Hands up I’m really missing my regular trips to Paris. I had imagined that I’d be visiting this autumn to see the recently renovated musée Carnavalet in my beloved Marais and the Pinault Collection at the newly opened Bourse de Commerce. With any luck, I’ll be able to visit both next year.
Consequently, to assuage my withdrawal symptoms, I’ve decided to do an A to Z about what I love in the City of Light. You might be surprised at my selection, as I’ve missed some obvious landmarks, but remember these are my choices.
Over the years we’ve stayed in many of Paris’ different quartiers which I have doggedly and thoroughly explored on foot. There’s nothing better than getting to know every square metre of an area; investigating all the magnificent patisseries, traiteurs, street markets, restaurants, bars, shops and museums. I particularly love discovering the best tables to sip coffee (or cocktails) and people watch
In 1795 Paris was originally divided into 12 arrondissements (municipal districts), 1-9 on the Right Bank and 10-12 on the Left Bank. During the reconstruction of Paris in 1859 by Napoléon III and the inestimable Baron Haussmann, – more of whom later – eight more districts were added. The city’s map was redrawn in the form of a snail’s shell beginning with 1st arrondissement at the Louvre and ending with 20th on its eastern boundary.
These form an important part of the Parisian urban landscape. Constructed in several phases by central government as infrastructure improvements, and usually tree-lined on both sides, they are very much associated with strolling and leisurely enjoyment. The so-called Grands Boulevards are essentially the best of the Parisian boulevards and correspond to the Nouveau Cours built between 1668 and 1705 in place of the dismantled Louis XIII wall. Many Parisians would automatically include Boulevard Haussmann or the Champs Elysées amongst these, however, strictly speaking, les Grands Boulevards only comprise Boulevards Beaumarchais, Filles-du-Calvaire, Temple, Saint-Martin, Saint-Denis, Bonne-Nouvelle, Poissonnière, Montmartre, Italiens, Capucines and Madeleine.
This magnificent listed building is located on the west of the Île de la Cité. It was formerly a prison but is presently used mostly for law courts. It was part of the former royal palace, the Palais de la Cité, which consisted of the Conciergerie, Palais de Justice and the beautiful Sainte-Chapelle. Hundreds of prisoners during the French Revolution were taken from the Conciergerie to be executed by guillotine at a number of locations around Paris.
After 19th century Restoration of the Bourbons, the Conciergerie continued to be used as a prison for high-value prisoners, most notably the future Napoleon III. The Conciergerie and Palais de Justice underwent major rebuilding during mid-19th century, drastically altering their external appearance. While the building looks like a brooding medieval fortress, this appearance actually only dates from about 1858.
D: Place Dauphine
One of the prettiest public squares in Paris, located near the western end of the Île de la Cité, Place Dauphine is just a short stroll from Notre Dame Cathedral and Pont Neuf, although the square is actually a triangle. The thick walls of the buildings surrounding the square contribute to its tranquil atmosphere along with a handful of charming cafés and restaurants. It was created by King Henry IV in 1607, the second of his projects for public squares in Paris, the first being the Place Royale (now the Place des Vosges). He named it for his son, the Dauphin of France and future Louis XIII, who had been born in 1601.
E: Eiffel Tower
Where would Paris be without its iconic Tour Eiffel? Though never supposed to stay on the Champ de Mars, Gustave Eiffel designed the tower as a temporary construction for the 1889 Universal Exposition. It took two years, two months and five days to build. It looked so strange yet became so popular that it fortunately wasn’t destroyed as planned. The tower’s ungainly appearance, that “disfigured” the cityscape, has 18,038 metal parts: 2,500,000 rivets, and 7,300 tons of iron, and is covered by 60 tons of paint.
F: Flame of Liberty
This is a full-sized, gold-leaf-covered replica of the flame of the torch from the Statue of Liberty which has stood at the entrance to New York City’s harbour since 1886. The monument is located near the northern end of the Pont de l’Alma, on the Place Diana, in the 16th arrondissement. Gifted to Paris in 1989 by the International Herald Tribune on behalf of donors who had contributed approximately US$400,000 for its fabrication to celebrate that newspaper’s hundredth anniversary of publishing an English-language daily newspaper in Paris. More importantly, the Flame was a token of thanks for the restoration work on the Statue of Liberty accomplished three years earlier by two French businesses.
G: Grand Palais des Champs-Élysées
Commonly known as the Grand Palais, this is a large historic site, exhibition hall and museum complex located at the Champs-Élysées in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, France. Construction of the Grand Palais began in 1897 following the demolition of the Palais de l’Industrie (Palace of Industry) as part of the preparation works for the Universal Exposition of 1900, which also included the creation of the adjacent Petit Palais and Pont Alexandre III. It has been listed since 2000 as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture.
The structure was built in the style of Beaux-Arts architecture as taught by the École des Beaux-Arts of Paris. The building reflects the movement’s taste for ornate decoration through its stone facades, the formality of its floor planning and the use of techniques that were innovative at the time, such as its glass vault, its structure made of iron and light steel framing, and its use of reinforced concrete.
H: Baron Haussmann
Much of what I love about the City of Light is down to the singular brilliance of Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann (1809-1891). Working in collaboration with Napoleon III, he was the city’s innovative and daring planner who gave Paris the Gare de Lyon, Gare du Nord, Gare de l’Est, Les Halles, Hötel Dieu Hospital, The Paris Opéra, the Fountain and Place Saint-Michel, the Rue de Rivoli; boulevards Raspail, Haussman, Saint-Germain, Voltaire and countless others; avenues des Gobelins, Mouffetard, Soufflot, Malesherbes, Victor Hugo, Kleber and Georges V; the Bois de Boulogne, Bois de Vincennes, Parc des Buttes Chaumont, Parc Montsouris, Parc Monceau, Jardin du Luxembourg, The Grande Hôtel du Louvre, the “modern” Champs-Elysées, and Père Lachaise Cemetery, where he was buried in 1891.
I: Les Invalides
This complex of buildings in the 7th arrondissement encompasses the military history of France: a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans, the military museum of the French Army as well as the Dôme des Invalides, the tallest church in Paris housing the tombs of some of France’s war heroes, most notably Napoleon. It’s easily my beloved’s favourite museum and one we last visited in April 2018.
J: Jardins de Paris
With some 480 parks and gardens, Paris’s green spaces offer something for everyone, covering more than 3,000 hectares and containing more than 250,000 trees. Two of Paris’s oldest and most famous gardens are the Tuileries Garden (created in 1564 for the Tuileries Palace and redone by André Le Nôtre between 1664 and 1672) and the Luxembourg Garden, for the Luxembourg Palace, built for Marie de Medici in 1612, which today houses the Senate. The Jardin des plantes was the first botanical garden in Paris, created in 1626 by Louis XIII’s doctor Guy de La Brosse for the cultivation of medicinal plants.
Between 1853 and 1870, Emperor Napoleon III and the city’s first director of parks and gardens, Jean-Charles Adolphe Alphand, created the Bois de Boulogne, Bois de Vincennes, Parc Montsouris and Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, located at the four points of the compass around the city, as well as many smaller parks, squares and gardens. Since 1977, the city has created 166 new parks, most notably the Parc de la Villette (1987), Parc André Citroën (1992), Parc de Bercy (1997) and Parc Clichy-Batignolles (2007). One of the newest parks, the Promenade des Berges de la Seine (2013), is built on a former highway on the left bank of the Seine between the Pont de l’Alma and the Musée d’Orsay, which has floating gardens and a view of the city’s landmarks.
K: Avenue Kléber
In the 16th arrondissement, it’s one of the 12 avenues leading out of the Arc de Triomphe. It was named after Jean Baptiste Kléber, a French general during the French Revolutionary Wars. Before 1879, it was called l’avenue du Roi-de-Rome, in memory of Napoleon II. It is lined with grand examples of the type of buildings favoured by Baron Haussmann, particularly The Peninsula hotel at Number 19 (pictured above).
L: Librarie 7L
Bookshops are often my first point of call and this one located in 7th arrandissement, not far from Saint Germain des Prés and the Musée d’Orsay was created in 1999 by Karl Lagerfeld and provides a step inside the creative mind of the late bibliophile and fashion designer. The selection follows Lagerfeld’s own interests: photography, design, architecture, and interior design, fashion catalogues and monographs, plus a collection of books published under his own imprint. In addition, there is a large choice of books on gardens, landscapes, as well as beautiful cookery books. Lagerfeld was known for his home library, which was stacked from floor to ceiling with books spanning genres. This is an extension of that wonderful world.
Paris’ mass transport system is known for its density within the city limits, uniform architecture and unique entrances influenced by Art Nouveau. It is mostly underground and 214 kilometres (133 miles) long with 302 stations. It’s the second busiest metro system in Europe, after the Moscow Metro. The first line opened without ceremony in 1900, during the World Fair (Exposition Universelle). The system expanded quickly until WWI and the core was complete by the 1920s. The network reached saturation after WWII with new trains to allow higher traffic, but further improvements have been limited by the design of the network and in particular the short distances between stations.
Part II follows tomorrow.