Paris is a city of more than 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.
POINTS OF INTEREST
ILE DE LA CITÉ
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 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, it 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 14thcentury clock tower. To the far east of the island, tiny Ile St Louis is a haven of riverside quays and quiet streets. There are many fine restaurants and chic shops here. Crossing the western end of the Ile de la Cité is the oldest bridge in Paris, the 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.
No other building embodies the history of Paris more than Notre-Dame. It stands majestically on the Ile de la Cité, the 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. The south facade window, with its central depiction of Christ, is an impressive 43 ft in diameter. Against the southeast pillar of the crossing stands the 14th-century statue of the Virgin and Child. It was brought to the cathedral from the chapel of St. Aignan and is known as Notre-Dame de Paris (Our Lady of Paris). Notre-Dame’s spectacular island setting is enhanced by the trees of Square Jean XXIII, a formal garden laid out at the eastern end of the Ile de la Cité.
Hailed as one of the great architectural masterpieces of the Western world, this church was likened to “a gateway to heaven” in the Middle Ages. 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 50 ft to the starstudded roof. More than 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 245 ft into the air.
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. 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 more than 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.
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 antique stores 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 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.
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 p66). 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
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 on 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.
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. Among the Louvre’s world-famous collection is Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, famous Greek marble statues of the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Venus de Milo.
JARDIN DES TUILERIES
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. A project which started in 1998 created a garden with lime and chestnut trees and 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
The museum first opened to the public in 1927 with an exhibition of Claude Monet’s crowning work, his celebrated waterlily series – known as the Nymphéas, and they still take pride of place here. 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 interwar 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 Jeunes Filles 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 more than 8 ha (20 acres), the Place de la Concorde was a swamp until the mid18th century. It became Place Louis XV in 1763 when royal architect JacquesAnge 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 more than 1,300 other victims, including Marie Antoinette, Madame du Barry, Charlotte Corday (Marat’s assassin), and revolutionary leaders Danton and Robespierre. The bloodsoaked 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 3,200yearold 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.
Originally built as a railroad 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 glassware. Impressionist works on the upper level include Renoir’s Bal du Moulin de la Galette (1876). Matisse’s Luxe, Calme et Volupté is a highlight of the post-1900 collection.
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.
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 facade – 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 (closed until mid-2015) 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 between 1679 and 1708 by Jules Hardouin- Mansart, to Bruand’s design. The stark, Classical interior is designed in 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 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. There are a total of 1,665 steps from bottom to top. The tower is held together by a total of 2.5 million rivets. It never sways more than 2.5 in. The tower weighs 10,100 tons. Fifty tons of paint are used on the tower every seven years.
MUSÉE DU QUAI BRANLY
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
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 complex and information center incorporating Violletle- Duc’s original Musée des Monuments Français (1882). The Musée de l’Homme, in the west wing (closed until mid- 2015), 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 ornamental pool, bordered by statues. The gardens themselves are perfect for a quiet evening stroll. Also here is the Aquarium de Paris – Cinéaqua.
ARC DE TRIOMPHE
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 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.
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, it 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 facade 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.
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 more than 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 in 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, the 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
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 popular 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. There is also a museum covering the history of music from the Renaissance to the present day. Built as a venue for pop concerts, the Zénith theater seats more than 6,000 spectators.
CIMETIÈRE DU PÈRE LACHAISE
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.
This still-expanding skyscraper business city on the western edge of Paris is one of the largest office developments 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, the arch houses an exhibition gallery and offers superb views over the city, though the rooftop is closed to the public.
BOIS DE BOULOGNE
Located between the Seine River 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 p62). 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 staterooms 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.
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 mini-village where the queen would dress up as a shepherdess and play with a flock of groomed and perfumed lambs.
Constructed between 1137 and 1281, the basilica is on the site of the tomb of St. Denis, the first bishop of Paris, who was beheaded in Montmartre in AD 250. According to legend, his decapitated figure, clutching his head, was seen here, and an abbey was erected to commemorate the martyred bishop. The basilica was the first church to be built in the Gothic style of architecture. From as early as the 7th century, St-Denis was a burial place for French rulers, and all the queens of France were crowned here. During the Revolution, many tombs were desecrated and scattered, but the best were stored, and now represent a fine collection of funerary art. Memorials include those of Henri II (died 1559) and Catherine de’ Medici (died 1589), and Louis XVI and Marie- Antoinette (died 1793). Of the medieval effigies, the most impressive are of Charles V (1364) and a 12th-century likeness of Blanche de France with her dog. Their mask-like serenity contrasts with the realistic Renaissance portrayal of agony in the sculptures of the mausoleum of Louis XII and Anne de Bretagne. In 2011, the skull of Henry IV was buried here, having been in the possession of a private collector since the 1950s.
The theme park, which lies 20 miles east of Paris, covers 150 acres. It is divided into five themed areas. Although these rely heavily on Hollywood nostalgia, Disneyland Paris has tried to give the park a European touch. “Frontierland,” inspired by the Wild West of 19th-century America, can be explored on paddlewheel steamboats. A roller coaster trundles through mountain scenery. In “Adventureland,” visitors encounter characters and tales from adventure fiction, including Caribbean pirates and the Swiss Family Robinson. Small-town America at the turn of the century is evoked in “Main Street.” Authentic details include horse-drawn vehicles and a traditional barber’s shop. Young children will enjoy “Fantasyland,” devoted to Disney characters and tales, where they can fly with Peter Pan or search the Alice in Wonderland maze for the Queen of Hearts’ castle. “Discoveryland” has futuristic architecture and sophisticated technology. Here, visitors can choose to be miniaturized by a hapless inventor or sent on a thrilling space trip.
CHÂTEAU DE VAUXLE-VICOMTE
Located 40 miles southeast of Paris, the château enjoys a peaceful rural setting. Nicolas Fouquet, a powerful court financier to Louis XIV, challenged architect Le Vau and decorator Le Brun to create the most sumptuous palace of the day. The result was one of the greatest 17th-century French châteaux. However, it also led to his downfall. Louis was so enraged – because its luxury cast the royal palaces into the shade – that he had Fouquet arrested and confiscated all his estates. As befits Fouquet’s grand tastes, the interior is a gilded banquet of frescoes, stucco, caryatids, and giant busts. The Salon des Muses boasts Le Brun’s magnificent frescoed ceiling of dancing nymphs and poetic sphinxes. La Grande Chambre Carrée is decorated in Louis XIII style, with paneled walls and an impressive triumphal frieze, evoking Rome. Much of Vaux-le-Vicomte’s fame is due to landscape gardener André Le Nôtre (1613– 1700). At Vaux, he perfected the concept of the jardin à la française: avenues framed by statues and box hedges, water gardens with ornate pools, and geometrical parterres “embroidered” with floral motifs.
CHÂTEAU DE FONTAINEBLEAU
Fontainebleau was a favorite royal residence from the 12th to the mid-19th century. Its charm lies in its relative informality and its spectacular setting in a forest 65 km (40 miles) south of Paris. The present château dates back to François I. Drawn to the area by the local hunting, the Renaissance king created a decorative château modeled on Florentine and Roman styles. Subsequent rulers enlarged and embellished the château, creating a cluster of buildings in various styles from different periods. During the Revolution, the apartments were looted by a mob and remained bare until the 1800s, when Napoleon refurbished the whole interior. The Cour du Cheval Blanc, once a simply enclosed courtyard, was transformed by Napoleon into the main approach to the château. At one end is the Escalier du Ferà- Cheval (1634), an imposing horseshoe-shaped staircase. The interior suites showcase the château’s history as a royal residence. The Galerie François I has a superb collection of Renaissance art. The Salle de Bal, a Renaissance ballroom designed by Primaticcio (1552), features emblems of Henri II on the walnut-coffered ceiling and reflected in the parquet floor. The apartments of Napoleon I house his grandiose throne, in the former Chambre du Roi. The complex of buildings also contains the Musée Napoléon, in which eight rooms recreate different scenes from the Emperor’s life. Nearby is the Chapelle de la Sainte Trinité, designed for Henri II in 1550. The chapel acquired its vaulted and frescoed ceiling under Henri IV and was completed during the reign of Louis XIII. The gardens are also worth exploring. The Jardin Anglais is a romantic “English” garden planted with cypresses and exotic species. The Jardin de Diana features a bronze fountain of Diana the Huntress.