using a cape as wings. He plunged to his death.
Musée du Quai Branly
22 Rue de l’Université. Tel 01-56 61 70 00. Alma-Marceau. Pont de l’Alma. Tue–Sun. www.quaibranly.fr
Built to give the arts of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas a platform as shining as that reserved for Western art, this museum boasts a collection of more than 3,000 objects. It is particularly strong on Africa, with stone, wooden, and ivory masks, as well as ceremonial tools. The Jean Nouvel-designed building, raised on stilts, is a sight in itself: the ingenious use of glass allows the surrounding greenery to act as a natural backdrop for the collection.
Palais de Chaillot
Place du Trocadéro 17. Tel 01-44 05 39 10. Trocadéro. Trocadéro. 27, 30, 32, 63, 72, 82. Museums Wed–Mon.
With its curved colonnaded wings, each culminating in a vast pavilion, this palace was designed in Neoclassical style for the 1937 Paris Exhibition by Azéma, Louis-Hippolyte Boileau, and Jacques Carlu. It is adorned with sculptures and bas-reliefs, and the pavilion walls are inscribed in gold with words composed by the poet Paul Valéry. The square between the two pavilions is highly decorated with bronze sculptures, ornamental pools, and shooting fountains. Steps lead down from here to the Théâtre National de Chaillot, famous for its avant-garde productions.
The Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine is a vast new complex and information center incorporating Violletle-Duc’s original Musée des Monuments Français (1882).
The Musée de l’Homme in the west wing traces human evolution through a series of anthropological, archaeological, and ethnological displays. Next door is the Musée National de la Marine, devoted to French naval history.
The centerpiece of the lovely Jardins de Trocadéro is a long rectangular ornamental pool, bordered by statues. The gardens themselves are perfect for a quiet evening stroll.
Arc de Triomphe
Place Charles de Gaulle. Tel 01-55 37 73 77. Charles de Gaulle–Etoile. 22, 30, 31, 73, 92. daily. Jan 1, May 1, May 8 (am), Jul 14 (am), Nov 11 (am), Dec 25. www.monum.fr
After his greatest victory, the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805, Napoleon promised his men they would “go home beneath triumphal arches.” The first stone of what was to become the world’s most famous triumphal arch was laid the following year. But disruptions to architect Jean Chalgrin’s plans – combined with the demise of Napoleonic power – delayed completion until 1836. Standing 50 m (164 ft) high, the Arc is encrusted with flamboyant reliefs, shields, and sculptures, depicting military scenes such as the Napoleonic battles of Austerlitz and Aboukir.
On Armistice Day, 1921, the body of the Unknown Soldier was placed beneath the arch to commemorate the dead of World War I. The flame of remembrance which burns above the tomb is rekindled by various veterans organizations each evening. Today, the Arc de Triomphe is the customary rallying point for many victory celebrations and parades.
The viewing platform on top of the Arc overlooks the length of the Champs-Elysées. Inside the Arc, a museum documents its history and construction.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, George V, Champs-Elysées Clemenceau. Grand Palais Porte A, Ave Eisenhower. Tel 01-44 13 17 17. Wed–Mon (only for exhibitions). Palais de la Découverte Tel 01-56 43 20 21. Tue–Sun. Petit Palais Ave Winston Churchill. Tel 01-53 43 40 00. Tue–Sun. public hols. for temporary exhibitions.
Paris’s most famous and popular thoroughfare had its beginnings in about 1667, when landscape gardener André Le Nôtre extended the royal view from the Tuileries by creating a tree-lined avenue. The Champs-Elysées (Elysian Fields) has also been known as the “triumphal way” since the homecoming of Napoleon’s body from St. Helena in 1840. With the addition of cafés and restaurants in the late 19th century, the Champs-Elysées became the most fashionable boulevard in Paris.
The formal gardens that line the Champs-Elysées from Place de la Concorde to the Rond-Point have changed little since they were laid out by architect Jacques Hittorff in 1838, and were used as the setting for the 1855 World’s Fair. The Grand Palais and the Petit Palais were also built here for the Universal Exhibition of 1900.
The exterior of the massive Grand Palais combines an imposing Neoclassical façade with Art Nouveau ironwork. A splendid glass roof is decorated with colossal bronze statues of flying horses and chariots at its four corners. Inside is a science exhibition (Le Palais de la Découverte) and the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, which holds frequent temporary exhibitions.
Facing the Grand Palais, the Petit Palais houses the Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris. Arranged around a semicircular courtyard and garden, the palace is similar in style to the Grand Palais, with Ionic columns, a grand porch, and a dome echoing that of the Invalides across the river. The exhibits are divided into medieval and Renaissance objets d’art, paintings, and drawings; 18th-century furniture and objets d’art; and works by the French artists Gustave Courbet, Jean Ingres, and Eugène Delacroix.
Abbesses, Anvers. 30, 54, 80, 85. Sacré-Coeur 35 Rue du Chevalier de la Barre. Tel 01-53 41 89 00. daily. for crypt and dome. restricted. www.sacrecoeur.montmartre.com
The steep hill of Montmartre has been associated with artists for 200 years. Théodore Géricault and Camille Corot came here at the start of the 19th century, and in the early 20th century Maurice Utrillo immortalized the streets in his works. Today, street artists of varying talents exhibit their work in the Place du Tertre, and thrive on the tourist trade. Exhibitions at the Musée de Montmartre usually feature works of artists associated with the area, while the Musée d’Art Naïf Max Fourny houses almost 600 examples of naive art. The Espace Montmartre Salvador Dalí displays over 300 works by the Surrealist painter and sculptor. Much of the area still preserves its rather louche, prewar atmosphere. Former literary haunt Au Lapin Agile, or “Agile Rabbit,” is now a club. The celebrated Moulin Rouge nightclub is also in the vicinity.
The name Montmartre, thought to derive from martyrs tortured and killed here around AD 250, is also associated with the grandiose Sacré-Coeur. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Christ, the basilica was built as a result of a vow made at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Businessmen Alexandre
Legentil and Hubert Rohault de Fleury promised to finance its construction should France be spared from the impending Prussian onslaught. Despite the war and the Siege of Paris, invasion was averted and work began in 1876 to Paul Abadie’s designs. The basilica, completed in 1914, is one of France’s most important Roman Catholic shrines. It contains many treasures, including a figure of the Virgin Mary and Child (1896) by Brunet.
Below the forecourt, Square Willette is laid out on the side of a hill in a series of descending terraces. A funicular railway takes visitors up from the bottom of the gardens to the foot of the steps of the basilica.
Parc de la Villette
30 Ave Corentin-Cariou. Porte de la Villette. 75, 139, 150, 152, 250A. Cité des Sciences Tel 01-40 05 80 00. Tue–Sun.
The old slaughterhouses and livestock market of Paris have been transformed into this massive urban park, designed by Bernard Tschumi.
The major attraction of the site is the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, a hugely Page 167 | Top of Articlepopular science and technology museum. Architect Adrien Fainsilber has created an imaginative interplay of light, vegetation, and water in the high-tech, five-floor building, which soars to a height of 40 m (133 ft). At the museum’s heart is the Explora exhibit, a fascinating guide to the worlds of science and technology. The Géode, a giant entertainment sphere, houses a huge hemispherical cinema screen. In the auditorium of the Planetarium, special effects projectors create exciting images of the stars and planets.
Also in the park, the Grande Halle was the old cattle hall, and has been turned into a huge exhibition space. The Cité de la Musique is a quirky but elegant complex that holds a music conservatory – home of the world-famous Paris conservatoire since 1990 – and a concert hall. Built as a venue for pop concerts, the Zénith theater seats over 6,000 spectators.
Cimetière du Père Lachaise
16 Rue du Repos. Père-Lachaise, A Dumas. Tel 01-55 25 82 10. daily.
Paris’s most prestigious cemetery is set on a wooded hill overlooking the city. The land was once owned by Père de la Chaise, Louis XIV’s confessor, but it was bought by order of Napoleon in 1803 to create a completely new cemetery. This became so popular with the Parisian bourgeoisie that its boundaries were extended six times during the 19th century. Here are buried celebrities such as the writer Honoré de Balzac, the famous playwright Molière, the composer Frédéric Chopin, singer Edith Piaf, and actors Simone Signoret and Yves Montand. Famous foreigners interred in the cemetery include Oscar Wilde and the singer Jim Morrison. The Columbarium, built at the end of the 19th century, houses the ashes of American dancer Isadora
Duncan, among others. The equally charismatic Sarah Bernhardt, famous for her portrayal of Racine heroines, also reposes at Père Lachaise. Striking funerary sculpture and famous graves make this a pleasant place for a leisurely, nostalgic stroll.
La Défense. La Grande Arche Tel 01-49 07 27 57. daily.
This skyscraper business city on the western edge of Paris is the largest office development in Europe and covers 80 ha (198 acres). It was launched in 1957 to create a new home for leading French and foreign companies. La Grande Arche is an enormous hollow cube, spacious enough to contain Notre-Dame cathedral. Designed by Danish architect Otto von Spreckelsen in the late 1980s, the arch houses an exhibition gallery and offers superb views over the city.
Bois de Boulogne
Porte Maillot, Porte Dauphine, Porte d’Auteuil, Sablons. 24 hrs daily. to specialist gardens and museum.
Located between the river Seine and the western edges of Paris, this 865-ha (2,137-acre) park offers a vast belt of greenery for strolling, cycling, riding, boating, picnicking, or spending a day at the races. The Bois de Boulogne was once part of the immense Forêt du Rouvre. In the mid-19th century Napoleon III had the area redesigned and landscaped by Baron Haussmann along the lines of Hyde Park in London (see p54 ). A number of self-contained parks include the Pré Catelan, which has the widest beech tree in Paris, and the Bagatelle gardens, with architectural follies and an 18th-century villa famous for its rose garden. The villa was built in just 64 days as the result of a bet between the Comte d’Artois and Marie-Antoinette.
By day the Bois is busy with families, joggers, and walkers, but after dark it is notoriously seedy – and best avoided.
Château de Versailles
Visitors passing through the dazzling state rooms of this colossal palace, or strolling in its vast gardens, will soon understand why it was the glory of the Sun King’s reign. Started by Louis XIV in 1668, the palace grew from a modest hunting lodge built for his father, Louis XIII, to become the largest palace in Europe, housing some 20,000 people. Architect Louis Le Vau built the first section, which expanded into an enlarged courtyard. From 1678, Jules Hardouin-Mansart added the north and south wings and the superb Hall of Mirrors. He also designed the chapel, completed in 1710. The interiors were largely the work of Charles Le Brun, and the great landscape gardener, André Le Nôtre, redesigned the gardens with their monumental fountains.
Exploring the Palace
The main rooms of the palace are on the first floor. Around the Marble Courtyard are the private apartments of the king and queen. Visitors can see the King’s Bedroom, where Louis XIV died, aged 77, in 1715. The room next door, the Cabinet du Conseil, was where the monarch would receive ministers and family members.
On the garden side, the state apartments are richly decorated with colored marbles, carvings in stone and wood, murals, and gilded furniture. Each is dedicated to an Olympian deity. Louis XIV’s throne room, the Salon d’Apollon, designed by Le Brun, is dedicated to the god Apollo. A copy of the famous portrait of Louis by Hyacinthe Rigaud hangs above the fireplace. The war theme of the Salon de la Guerre is reinforced by a stucco relief of Louis XIV riding to victory. The high point of the tour is the Hall of Mirrors, with its 17 great mirrors reflecting the light from tall arched windows.
Among the other major attractions are the Chapelle Royale and the Musée des Carrosses (coach museum) opposite the palace.
The Gardens of Versailles
The gardens are a fitting counterpart to the colossal palace. Immediately in front of the palace is the Water Parterre, decorated with superb bronze statues. Paths lead through the formal gardens, with their regularly patterned flowerbeds and hedges, to groves, lakes, fountains, and architectural features such as the Colonnade (1685), a circle of marble arches designed by Mansart. The largest stretch of water is the Grand Canal, where Louis XIV held spectacular boating parties.
The gardens contain two smaller palaces. The Grand Trianon, built of stone and pink marble, was designed by Mansart in 1687 as a discreet hideaway for Louis XIV and his mistress, Madame de Maintenon. The nearby Petit Trianon (1762) was built for Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV’s mistress. It later became a favorite retreat of Marie-Antoinette. Behind it is the Hameau, a minivillage where the queen would dress up as a shepherdess and play with a flock of groomed and perfumed lambs.
1 Rue de la Légion d’Honneur. St-Denis-Basilique.