Paris Sightseeing Attractions Landmarks Sights

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The Leading Paris Places And Sights

Museum Note: Most museums in Paris close on Tuesdays

Sadly, for many Paris conjurers up the image of the Eiffel Tower (La Tour Eiffel) which has to be the most inappropriate and aesthetically ugly addition to the landscape of any city in the world. Many tourist guides will list the tower as a ‘must do’ or ‘must see’ Paris attraction when the truth is it should be a ‘must miss’ except that you can’t miss it wherever you are in Paris. It was originally designed by Gustav Eiffel a French Engineer (who was also involved in the construction of the Statue of Liberty in New York) as the central attraction for a international exhibition in Barcelona but the city’s authorities refused to finance it as it was not in keeping with the building styles in city.

In 1886 Eiffel design was adopted by the Parisian authorities as the doorway to the 1889 Exposition Universelle an international trade fair. The structure took two years to build. It is 319 metes high and equivalent to the height of an eighty floor building. On a clear day it offers a view of about 70km. Annually it gets around 6 – 7 million visitors and is thought to have been visited by 200m people since it was built. Entrance fees are around €15 for an adult going to the very top – less if you go to lower levels. It has several places to eat none of which are representative of French cuisine in spite of the fact that a soft drink and hot dog costs around €12 website Disabled access is limited to the first two levels. The nearest railway station to the Eiffel Tower is Champ de Mars – on the metro or Line C of RER. See also public transport in Paris.

More earthly at just under 50m high and much more pleasing is the Arc de Triomphe commissioned by Napoleon to honour French soldiers killed in the Napoleonic Wars. It was built in 1806. It has an observation platform at the top which offers a good view of the Champs Elysees. A lift take you most of the way but there are still around 40 steps to walk up. Within in the Arch is a small museum dedicated to French history. Underneath is the tomb of an unknown French soldier killed in WW1.

The Arc stands at the end of the Champs Elysses on a spot historically known as the Place de l’Etoile and more recently the Place Charles de Gaulle. The nearest metro and RER station to the Arc de Triomphe is Charles de Gaulle – Étoile. Cautionary Note. The Arc is effectively an island on a roundabout surrounded by roads. Visitors should use one of the foot underpasses to reach it as crossing the road is extremely dangerous. Further information from Telephone no: 01-43-80-31-31.

Victor Hugo (1802-85) wrote of Notre Dame de Paris in ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ ‘Each face, each stone of this venerable monument is not only a page of the history of the country, but also of the history of knowledge and art…’an apt description of this Cathedral which dates back to the12th century. In 1160 Maurice De Sully became bishop of Paris and in 1163 began the building of the Notre Dame on the Ile De la Cite, an island in the River Seine at the heart of the city near the Left Bank. The Ile de la Cite had been a site of worship since the earliest times, and in the 12th century, Paris was the centre of European culture. The Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris saw the development of polyphonic music with the composers Perotin (c.1155-c.1202) and Leonin, his student; its acoustics were an influence on the direction of western classical music.

The construction of the Notre Dame took about 180 years to complete. An icon of French Gothic architecture, its design moves from Early to High Gothic. 110 feet in height with an imposingly solid square tower, the interior with its slender columns has a capacity of 6,000. There are three rose windows facing west, north and south. A great number of statues depict biblical events; in a time of illiteracy this was the method of religious teaching. These were originally painted in bright colours. The many gargoyles to be seen on the exterior were a later addition. In 1768, it was decided that all distances in France would be measured relative to Notre-Dame.

Despite its importance, the building in later years was considered ugly and suffered from neglect. It was pillaged and damaged during the French revolution, but survived. For a time it also acquired a name reflective of the revolutionaries’ ideals: ‘The Temple of Reason’. In the nineteenth century interest in the building was rekindled, partly by the descriptions of its dilapidation in the Victor Hugo novel and restorations, particularly to the stained glass windows, were undertaken. Today the cathedral still dominates as the centre of the city. An essential part of the experience of Paris, its reflection in the waters of the Seine at night will stay in the memory of those who see it. Editorial Note It’s easy to spend a full day here. For detailed information on travelling to Notre-dame please see their website.

According to Paul Cezanne (1839- 1906) if you want to “Keep good company – that is, go to the Louvre”. The Louvre (Musee du Louvre) once a fortress for Paris in the reign of Philippe Auguste (1180–1223), later palaces were built, and finally unified by the construction of the ‘Grande Galerie’ (with a facade in the style of the French Renaissance) under Henri IV (1553-1610). The interior was not completed until the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715). In 1990 a new and somewhat controversial entrance – a pyramid built in glass – was opened. Set in beautiful gardens that take their name – the Tuileries – from their origins as clay pits and the workplace of tile makers, the Louvre became the National Museum of France in 1793.

The Louvre houses approximately 35,000 artifacts, the best known of which are probably Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa; Aphrodite (known as Venus De Milo), and the collection of Impressionist paintings. Its collections include Eastern, Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities, sculptures, paintings, and prints and drawings.

Editorial Note The museum poses a problem for the visitor as there is simply too much to see on one visit so spending a little time on the Museum’s website is highly recommended. It is an excellent resource; in addition to comprehensive information on the museum and its contents, it has a selection of detailed examinations of artifacts and works of art called ‘A Closer Look’, which are both informative and well designed.

The Pere Lachaise Cemetery is renowned as the largest and most frequently visited cemetery in Europe. One of it’s more interesting residents Moliere (1622-73) wrote ‘ “We die only once, and for such a long time” but the cemetry is the last refuge of many other famous people. The largest proportion of its visitors come to pay their respects to Jim Morrison (1943-71), the lead singer of the band ‘The Doors’. Another artist resting here is Edith Piaf (1915-63): From street singer to national treasure, Edith Giovanna Gassion was given the name ‘Piaf’ (Sparrow). She was and is famous for songs such as ‘Je ne regrette Rien’ and ‘La Vie en Rose’. Others visitors pay homage to plots occupied by Oscar Wilde; Georges Bizet; Jacques Louis David; Marcel Proust; Joachim Murat; Honore de Balzac, Colette; Jan Moulin – the list is endless. Also to be found here are the Tomb of the Unknown Transportation Victim and the ‘Mur de Defendees’- the Communard’s Wall, where leaders of the Paris Commune were executed in 1871.

Not all of the internees are famous however it is impossible to visit without becoming intrigued by the monuments and tombs, by the fascinating stories that lie behind the dates and names for example : Peter Abelard (1079-1142): (see picture) Philosopher, author of ‘Sic et Non’ (‘For and Against’), a controversial work at the time. He was forcibly castrated in 1118 by men in the pay of the uncle – a powerful canon – of his love, Heloise. He and Heloise entered a monastery and nunnery respectively; this shocking story has captured the hearts and the imaginations of many. Francois Arago (1786-1853): Astronomer and physicist, advocate of the Wave Theory of Light through observations of the velocity of light which were to be confirmed by Einstein much later. He was also part of the extraordinary team that went on various expeditions in pursuit of the measurement of the Earth’s meridian, which led to him being imprisoned as a suspected spy in Spain, barely escaping the fate of a penal colony. Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923): An actress of great substance, who shocked established theatre by playing the part of Hamlet in London in 1889; when she returned to France she established her own theatre and continued to act despite a leg amputation in 1915. More details on the cemetery including a virtual tour see the website. The Père Lachaise Cemetery is at Boulevard de Ménilmontant. The Philippe Auguste Metro Line 2 station is adjacent to the main entrance.

In a similar but more morbid vane the 2kms of dirt tunnels at Les Catacombs have an interest value. Their existence became widely known following their utilisation by the French Resistance during the Nazis occupation of Paris. The tunnels which are the remains of quarry mines originally in the 16th and 17th century were given a new lease of life when they were populated with skulls and bones exhumed from overcrowded Paris cemeteries at the end of the 18th century. These remains line the illuminated tunnels. Nearest Metro & RER Line B station to Les Catacombs Denfert-Rochereau. 

The Sacre Coeur Basilica (Basilica of the Sacred Heart),can be found at the highest point of Paris on the Montemarte Summit. Some historians attribute this Roman Catholic Church’s origins as an acknowledgement of the role played by Catholics and Royalists who were tortured and executed there during the French Revolution though others suggest it commemorates the 58,000 lives lost in the Franco Prussian War. Whichever view is accurate the area is seen as a place of where Martyrs are remembered a view endorsed the Archbishop of Paris in 1872 who claimed to have had a ‘vision’ whilst climbing the Montemarte Summit. He said afterwards “It is here, where the martyrs are, it is here that the Sacred Heart must reign so that it can beckon all to come”.

The following year the City of Paris passed a law enabling them to seize the land and in 1875 the foundation stone of the church was laid. The building of the Basilica was hampered by legal arguments over the legitimacy of the seizure of the land which were not settled when the first services were held in the uncompleted building in 1891. It was not completed until 1914. Five or six architects were involved in its construction which can loosely by described as being in a Romano Byzantine style. For many today it is a place of pilgrimage. More info from the official website. Address of Parvis du Sacré Coeur , 75018 Paris – nearest metro stations Anvers, Abbesses, Château-Rouge and , Lamarck-Caulaincourt. Its is also served by buses 30, 54, 80, 85 and the Montmartrobus. Editorial Comment The Dome,especially at sunset, offers an incredible overview of Paris and the observation platform looks down on the inside of this remarkable building.

Chateau de Versailles (The Palace of Versailles) the palatial home of King Louis XIV is 23 Km south west of central Paris and probably one of Europe’s finest surviving examples of the 17th century opulence enjoyed in Royal circles. Originally just a small village which was used as a base for hunting by the upper classes in the nearby forests it significance developed when King Louis X111 had his own hunting lodge built there in 1624. His successor King Louis XIV viewed the area as a place where he could exercise total control over the country’s governments with out him have to suffer the inconvenience of living in Paris surrounded by the working class. From 1669 onwards the Hunting Lodge was rapidly developed and by 1682 it had become the official palace of the king. The astounding architecture has a strong 16th century Italian influence and is complimented by grounds that are as extensive as they are ornamental. More info and directions on the official website  http://en.chateauversailles.fr/homepage   Editorial comment Admission fees vary but are in the region of €25 per person. Expensive but educational and realistically a day trip.

Foret de Fontainebleau From the 12th century this town (about 60km south of Paris) and its palace was the official residence of numerous French kings. The palace was also the home of Napoleon and is an unrivalled example of French architecture (be it somewhat overwhelming) along with a truly staggering collection of antique French furniture. For more information and directions see the palace website,

Fontainebleau as a town is quite attractive as are the former hunting areas nearby but its awful  website http://www.fontainebleau-tourisme.com/ is really irritating. Editorial Comment: This attraction will be be of particular appeal to historians.

Parc Zoologique de Paris (Paris Zoo) Definitely one of Europe’s better zoo’s as the inhabitants are not imprisoned in cruel cramped cages which are replaced with rock barriers. . The zoo has made great efforts to recreate the natural habitats of the animals it has. Even the mountain goats have a terrain not dis-similar to a wild environment but surrounded by penguins!. The creatures here seem far more content than their cousins at other zoo’s. The zoo is on the south eastern outskirts of Paris at 53 av. de St-Maurice 12e Paris. The nearest metro is Porte Dorée. Admission Charges are around €12 with discounts for children Free for children 3 years or less.  Please see their website for further information.

 

 

 

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