The highs and lows of the Louvre Art Museum

The reopening of French museums gave us our first opporunity to visit the Louvre after we had lived in Paris for five months. Natasha purchased tickets for us to arrive at 9:30 on a Saturday morning, and when we awoke, we pressed ahead even though we were both still feeling sleepy. Because the Louvre anchors one end of the main axis of the city (extending west-northwest through l’Arc de Triomphe), we were spoiled for choice in how to get there. We changed subways at Pace de la Concorde to line 1, and it deposited us at the museum’s underground station.

The inverted pyramid pokes into the subterranean mall at the Louvre.

The subterranean arrivals hall has a lot in common with the duty-free shopping arcades in some international airports; the city seems to have realized that people coming to the Louvre have a little extra money to burn, and so visitors walk past many luxury goods for sale before braving the line at admissions. I think many people are aware that I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid appears in the courtyard between the two wings of the museum, but did you know that a corresponding inverted glass pyramid points underground nearby? We were able to pass the security check there even though we arrived ten minutes before our 9:30 appointment for entrance.

The entrance hall under the pyramid is designed to handle hundreds of tourists.

The space below the main glass pyramid gives access to the main museum, the special exhibitions, and the auditorium. It’s pretty vast, reflecting the normal crowds entering the museum. Seeing it with just a couple dozen people present made me realize that Paris tourism is still far off its normal pace, despite the reopenings. Natasha was able to download a PDF of the Louvre map to her phone via the posted QR code, but I tried using the posted “” link with no success. Natasha chugged her water bottle when she realized she would not be able to bring it into the museum.

The winged victory was part of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods at Samothrace (2nd century BCE).

Since we entered on the “-1” level, we had many flights of stairs to reach the Italian paintings on the “+1” level (remember that each floor of the Louvre is much taller than in an ordinary building). Even though the foot traffic inside was much less than usual, we thought it best to see Mona Lisa before crowds picked up. Helpfully, the museum has posted little hints on the entrance path to help visitors find Leonardo da Vinci’s most popular work in the Italian Paintings area (many feature creative moustaches). When we reached the Winged Victory of Samothrace, poised majestically on the stair landing, I knew we were really close.

The vaulted ceilings of the Louvre Grande Galleries are a special treat!

Rather than running to Mona Lisa, we lingered a little bit in the galleries outside. I did my best to “look up,” Natasha’s best advice for visiting palatial buildings, and the Louvre did not disappoint. The carvings lining the vaults are just stunning, and the 17th century Grande Gallerie (which once extended all the way to the Tuilleries Palace) offers quite a lot of gilt. I laughed when I realized that the incidental marble sculptures appearing along the way would be premiere exhibits in most museums, but at the Louvre they were just added decoration.

Dave with a mysterious lady

When we turned into the “Salle des États” exhibition space for La Joconde (French name for Mona Lisa), we realized just how few visitors were in the museum with us. The rope line would normally have us waiting for dozens of minutes until we finally reached the front of the queue to see the painting. Today, however, we were able to walk right up to the front of the queue to join the ten or so people waiting to see it. I am sure this will change once international flights are full of tourists again. For now, we enjoyed the chance to take unhurried photographs of ourselves with the work.

Arcimboldo’s Winter and Summer (images downscaled from Louvre Collections site)

The Grande Gallerie continues from Italian paintings to those of Great Britain / the United States to those of Spain. Generally speaking, our walks took us through many portraits and religious paintings, with many of the latter reaching vast dimensions. I enjoyed Giotto’s 13th century image of St. Francis of Assisi receiving stigmata and Tristan’s “Vision of St. Francis of Assisi” among the latter, while Natasha was particularly enjoying the intense 16th century portraits by Titian. Because food history is a particular interest of hers, we paused before “Summer” and “Winter” from Arcimboldo‘s Four Seasons.

Quai Branly has contributed art from the Ivory Coast (at left) and from the ancient Nok culture of Nigeria (at right).

The Quai Branly Museum has made several of its artistic treasures from around the world available for viewing at the Louvre. I particularly liked a wooden carving by the Baoulé people of the Ivory Coast; the figure seemed ready to play a prank on us! I was also humbled to stand next to a terra cotta sculpture of wide-eyed faces from the Nok culture of Nigeria; the dating of the object is wildly uncertain (600 before common era to 600 common era), but even at the “young” end of that spectrum, the sculpture has lasted more than 1400 years. I was also delighted to see up close a carved basalt ancestor figure (moai) from Easter Island.

Mercury is a Florentine creation from 1563. The lion was a 16th century restoration for an Italian cardinal’s villa based upon a first century statue.

The Branly exhibits had brought us down to level 0 (ground floor) at the extreme west end of the southern wing. To return to the main museum, we needed to climb back up to the upper deck of the wing and head east. We redescended to level zero and then continued down to level -1 to see the European sculpture, near-Eastern and Egyptian art, and Islamic art areas. Of the first two areas, I would highlight the 1563 Mecury in Flight by Boulogne and a lovely lion from first century Italy. The funeral paintings of second- and third-century Egyptians were just as haunting to me during this visit as they were when I last visited the museum in 1994.

This ivory pyxis from the 10th century (Hijra 357) was a gift for the youngest son of the caliph at Cordoba.

I was very glad that we could visit the new Islamic Art area of the museum; it is in a courtyard of level -1 on the south wing that has been ceilinged by an undulating wave of glass. A stylized bronze lion from the 12th or 13th century caught my attention, but the star of the show for me was a tenth century pyxis (storage box) carved from ivory. It was carved for the son of Abd al-Rahman III, the caliph in Andalusia who constructed his Madinat al-Zahra capital city near Cordoba. I remembered seeing a plaque that this object had been moved to another museum when we visited the museum at Cordoba, and here it was before us!

From left to right, these items are carved from jasper, from agate and quartz (decorated with pearls and precious stones), and from an agate (with enamel).

Having retraced our steps to reach the upper floor where the south wing touches the square court, Natasha was delighted to see the Galerie d’Apollon, which displays the French crown jewels. Her attention, however, was drawn by the items carved from precious and semi-precious stones used by the royal family. We saw items from agate, jasper, and lapis lazuli; some of them simply couldn’t be created today because we don’t have mines that produce large crystals of that sort! Having seen the diamond museum at Kimberley, I was glad to see the 140-carat Regent Diamond up close. I had hoped that I would find the French coronation sword “Joyeuse” in this area, but it seems to be residing at Versailles for now.

Since there are approximately a million images of the Venus de Milo on-line, I instead offer you the 1st century CE Italian statue of Athena, copied from a bronze created ~430 BCE by Kresilas

Having exhausted ourselves at the south wing, we found ourselves very unsure of how to reach the exhibits in the square court and in the north wing. Natasha was particularly keen to see the decorative arts area of the north wing, first floor. Several areas of the museum were closed, though, and we began to get the sense that “you can’t go there from here.” We dropped to the 0 level to move into the square court. I am glad we did, because we found the famous Greek Antiquities area that houses the Venus de Milo at one end and the Pallas de Velletri at the other. I laughed at my own surprise to realize that the “Venus” statue should properly be called “Aphrodite” since this statue was Greek in origin (~120 before common era). The island where she was found is Milos (or Μῆλος if you are an ancient Greek), so her common name is wrong on both counts!

This granite sphinx dates from at least a millennium BCE, since it features the names of pharaohs from the 19th and 12th dynasties.

We dropped another floor to see an area that told the story of the 14th century fortress that was the Louvre’s original structure, but I’ll discuss that in another post. I loved the sphinx guarding that entrance. We had hoped we could climb into the decorative arts area that Natasha wanted to see, but we couldn’t seem to get into the north wing. We ascended to the 0 level to try the crossing there, but no joy (we could have rounded the square court by going counter-clockwise on level 0, but we were both pretty tired by this point). We climbed to level 1 in hopes of finding a door to the north wing, but we were stymied again. We began looking at those worn monumental staircases with resentment. Having slogged to level 2, we found ourselves in a section devoted to French paintings.

The courtyard of the Square Court is not quite as ornate as the exterior facades.

My attention was arrested by a painting from the 1572 Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre by Robert-Fleury. Natasha found a much happier 1839 image of the Giralda Tower at Seville by Dauzats; we were reminded of our honeymoon. I was very surprised to enter a room and see a famous painting of Frederick Chopin by Delacroix that graced the cover of my piano music book in college.

The Place du Carrousel, with the Louve lying behind it, on February 21st, 2021.

At last, Natasha’s batteries and mine had reached their limits. We had spent four hours browsing the museum, and it was time to find some food where we could sit down. We descended one last time to the -1 level to exit through the underground mall. We crossed the Seine at Pont du Carrousel and turned to walk alongside the river. I got the chance to point out the Institute of France, which was once the site of the massive (and notorious?) Tower of Nesle. When we reached the left-bank end of Pont Neuf, we turned away from the river on Rue Dauphine.

The southern wing of the Louvre, as seen from the Pont du Carrousel (Feb. 21, 2021)

In no time at all, we had reached “Fajitas,” a Mexican food place that has good gluten controls. It might have been our most expensive meal so far in France, but we ate WELL.

A Palace nearly lost to time: le Palais de la Cité

Just how many palaces does a king require? In the 14th century, the answer was four: the Palais de la Cité, the Louvre, the Hôtel Saint-Pol, and the Château de Vincennes. Of these, the Palais de la Cité was easily the oldest. Today, however, you might easily walk past its site without detecting a “castle.” In this post, I would like to bring the first royal palace in Paris to life again, highlighting elements that one can still see in today’s Paris.


This drawing by Jean-Claude Golvin consolidates what we know about Roman Lutetia, the predecessor of Paris.

In the period before the Romans extended their reach to Gaul, the Parisii lived along the Seine River. From time to time, these earliest Parisians needed a place to retreat in the event of an attack, and the Île de la Cité served as their “oppidum” (refuge). When Julius Caesar triumphed over Vercingetorix in 52 Before Common Era, the Romans created the city of Lutèce, and they constructed a substantial building to house the magistrate at the west end of the Île de la Cité. In the middle of the fourth century (Common Era), Julian created a powerful fortified residence for himself at this site. In 360, Julian was proclaimed emperor by his troops at Paris, a situation that might have led to a Roman Civil War if there hadn’t been plenty of other armies to fight at the time. We can probably put a date of 486 on the fall of Roman Gaul, when the rump state of “Soissons” lost a key battle to a Frankish army.

A look into the park at the extreme western end of l’île de la Cité.

The Merovingian kings (486-751) extended the Roman structure with walls and a royal workshop, and they used it as their palace, too. The Carolingian Dynasty (751-987), on the other hand, largely allowed the palace to fall by the wayside, though its fortifications were handy during the ninth-century Viking sieges of Paris (discussed in my post on Saint-Germain-des-Près). If this sort of “ancient” history appeals to you, I am happy to report that the Crypte archéologique de l’île de la Cité can easily be found in the square before Notre Dame Cathedral. You might also be interested in the Arènes de Lutèce, in the Latin Quarter.

The archaeology museum could hardly be easier to find!

Getting Medieval

Not all who dwelt in the Palais de la Cité were happy about it. Image courtesy of the National Library of France.

It was the House of Capet (987-1328) that transformed this structure into a royal palace. Robert II the Pious (r. 987-1031) transformed the law court of the Roman praetorium into a king’s room, where his court would meet. It is probabale that Louis VI le Gros (r. 1108-1137) raised the tall, round tower (or “donjon”) in the palace, a structure that would stand in the Petit Cour until the fire of 1776 (it also appears under the name Grosse Tour or Tour Mongoméry). It proved useful both to defend the palace and to imprison political enemies. During 1239-1248, King (and later Saint) Louis IX constructed the Sainte-Chapelle at the Palais de la Cité to house a relic he had acquired at great cost: Christ’s Crown of Thorns. (I have previously written of the Sainte-Chapelle at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, which may be considered a prototype for the larger Saint-Chapelle at Paris.) With these constructions complete, the palace would have looked something like the following:

This image from Jean Guérout attempts to capture the state of the palace in 1292. The area between the western side of the Palace and the western point of the island is the “Verger du Roi” [Royal Orchard].

It is worth mentioning at this point that very, very few traces of this palace remain today. The most prominent is the Saint-Chapelle, which continues to ascend well above the other buildings in the area. The round tower of the Salle sur l’eau at the top left of the diagram is frequently titled the “Tour Bonbec,” or tower of the good beak; this is a bit of gallows humor to reflect that this tower was frequently used to torture suspects until they had confessed. The original tower was essentially rebuilt after a fire in 1871.

Let’s make it royal.

The palace complex after expansion by Philippe IV

Philippe IV le Bel (r. 1285-1314) had big dreams for his palace, but the king…

“considering the antiquity and age of his Parisian palace,” pulled [the Salle du Roi] down and “caused another new one, together with all the edifices appertaining thereunto, to be built, of admirable workmanship and by artisans and workmen of the greatest knowledge and experience that could be sought out, and caused his own image and those of all his predecessors to be affixed to the inside of the wall.”

Chronographia Regum Francorum, quoted in Royal Palaces of France by Ian Dunlop
The 13th century wall and towers (with substantial restoration and replacement)

Construction between 1293 and 1313 evicted many private homes and businesses from the palace precinct. A new wall extended from Tour Bonbec (the singleton at upper left in the 1292 diagram above) eastward along the Seine. Two new towers (Tournelle Criminelle and Tournelle Civile) incorporated new facilities for the courts; today they are frequently called Tour de César and Tour d’Argent. The Grand’Chambre adjoins both these towers and points south toward the heart of the palace; today it is called “la salle des Gardes.” You can learn a lot more about the new judicial roles of these additions on the Marie-Antoinette tour!

This 1855 engraving of the Grand’Salle is from the National Library of France.

Perhaps the most famous of Philippe IV’s revisions to the palace was the creation of the Grand’Salle in the first fifteen years of the 14th century (see engraving above). The massive double-nave structure (70m long and 23m wide) was the largest for its time. Critically, it had 24% more floor area than the Westminster Hall of England, constructed in 1097. The high table, crossing almost the entire width of the room, was constructed of nine well-fitted slabs of marble. The initial 42 statues of the Kings of France had grown to 58 in number by the time the first Grand’Salle burned in 1618. It was rebuilt, but it no longer served as a king’s great hall but rather as an annex to the judicial buildings.

The 2012 restoration did wonders for the Horloge!

We need just one more king of France to see the Palais de la Cité at its height. Jean II le Bon (r. 1350-1364) lived his entire life during the Hundred Years’ War. Nonetheless, he found the time and money to craft the Tour de l’Horloge at the northeast corner of the Palais de la Cité. It’s a charming structure, with a little steeple up high (apparently it housed a light at one point). In 1370, the tower housed the first public clock in France.

A medieval illumination from the early 15th century shows us the medieval Palais de la Cité.
Wikimedia Commons ©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. Ojéda

Our earliest exterior image of the palace complex comes from a book titled “Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry” that was created by Pol de Limbourg in 1412-1416. This image, probably based upon the view from the Tower of Nesle (now the site of the Institut de France). I was delighted to find a new rendering of the medieval Palace by artist-historian Jean-Claude Golvin (who also crafted the painting of Lutetia at the head of this post).

Medieval Palais de la Cité by Jean-Claude Golvin

I would point to two different actions that have substantially hidden this palace from Paris. The first of these relates to the royal orchard, extending up and to the right of the palace in the image above. In 1607, “Good” Henri IV decided to remake the royal orchard as an upscale planned neighborhood called “Place Dauphine.” The triangular development now opens at the point of the island to highlight an equestrian statue of Henri IV. When Natasha and I visited the Marais, we visited Place des Vosges, which was launched at roughly the same time. You might think that Place Dauphine would be a great place to view the Palais de la Cité, but I have some bad news for you.

Place Dauphine, facing to the east

Baron Haussmann strikes again

The Prefect of the Seine appointed by Napoleon III did far more than straighten a few streets and ask for consistent building frontages along avenues. Baron Haussmann had a peculiar void in his soul where the Île de la Cité was concerned. This, for example, is his tale of crossing the island during his school days (from his Memoires): “I crossed the old pont du Change . . . then I skirted the old Palais de Justice, with the shameful mass of low cabarets that used to dishonor the Cité on my left . . . continuing my way by the pont St. Michel, I had to cross the miserable little square where, like a sewer, the waters flowed out of the Rue de la Harpe…”

Haussmann’s fountain to clean up Place Saint-Michel was interpreted by the people who were evicted from their homes as showing the Empire as the angel Michael trampling their corpses.

Haussmann was going to “fix” the historic city center as soon as the opportunity presented itself. His “solution” was to substantially rebuild the palace complex as a Palais de Justice, and that’s exactly what he did. He felt that the old houses and shops crowding the front of Notre Dame should be stripped away so that all could see its magnificent facade, and that’s exactly what he did. Today, when you look east from Place Dauphine, you see what Google Maps labels “Palais de Justice de Paris: Massive home of French Legislative Power.” When you walk along Boulevard du Palais, you will probably see the Viollet-le-Duc spire atop the Sainte-Chapelle, but you will need to pay your fee to enter the courtyard to see it. The old Cour du Mai is now behind a tall gate, and because it is a court complex, you probably do not want to point your camera in that direction.

The Cour du Mai, separating the Grand-Salle from the Sainte-Chapelle (from National Library of France)

It was a royal palace for a millenium and a half, but today the Palais de la Cité seems enveloped by its new use as a courtroom.

Quai Branly: Anthropology or Art?

May 19th, 2021, was a big day for France; at long last its museums and galleries would be allowed to re-open after a long COVID-19 lockdown! Having lived in Paris since the start of January, Natasha and I were relieved that we would finally have the chance to visit some of the most storied museums in the world.


These images, taken in opposite directions, show the proximity of the Eiffel Tower and Quai Branly itself.

The Musem of Quai Branly is a relative newcomer to Paris, having opened its doors in 2006. The new museum, however, combined exhibits from the National Museum of the Arts of Africa and Oceania (MAAO) and the Museum of Man. MAAO had been housed in the palace we saw at Porte Dorée during our visit to Bois de Vincennes. Its collection, dating from the Colonial Exhibition of 1931, was originally assembed to represent the “patrimony” of “Grande France:” the cultural heritage for the union of European France and all of its colonies on other continents. Naturally the colonialist view of the world is now perceived quite differently than at the beginning of the 20th century. A major revision of the museum in 1961 under André Malraux was intended to make it a showcase of the arts from Africa and Oceania. In 2003, the MAAO closed its doors, both in anticipation of its inventory moving to Quai Branly but also in response to a growing sense that these items could not be “owned” by France.

Paul Rivet, creator of the Museum of Man

The Museum of Man was founded in 1937 by Paul Rivet for the International Exposition of Art and Technology in Modern Life. At its foundation, the museum was intended to be a center of ethnographic research, challenging the fascist view that Europeans or “Aryans” were superior to the other people of the world. As its public funding was gradually reduced over time, however, growth of its inventory depended more and more upon private collectors and the colonial apparatus of France than upon teams of anthropologists sent to different regions of the world. As time passed, the museum began drawing international fire for occasionally appalling choices in items for its collection and for its display of them. Here’s a very short list:

  • In 1810, Sarah Baartman, a woman from the Eastern Cape of South Africa, was taken to Europe to be displayed by her captors in the nude. After she died, her genitals and brain were pickled, and her skeleton was displayed at the Museum of Man until 1974. Her remains were only repatriated to South Africa in 2002.
  • During 1838 and 1865, France beheaded 24 Algerian independence fighters who had resisted France’s occupation and colonization of Algeria. For years, their skulls were kept in cardboard boxes at the Museum of Man at Paris. After ten years of advocacy by Algerian historian Ali-Farid Belkadi and others, France returned the human remains to Algeria this year.
  • In 1896, Count Henry de la Vaulx looted the grave of the Liempichún Sakamata Tehuelche in Argentina. The skeleton and silver stirrups, earrings, and coins were on display at the Museum of Man until 2009. These artifacts and his remains are expected to be repatriated in 2021.

Despite giving up half its inventory to support the creation of the Quai Branly museum, the Museum of Man re-opened in 2015. A member of its scientific committee contrasted the new Museum of Man with Quai Branly by saying, “Their approach is purely artistic; ours is scientific.”

That’s no spaceship, that’s the Quai Branly Museum!

Our visit

Why did Natasha and I make Quai Branly our first museum visit in Paris? First off, it was a museum we both wanted to see. I think the Musée de l’Armée will be one I see by myself, for example. Since we both think of South Africa as home now, we were particularly interested in seeing how African artifacts were interpreted here in Paris. Also, since we were trying to fit our visit into an afternoon, seeing the Louvre was not an option!

We boarded Metro line 8 and descended at “Tour Marbourg,” just east of the Eiffel Tower. From there we had a ten minute walk to the museum. The structure itself is on pylons above a leafy green park lying along the Seine, with pretty marshes and stands of tall grass. The Tower itself fills the sky to the southwest.

Olmec Temporary Exhibition

Monument 4 is no lightweight at 6 tons!

Natasha bought the complete tickets for the museum (12€ each), giving us access to both the special temporary exhibits and the permanent collection. After trying a couple of different entrances only to discover they were for parking, we found the entrance near the south-west corner. The Olmecs and the Civilizations of the Gulf of Mexico were featured in a temporary exhibition, and a giant head dating from a millennium before common era was standing in the lobby. “San Lorenzo Monument 4” was carved from a basalt boulder some 3000 years ago and weighs six tons! I was grateful that the museum allows photography.

Reaching the temporary exhibits required us to ascend to the uppermost levels. Quai Branly has constructed a winding ramp to guide guests upwards dubbed “The River.” Several projectors animate a flow of words in a branching flow across the ramp. It is pretty, but it can also be a little disorienting for folks with vertigo. That brought us to the start of the permanent exhibition. Once we showed our tickets, we were allowed into the temporary exhibit upstairs.

This ceramic figure from Matacapan dates to 300-900 Common Era.

It is worth mentioning that the permanent collection is not worldwide but rather organizes itself into Oceania, Africa, Asia, and Americas, with the latter two receiving the least floor space. Temporarily emphasizing the civilizations of the Gulf of Mexico really complemented their collection nicely! (It does seem odd to me that the museum excludes any Celtic materials for pre-Roman Europe.) If I could highlight just two items that caught my attention in the temporary section, I would start by mentioning the Stele of Huilocintla (900-1521 common era), showing an individual piercing his tongue, the blood becoming a gift for a supernatural being. A ceramic figure from Matacapan (300-900 common era) shows a high-ranking official in a fanciful uniform. I could hardly believe it had lasted so long in mostly intact form!

Oceania Region

Micronesian ancestor pole

Once we returned to the level of the permanent exhibition, it seemed that we shifted from one country to the next, making wild time hops with each step. In the Oceania area, I particularly liked the 20th century ancestor poles from Micronesia, standing near the start of that area. I giggled to see the 19th century “nose flutes” from the Marquesas Islands. I suspected it was a translation error until I spent some time learning more from the Internet.

Nose flutes from Marquesas Islands

I walked through the small Asian area quickly since my feet were telling me I needed to sit down for a while, but I did pause to see a military helmet from 18th century Iran (Safavid dynasty). It was beautifully executed in bronze with silver and gold highlights, and it looked like it had been produced for a movie army in the last decade rather than before the United States declared independence.

The feather cockade on this Iranian (Safavid) warm helm is a nice touch!

Africa Region

The enigmatic faces of Nok terra cotta are otherworldly.

As I entered the Africa area, I was delighted to see some old friends and new ones, too. The terra cotta heads from the Nok culture of Nigeria seemed otherworldly, though it surprised me that we could not pin down their dates to better than to say they’re older than 200 A.D. but newer than 1000 B.C. I enjoyed learning about the gold work of the Asante while in Ghana; Quai Branly displayed a range of finely-wrought gold bangles from the Akan culture in that area that ranged in dates from the last part of the 19th century forward.

I will be curious on whether or not these wooden forms are repatriated to Benin!

I was particularly interested to see that the museum mentioned that some of its artifacts were being repatriated to their nations of origin. In the second Franco-Dahomean War (present-day Benin), General Dodds looted the capital at Abomey in 1892. One of the most dramatic arrangements in the Africa section of Quai Branly is a trio of 19th-century statues of human-animal hybrids. I wonder if the museum will return these items as part of the official request from the Benin government in 2016!

These horsemen and martyrs were painted in Ethiopia at the end of the seventeenth century.

I must mention the beautiful prayer scrolls and wall paintings from Ethiopia at Quai Branly. You may already know that Ethiopia writes its Amharic language in a script called Ge’ez; it is very ancient, extending back to at least five centuries before the common era. Both the scrolls (late 18th century) and paintings (end of 17th century) incorporated the script.

A nineteenth century funeral pole from the region that is now the nation of Chad took on special significance in 2020 when a team of activists attempted to remove the item from the museum, claiming that “African wealth should return to and belong to Africans.” The four activists were all fined (up to 1000€) for offenses relating to aggravated theft.

Americas Region

This Mardi Gras costume seems to appropriate culture rather than celebrate it!

I did not really know what to expect from the Americas section of the museum, but it certainly offered some surprises! I must mention the carnival costumes from Mardi Gras created by Darryl Montana. I had never imagined a “Big Chief” outfit covered entirely in bright pink ostrich plumes would represent America.

Warrior fox and rain god await their new Netflix series.

My two favorites, though, were a small fox kitted out as a warrior and a terra cotta rain god from the Gulf of Mexico (300-900 common era). America really does possess a creative pre-colonization heritage.

Africa Reborn

As much as our feet were sore, Natasha and I really wanted to see another special exhibit down on the ground floor of the museum. In “Africa Reborn,” I particularly liked the work of Chéri Samba, who first appeared via his painting “Hommage aux anciens créateurs; dommage aux mauvais achéteurs” (2000). I understand this as “Honor the artists of the past, and damage to bad buyers.” Who doesn’t like an artist who spites tasteless people with money? I also loved the wooden carving of the robots on the march by Hervé di Rosa, too.

Les Robots au marché, by Hervé di Rosa

That theme was echoed by Jake and Dinos Chapman, who mock private African art collectors by creating a whole room full of wooden effigies in an African style, but taking different figures from the McDonald’s marketing campaigns as their base. I was very surprised to see Mayor McCheese hanging upon a cross.

We made a quick visit to the museum bookstore and then relaxed on a large boulder underneath a vault of creamy pink roses in the gardens outside. Natasha’s feet and mine were ready to fall apart! We walked across the Champs de Mars (where I helped a young couple capture a photograph of the two of them with the tower in the background). On Avenue de Suffren were stopped for “just dessert” at Tasca and ended up staying for a pizza, too. It was an afternoon well spent!

Poison and Light: the legacy of Saint-Germain-en-Laye

I couldn’t find a vaccine center in Paris that could schedule an appointment for me, so I decided to schedule one at Nanterre, not far from the commercial centre at La Défense, northwest of Paris. The later afternoon timing of my appointment, though, left me with three hours between my departure from the lab (an AM shift, intended to keep the occupancy below 60% for COVID-19) and needing to be at Nanterre. How could I fill that time? Having recently learned about the royal chateau at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, I decided the time was right to make my visit!

Navigating from our lab to the castle seemed relatively straightforward (Line 6 from Pasteur to Place de l’Étoile and then RER-A train to Saint-Germain-en-Laye), but I managed to complicate it quite a bit. I had run out of subway tickets, and the side of the metro where I entered didn’t have a machine for those, so I had to enter from the other side of the road. Once I reached Étoile I couldn’t find an RER ticket station. I came to the east-bound side of the tracks first and had to move to the other side. I boarded the train with the creeping suspicion that my “t+” ticket was only valid for travel on RER within Paris itself; but where exactly was the boundary? [In the end, I learned that I needed a special “RATP” ticket, costing 4.45€ each way rather than the inexpensive metro tickets.]

The royal castle is now the Musée d’Archéologie Nationale.

Happily, emerging from the train station at Saint-Germain-en-Laye removed all ambiguity, since the chateau simply dominates the east side of Place Charles de Gaulle. At the moment, the restoration projects on the north and east faces of the castle are most apparent, but it has already worked wonders on the clock face above the west entrance. Due to COVID-19 lockdown, this museum (like all others) is closed. Since the lovely park to the north of the chateau is open (featuring a 17th century design by Le Nôtre), one can wander around the beautifully shaped trees or go for a jog like everyone else.

L’Amour et la Folie by Paul Darbefeuille

The Affair of the Poisons

Why should someone care about this diminutive French royal castle? I think the Affair of the Poisons is a great place to start. During the early reign of Louis XIV (“The Sun King”), the court was frequently housed at Saint-Germain-en-Laye. In 1676, the trial of Marquise de Brinvilliers rocked the royal court as she admitted to the use of poison to murder her father and two brothers in collusion with her lover. She was only the first of 36 people to be executed between 1677 and 1682 for trafficking of “inheritance powders” and other poisons. Madame La Voisin gained especial notoriety for her role in trafficking deadly chemicals, and she made frequent visits to Saint-Germain-en-Laye to ply her trade.

The walls certainly do not meet at right angles!

Like many kings, Louis XIV had a rather busy sex life. At Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1679, he constructed rooms for his new mistress of the time (Mlle de Fontanges) on the floor above the royal suite, and their bedrooms were connected by a hidden staircase. His former lover, Athénaïs Marquise de Montespan, was suspected to have pursued poisons to remove her rival. At the height of his investigation, Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie (the founder of the first modern police force) believed that “the lives of an entire sector of the Paris population revolved around poison, and that a frightening amount of effort was devoted to its purchase, sale and manufacture. Poison was so much a part of these people’s existence that they accepted as an occupational hazard that they themselves might fall victim to it” [Somerset chapter 5: La voisin]. It seems likely that the Affair of the Poisons was one of the factors that caused Louis XIV to move the seat of government to Versailles in 1682.

Luminous History

Saint Louis created a beautiful chapel in 1238 for the palace, the rest of which was leveled in the Hundred Years War.

Even if Versailles took the spotlight from Saint-Germain-en-Laye, the centuries before had produced quite an illustrious history. Starting as a hunting lodge in the reign of Louis VI (reigning 1108-1137), the site gained particular importance after Philippe Auguste conquered Normandy for France in 1204. The earliest part of the contemporary castle to be constructed, however, was the chapel created in 1238 by “Saint” Louis IX (reigning 1226-1270). Meghan Benesh crafted a detailed thesis that I really enjoyed reading to document the history of this royal chapel. We can think of this royal chapel as an experiment in “rayonnant” Gothic architecture, an effort to fill churches and government buildings with light (both physically and spiritually). It is an important predecessor to the Sainte-Chapelle in the Palais de la Cité, Saint Louis’ next project.

This defensive ditch now has a happier purpose.

A crucial moment for the chapel came in 1346 when the Black Prince captured Saint-Germain-en-Laye during the Hundred Years’ War. The rest of the castle was leveled, but the chapel was preserved (perhaps because the English wanted to assert their right to France through descent from Saint Louis). Considerable construction under Charles V (reigning 1364-1380) rebuilt the residence and added a moat and walls. The appearance of the castle today, however, is based upon the Renaissance palace that Francis I crafted during his reign, 1515-1547. I know I have thrown a huge list of monarchs at you, but you might remember Francis I as the French king opposing Henry VIII in “The Tudors” TV series! Francis I constructed a ballroom on the other side of the chapel rose window and so covered in plaster one of the chapel’s crowning glories.

With the rise of Versailles in reign of Louis XIV, Saint-Germain-en-Laye might have fallen into neglect. Instead it became the home of the Jacobite Stuart court in 1689 after the Glorious Revolution evicted James II from the throne of England, Ireland, and Scotland. The Stuarts were surprisingly difficult to extract from Saint-Germain-en-Laye, with Mary of Modena passing away only in 1718. The Revolution denuded the castle of precious metals, and then the Republic used the castle as a military prison. The restoration of the castle was forced to wait for Napoleon III and then the French Third Republic, who required the services of three different architects to return the structure in 1908 to its approximate state under Francis I (a Gothic chapel enmeshed in a Renaissance casle). Sadly those windows of light for Saint Francis’ chapel were left with clear glass rather than in vivid color.

This huge replica of Trajan’s column stands in the castle yard, serving its new role as the National Museum of Archaeology.

Out with the old castle, in with the Château-Neuf?

Drawing of Château-Neuf as it would have appeared in 1637 by Auguste-Alexandre Guillaumot. The “Vieux Château” appears in the background.

At one point, it might have seemed that the “Vieux Château” (old castle) was to be supplanted by a new one. Just a couple of city blocks east, the high plateau of Saint-Germain-en-Laye falls off dramatically to provide an excellent view toward Paris. Henri II (reigning 1547-1559) completed the old castle’s projects that had been started under Francis I, and he wanted to launch a castle of his own design. “Château-Neuf” was positioned to take full advantage of the edge of the plateau, shaping terraces and sloping walkways all the way down to the Seine. When Henri II died from tournament injuries, completing Château-Neuf became the problem of the next several kings, only being substantially completed by Henri IV (reigning 1589-1610), who added underground chambers with fascinating fountains. By the time of the Revolution, the only projects taking place there were demolition and salvage.

These steps mark the location of Château-Neuf.

Today, the earthworks are essentially all that remain of Château-Neuf. The stroll from the old castle is a pretty one, with upscale neighborhoods flanking on either side. I even enjoyed a few drops of the rain I had thought might invade my visit. The trees flanking the staircases downward help to create suspense as one emerges on the frst landing. Suddenly, there it is: the valley of the Seine, with the river wiggling back and forth as one looks toward La Défense. Just to the right, one can see the Eiffel Tower poking its spire above the hills.

To take a picture of La Défense, it helps to be very far away!

I still had plenty of time to return by train to La Défense for my vaccine appointment. Just you wait until the museum of archaeology reopens, though!

Jardin de Luxembourg and its neighborhoods

It took us three trips, but at last I feel that we have seen the sights surrounding the Jardin de Luxembourg! I first entered the area when I took a wrong turn after exiting the subway near Saint-Germaine-des-Prés; I walked toward the big church I spied down a road and discovered that I had wandered toward Saint Sulpice by mistake.

North of the park

The yellow star markers show our first four destinations.
Even with a wide “prime” lens, I had to stitch together three images for this composite image.

Saint-Sulpice is simply enormous, even when viewed across the large square before its entrance; in Paris it is only second to Notre Dame in size. It construction has been an odd pastiche since the current church was first erected in 1646 (almost five centuries after Notre Dame). From the photograph above, you probably already noticed that the south tower is essentially vestigial, having not been completed when the French Revolution came. You can get an impression of its internal volume from this photograph showing an early twentieth-century ordination. Jacques Chirac, who served as the President of France for twelve years overlapping my time as a Ph.D. student, had his requiem mass said here when he died in 2019.

A sidewalk sale! for old books!

Because I was saving this neighborhood to be seen with Natasha, I waited for her meeting at an office at the Mairie of the 6th Arrondissement to see more of this neighborhood. I wandered a bit south of the Mairie and was delighted to find a block of used antiquarian book stores along Rue Bonaparte (honestly, this area is just littered with such stores). I stepped inside in hopes of finding two tomes I am missing from a four-volume series on the history of Paris, but I was out of luck.

A fire in 1818 consumed the rebuilt Théâtre de l’Odéon, but COVID-19 has turned the current building into a signpost!

I also took the opportunity to see a couple other buildings north of the Jardin that interested me. With all theatres closed due to the pandemic, I was surprised to see the Odéon theatre seemingly very busy with events, but as I got closer, I saw that it was largely informing people of upcoming protest events.

Hôtel de Cluny panorama, south side (main entrance)

I walked a bit further northeast and saw the unmistakeable outline of the Hôtel de Cluny, a structure built between 1485 and 1498 to serve visitors from the monatic order of Cluny. Over time, this hôtel has hosted the sister of English King Henry VIII, James V of Scotland, and papal nuncios. At the end of the 18th century, it housed the queen’s printing press. Sadly, it appears that the National Museum of the Middle Ages, housed in this structure, will not reopen until 2022 due to renovations, so Natasha and I may not get to see the inside!

Constructed in 1635-1642, the Sorbonne chapel houses the tomb of Cardinal Richilieu.

Turning 180 degrees from Cluny, I was presented with one of the older parts of the Sorbonne / University of Paris. I was particularly interested in seeing the Sorbonne Chapel (constructed 1629-1642), since it was the heart of the Sorbonne reconstruction initiated by its headmaster, Cardinal Richileu (yes, he is the one fictionalized in the Three Musketeers). I would have loved to have seen the chapel from the “Cour d’honneur” inside the building and to visit the tomb of Richileu, but COVID-19.

The Jardin de Luxembourg

This image, grabbed from, shows better detail for the park interior than you will find at Google Maps.

I believe I have harbored a misunderstanding about what “Jardin” means to Parisians. I associate this term with botanical gardens, so I expect to see elaborate landscaping, dramatic views, subtle water features, and so on. Something like Kirstenbosch, the Huntington Gardens, or Yu Yuan Garden in Shanghai. The gardens and forests I have seen so far for Paris tend to place an emphasis on exercise rather than aesthetics, so I now expect to be crunching about on fine gravel for these visits. The western and southern parts in the main body of Luxembourg Gardens (I have truncated its southern salient above) does offer a lot of green to the eye, though actually walking on grass is strictly interdite for this part of the year, at least.

The southern facade of the palace has not changed much over the centuries!

The key feature dominating the center of the park from its north is the Palais du Luxembourg. It was constructed under odd circumstances. Marie de Médicis survived her husband, King Henry IV of France, when he was assassinated in 1610. Their son, who became Louis XIII, was born in 1601, so he was not quite ready to rule when his father passed. As regent for her young king, Marie de Médicis commissioned the construction of this palace in 1615 to remind her of a palace she remembered from her childhood in Florence. So far, so good, but Marie de Médicis did not actually cede power back to her son when he reached majority in 1614. She was placed under house arrest in 1617 but escaped via a rope ladder, launching a civil war against her own son to regain power. She developed quite a rivalry with Cardinal Richelieu and was eventually tricked into fleeing to Brussels in 1631, after which she was unable to reconnect with her allies in France. Personally, I feel that we need a TV series on her fascinating life.

Lady Liberty can be found south of “Gabriel Vicaire” on the map above. “La Harde des Cerfs” marks the location of our mighty antlered beast.

Though the area around the reflecting pool is almost all gravel, I really did enjoy strolling in the green areas of the park. The statues there are beautiful, and early spring contributed lots of beautiful flowers. I might suggest Matthieu’s blog as a starting place for visiting the gardens.

There’s a rather important detail that I have omitted. The Palais du Luxembourg now serves as the Senate for all of France. As a result, one will see a fair bit of security if you walk by the palace on Rue de Vaugirard, which lines the north edge of the park. To put this in context, the Palais du Luxembourg plays roughly the same role for the French government that the “Mall” in Washington, D.C. plays for the Capitol! When we look back on the events of January 6, 2021, I am grateful that that Parisians are able to enjoy such a peaceful park surrounding a significant government building.

Strolling Rue Saint-Jacques

Following the old “Roman Road” will show you some wonders!

I was able to visit the area a third time Saturday, May 1, 2021. The Labour Day holiday meant that very few people were on the roads early, so took advantage in seeing some major sights! I decided to saunter down Rue Saint-Jacques, a north-south route that has been popular since Roman times; it was my way to show derision to Baron Haussmann, who labored mightily to supplant it by hacking the broader Boulevard Saint-Michel through medieval buildings.

The western portico of the Panthéon relieves the largely solid walls.

One of the things people don’t mention about the Panthéon is that it stands atop Sainte-Geneviève hill, which could be a downer if you already have sore feet! Initiated in 1757, the church mas a monumental quality that has been amplified by all the surrounding buildings having curved facades on the side facing it. Most walls of the church are solid and without windows, emphasizing its role as a sepulchre for great French citizens. Since I was walking through the area early on a holiday morning, I was able to stand in the middle of what is normally a busy road to snap this image. In many respects, the Panthéon actually photographs better from afar!

At first, the “Latin Quarter” provides magnificent university and institute buildings for the passage south, but soon one reaches Saint-Jacques-du-Haut-Pas (1630-1684). It appears that the church and road are both named after the “Way of St. James,” a pilgrimage route leading to Santiago de Compostela, with waypoints marked by scallops. My favorite Parisian church architecture critic writes of this church that its “banal square tower undoubtedly awaits its northern neighbor in vain.”

Val-de-Grâce in panorama

Before moving to Paris, I don’t recall learning about the church of Val-de-Grâce. In Yvan Christ, I read “its dome, the most harmonious in Paris on par with the Invalides, is also the most Italian and evokes quite well that of St. Peter in Rome.” As I trundled south on Rue St. Jacques, I stumbled upon the church more quickly than I had expected. This former abbey was constructed during 1645-1665 by Anne of Austria to celebrate her having borne a son. One of her sons became Louis XIV, perhaps the most powerful king who ever ruled France. The military hospital housed in this structure closed its doors in 2016, and it appears that it will be reopened as part of a center for digital health in coming years.

Church of Port-Royal, now part of a maternity hospital

At the southern extremity of my walk down rue Saint-Jacques, I found a lovely surprise. Yvan Christ mentioned the former chapel of the abbey of Port-Royal, a small medieval church constructed between 1646 and 1648. In its early years, Port-Royal was the site of an apparent miracle when the niece of Blaise Pascal was healed of a fistula after touching the reliquary containing a thorn. This chapel was always intended to be austere, so one will see no gilded dome or flamboyant Gothic features here. Instead one sees a church of simplicity and beauty.

Church of Port-Royal from an engraving by Jean Marot (1619-1679)

I was very pleased to find an engraving from the era when this church was built at the national library. It is striking to me how much the same and how different this structure is today, surrounded by some rather exclusive-looking reserved parking spaces for the maternity hospital that now surrounds the church. I hoped that I would be able to see the church from its cloister in order to see the main window of the chapel, but I could only look through a tunnel with locked gate to glimpse some greenery.

Wrapping up

Having let this blog run so very long, I think that I must forgo talking about the Fontaine des Quatre Parties du Monde and the observatory. I will have to leave out the ironic fate of Marshall Ney and a government that could not decide whether it loved and trusted him; his monument stands near where he was executed at his own command. I will also ignore the monument to Francis Garnier, who was essential to France’s first forays to the Mekong and Yangtze rivers. The short version is this: if you are interested in history and monumental architecture, you wil love Paris!

Three churches for three different Montmartres

Because the first bishop of Paris was martyred on the slopes of the hill, Montmartre has been an obvious site for Christian veneration throughout the history of France, even serving as a site for pilgrimage. I wanted to draw attention to three churches that currently stand on the hill to explore three different “looks” at the city. Two of them stand close together near the crest of the hill, while the other stands (appropriately) next to the Abbesses Metro station.

Saint-Pierre de Montmartre: 1131-1134 AD

The north flank of Saint-Pierre de Montmartre, photographed in the third quarter of the 19th century (from archives of Musée de Vieux Montmartre)

If you enjoy churches that approach a millennium in age, Paris is a rich feast! I have written previously about Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the earliest church still standing in the present city of Paris (before 1014 AD). Philippe Plagnieux, who wrote a wonderful architectural history of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, also wrote a helpful introduction to Saint-Pierre de Montmartre. Saint-Pierre was a project near and dear to the heart of Louis VI (le Gros), the first Capetian king of France to make serious investment in royal institutions. As an example of the importance of this church to the rulers, his queen, Adélaïde of Maurienne, was buried there. The church was the centre of a Benedictine abbey created in 1134.

Drawing of Abbaye de Montmartre, circa 1625 (National Library of France)

St. Pierre was the first church in Paris to represent the new Gothic style (yes, before Notre Dame and before the Basilica of Saint-Denis, too). Sometimes the leading edge is actually the “bleeding edge,” though, and St. Pierre certainly seems to have had some challenges resulting from this design experiment. Around 1170 much of the apse was rebuilt, and the buttresses of the side apses were reinforced. Archive documentation showed that a variety of repairs and additions were required over the next centuries, contributing both ornamental features, such as “flamboyant” rib vaults on the central nave, and structural ones, such as new buttresses or choir alterations.

St. Pierre was capped by an optical telegraph tower after the French Revolution. Image from National Library of France

As with other churches, St. Pierre suffered worse than neglect during the French Revolution. I was astonished to learn that the admirable field of view for the church made it the site of an optical telegraph tower during the Revolution (if you are a fan of Terry Pratchett, it was similar to the Clacks)! The tower was only removed in the mid-19th century.

This is the part of St. Pierre you are most likely to see!

The way that most tourists will encounter St. Pierre is by approaching from the west side, coming from Place du Tertre. From that vantage, one can only see the facade constructed in the 18th century. The tourist route will then lead around the north side of the church (without much view of it, sadly) and then across its east end (the chevet). This is where one could have a great view of this historic church. Frustratingly, there are two problems with this vantage. First, this walk is now designed to funnel tourists to the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur, so this massive, gleaming white church draws one’s attention away from its venerable neighbor. Second, the street is lower than the ground level on which St. Pierre sits, so one tends to photograph the wall rather than the church!

Sacré-Cœur Basilica: 1873-1914

The church is also impressive from the northwest approach.

After the 1870 Battle of Sedan, Napoleon III abdicated, ending the Second Empire period of France. The sense of national humiliation led to the bloody revolt of the Paris Commune (1871), which was terminated through the deaths of thousands of Parisians. French Catholics began looking to the Sacred Heart devotion for a way to revive order, and monarchists were able to swing legislative support behind the project to construct a prominent basilica atop Montmartre (interestingly, the conservatives had eyed the flamboyant, still-under-construction Garnier Opera as a potential site for their church). To say the site at Montmartre was controversial is an understatement: “When you think to establish on the commanding heights of Paris– the fount of free thought and revolution– a catholic monument, what is in your thoughts? To make of it the triumph of the Church over revolution” (from a republican deputy in National Assembly, quoted by David Harvey). For its part, the Sacré-Cœur website denies that repressing revolutionaries contributed to the location or style of the church.

If you had to decide which church would grace the tallest hill in Paris, which would you choose? from Paris Bibliothèques Patrimoniale

Paul Abadie was an architect who frequently teamed with Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, a controversial figure in the restoration of medieval structures. His proposal for the 1873 design competition for the new church on Montmartre (bottom middle above) was selected.

This image from Paris Bibliothèques Patrimoniale illustrates how close together St.-Pierre and Sacré-Cœur are positioned as well as the depth required for a stable foundation for the latter.

The controversy surrounding the church, the unsteady funding to sustain it, and problems in the terrain all combined to prevent the completion of the church before 1914; gypsum mining was quite common on Montmartre [“Plaster of Paris”], and so a deep foundation of 33 meters (more than 100 feet) was required. Paul Abadie never saw his designs reach fruition, since he died in 1884.

Closeup of south facade

Sacré-Cœur Basilica seems very unusual among the Gothic churches of Paris, and that reflects Abadie’s choice to adopt a “Romano-Byzantine” fusion for the church instead. To look for precedents, one should look at Hagia Sophia in Istanbul instead of Notre Dame. The enormous mosaic over the choir continues the Byzantine theme. We should not make the mistake of thinking Sacré-Cœur Basilica has its gaze fixed outside of France, though. The massive equestrian statues atop the front portico represent Louis IX and Jeanne d’Arc, with Saint Louis holding his inverted sword pommel as a cross of justice and Joan of Arc with her sword raised, ready to smite a fool.

Église Saint-Jean-l’Évangéliste-de-Montmartre: 1894-1904

The facade to Place des Abbesses is very striking and feels quite modern.

…And now for something completely different. During the same years that Sacré-Cœur was developing on the crest of Montmartre, a very different church was being built at the Place des Abbesses. Father Sobaux led the parish of Montmartre and realized that the population he served was larger than one church could manage, and creating a new church halfway down the hill would be able to draw from many growing neighborhoods. In choosing to work with architect Anatole de Baudot (a disciple of Viollet-Le-Duc), Father Sobaux had decided to use a revolutionary new technique; iron framing had brought about Art Nouveau, and now reinforced concrete would make for stronger and thinner supports in larger structures (this was key for maximizing the heavily sloped, very small lot available for the church), not to mention far cheaper construction than stone.

It is worth looking upward as you enter the church!

What they had not expected was a hostile city council and judiciary. The church publised a parish bulletin with the cute name “La Demi Butte” (something like “halfway up the hill”). In its January 1914 issue, Father Sobaux laid out the full story of obstreperous shenanigans bored bureaucrats could throw at a project trying something new (the Third Republic of France was not known for good relations with the Catholic Church, either). The first stone had been laid in 1897. In 1901, however, construction came to a halt when Father Sobaux was called to defend the church in civil court for the charge of having created an unsafe building, where a guilty verdict would bear the penalty of demolition of the structure and a hefty fine on the Church. Before the cardinal decided whether to throw his resources behind Father Sobaux’s defense, he hired Mr. Boutilhier, inspector general of bridges and roads, to decide whether the city’s architects were correct in thinking the structure was unsound. Among other tests, Mr. Boutilhier loaded the nave with bags of sand to produce a weight of 600 kilograms per square meter (>1300 pounds per square yard) and left them in place for weeks. The inspector general’s report fully supported the structural integrity of the church. In 1902, the Prefect of the Seine withdrew the charges against the church, and work was able to continue. In 1904, it opened its doors to the new congregation.

These slender columns were very controversial in the construction of the church.

Natasha and I saw the church with our own eyes during our Montmartre meander. I read about this marvel in a book from the American Library in Paris, so I was really pleased when Natasha showed an interest in seeing the inside. Our eyes adjusted to the dun interior, and then our mouths just dropped open. The facade exterior hints at beautiful ceramic work to be found inside. The interlocked arches forming a railing to the balcony contrast tiny mosaic tiles against a gray-bronze of the painted concrete. While the large crucifixion scene in stained glass in the southern wall might draw your attention first, the smaller stained glass windows used incredibly vivid colors.

Is it apparent that this church was revolutionary in its construction methods? Thinking about it the following day, Natasha said, “I have never seen a church that seems so feminine!”

Montmartre: le blog de la Butte

The hill of Montmartre always seems to catch me in the corner of my eye. Our walk down the Grands Boulevards occasionally featured a glance at the hill, with Sacré-Cœur gleaming in white atop it. It is a city-within-a-city that has spawned a thousand stories and songs. At lunchtime Natasha and I decided that this would be the day we made our first trip to Montmartre.

Our walking route through Montmartre

I was a bit surprised how difficult it was to find a route to the area; every metro option from my part of town seemed to involve three different trains. Natasha and I decided on a two-train route to Barbès – Rochechouart (an area northwest of Gare du Nord but southeast of Montmartre). When we emerged from the underground, I wondered that we were still in Paris. People pushed by in all directions, and multiple vendors tried to hand me a piece of paper or draw my attention. While I gawped, Natasha grabbed my hand and pulled me into motion. She later confided that she had spotted at least three pickpockets working the crowd. We pushed along the larger of the two roads until we found a slightly quieter corner at a bakery where I could consult Google Maps. My first guess at the direction we should walk had been wrong, and we had traveled north rather than west. This is what comes from trusting my direction sense after a subway ride! We returned to the south via Rue Poulet (Chicken) and Rue de Clignancourt.

Basilica Sacré-Cœur, as seen from Place Saint-Pierre

Once we found Rue Livingstone, the nimbus of stress that had surrounded Natasha in Boulevard Barbès had dissipated, and we found shop after shop with interesting items to peruse: a fabric store, a bookshop (new and antiquarian), even some toys! The star attraction was not far ahead of us, though. The Place Saint-Pierre offers an excellent prospect of the basilica of Sacré-Cœur as well as access to the funicular to the top. We paused for a photo or two, but we had other destinations in mind.

Fish-eye view of the Crypte du Martyrium

We pushed further west to 11 Rue Yvonne le Tac. The facade of the little church there fits right into the line of buildings along the street, so one could easily imagine it was a little neighborhood chapel. Its true identity, however, is much grander; this chapel is the Crypte du Martyrium, and it is also the 1534 site of the “Vow of Monmartre” that led to the creation of the Society of Jesus, often called the “Jesuits.” You may have realized by this time that Montmartre literally means the “hill of martyrs.” St. Denis, the first bishop of Paris, was not welcomed by the third-century Gauls (nor were his colleagues). By tradition, his response to being beheaded was to pick up his head, sing psalms, wash his head in a stream, and walk another couple of miles [I am not arguing that St. Denis was a zombie]. The crypt history website offers an interesting little Word document detailing the story; Microsoft Word will even translate it for you!

Rue Ravignan is quite a slope, and the view from these stairs is not common in Paris.

We continued to the west to visit Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre, about which I will have much more to say in an upcoming post. Of course we also visited the Wall of Love, which is just as sweet as you might expect. We enjoyed seeing another Guimard Metro stop (Abbesses) with glass still in place. I was particularly interested, though, in what we would find at our next stop, a couple of blocks to the north. I could tell that we were getting close because we encountered some wide stairs that were absolutely packed with lunchers and loungers. I was so intent on looking forward that I almost neglected to look back; we had climbed enough of the hill that the stairs offered a view over miles of Paris, even if it was a narrow arc because of the width of Rue Ravignan.

I read about the “Bateau-Lavoir” in a book from the American Library in Paris. In English we might call it the “Washhouse Boat,” an affectionate nickname for a ramshackle piano factory divided into a labyrinth of workshops for young artists. Today only a facade remains from that era due to a fire in 1970. The historical plaque in the Place Émile-Goudeau highlights Pablo Picasso’s memories, but this incubator of creativity also featured talents as diverse as Henri Matisse, Jean Cocteau, and Gertrude Stein. The modern building doesn’t seem particularly distinctive, but the large trees in the Place are excellent shade after a sweaty hill climb.

Place du Tertre in a pandemic

I asked Natasha if she were ready for more, and she gave me a thumbs up. We pressed upward to Place du Tertre, near the crest of the hill. I was unsure what to expect of the main “tourist trap” of Montmartre, given the pandemic and the Parisian lock-down. Perhaps my readers can guess better than I. Place du Tertre was definitely packed with tourists, artists, and souvenier sellers, enough that my COVID-sense was ringing mad alarm bells. If you are looking for someone to paint an instant portrait of your child, this is definitely the place for you. If you want to buy a small oil or acrylic painting so you can tell your guests, “I bought that in Paris,” you are also in luck. If, like me, you would like to learn the history of this site, you will be disappointed. The abbesses of Montmartre dispensed justice in this square until the 18th centruy (including torture and hanging). In the 19th century it was an artillery park, making it a flash point in the start of the “Paris Commune.” [This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Commune.] A popular legend suggests that Russian soldiers gave quick-service restaurants the name “bistro” in this square!

Annotated view from the front porch of Sacré-Cœur. But see also what one can do with a telephoto and better sun angles!

Place du Tertre is also the western gateway to the two major churches of Montmartre: Saint-Pierre and Sacré-Cœur. I will have more to say on those in another post. I will relate, though, that the view of Paris from the square before Sacré-Cœur is absolutely fabulous.

If you had a super-power, would you use it injudiciously?

Natasha and I were ready to begin our descent of Montmartre. We started by heading west on Rue Norvins to find an amusing statue based on a short story by Marcel Aymé. Le passe-muraille tells the story of a man who gains the ability to walk through walls. After abusing this capability, he accidentally takes medication intended to remove it, but it takes effect while he has not completed his passage through a wall!

You might think that the owners of this private property don’t want tourists taking photographs of their windmill!

As one of the highest hills in some distance, Montmartre proved to be an excellent place to use wind-power for milling grains. Most of the mills that once stood there are gone, but we were able to find two on our exit route. The first, standing over a restaurant entrance, is challenging to photograph through a security fence. The second, standing on a high spot, has been screened by tall trees. A historic monument signboard relates the tragic story of this mill, the “Blute-fin.” Cossacks apparently didn’t like the defenders of this area, four brothers of the milling family, and when the city fell, the Cossacks dismembered the miller brothers and tacked their bodies to the sails. Eventually this windmill became a highlight of a ballroom, and the ballroom was featured in one of Renoir’s paintings.

It’s not a real windmill, and the original building burned in 1915, but the Moulin Rouge is nominally still in operation (not during the pandemic).

Natasha and I had one more windmill in mind before we exited the area, and we descended the butte by Rue Lepic. There was quite a lot more noise as we reached the busy Boulevard de Clichy, but when we turned the corner, there was no question where we were. I love singing along to the movie musical of “Moulin Rouge,” and it was lovely to see it in person. I hope that they can host shows again soon.

With that, Natasha and I descended to the metro at Blanche. We first thought we would take the train east to Barbès – Rochechouart and recapitulate our route to reach home. When the train arrived, though, it was standing-room only, and the glassy eyes of the sandwiched passengers made me say involuntarily, “OH, HELL NO.” I’m not particularly phobic about COVID-19, but that was just a step too far. Natasha and I scuttled to the other side of the station to go west to Place de Clichy for an alternate routing back. The first train that arrived was almost as packed as the train we had just rejected, and teenagers who were more willing to use their elbows jumped into the spots evacuated by people leaving the train. We waited for the next one. It was better.

Bois de Vincennes and its Royal Castle

When the sun peeked through the clouds in the early afternoon of a busy workday, I asked Natasha if she would play hooky with me on a walk in the Bois de Vincennes. To my delight, she said “yes!” In no time flat, we hopped onto the T3a tramline, heading east. Our route would run almost the entire route from west to east, with the midway point being near our first temporary home in Paris, the Cité Universitaire. I was struck by the architecture we passed in South Paris; unlike the boulevards lined with five-and-six story Haussmann buildings, the structures along this route were mostly modern or “International” style. As we crossed the Seine at the Pont National, I craned my neck around to the left to see the François-Mitterrand site of the Bibliothèque nationale de France; I have been dying to go there, but have hesitated due to the lockdown.

The Palais de la Porte Dorée southern facade

Natasha and I descended from the tram at Porte Dorée, the “golden gate.” If the sun is shining, it would be hard to miss the ten-meter high statue of Athena! Natasha and I walked east and were immediately struck by the facade of the 1931 Palais de la Porte Dorée. I am a sucker for Art Deco, and this building simply exudes it. The content of the building, however, is more controversial, having been built for the Colonial Exhibition of 1931 (though today it also houses other museums and an aquarium). As an example, I will also display the monument across the street from the site:

Monument to Marchand Expedition

The Monument to Commandant J.B. Marchand will definitely be seen very differently by someone from Africa than by someone from France. During 1890-1899, the French made a expedition-in-force north to the Nile River from the Congo River. When British forces came south from Egypt, they were profoundly shaken to find Marchand’s forces encamped on an island under a French flag in the marshes giving rise to the Nile. This 1898 “Fashoda Incident” might easily have led to a European war sparked on African soil had not better sense emerged in diplomatic circles. More recent historians have contributed a better understanding of African agency in shaping events. “Time and again the implacable facts of geography intervened to determine not only the setting but the manner of confrontation in equatorial Africa. The Africans themselves frequently decided events” through mutiny while serving in foreign armies, organizing indigenous governments and armies, and rebellion against would-be colonizers. Here in Paris, a monument stands to represent the high-water moment for French power in Africa.

Temple Romantique de l’Île de Reuilly in Lac Daumesnil

From Porte Dorée, Natasha and I were just a few steps from the western segment of the Bois de Vincennes. It was plain that Lac Daumesnil is a prime jogging spot for eastern Paris (download a park map). We encountered plenty of people taking advantage of the fresh air. Still, the park is so large that it can accommodate thousands quite easily. The Bois de Vincennes originated as royal hunting reserve. The Capetian dynasty gained power over France in 987 A.D. (shortly before the earliest parts of today’s Saint-Germain-des-Prés church were constructed). During the 12th century, the dynasty began construction of a hunting residence in these woods to the southeast of Paris. In today’s world, it might seem odd that hunting would represent a way that the kings of the medieval world would demonstrate their masculinity to the rulers of other nations (not to mention show favor to courtiers though invitations to join the hunt), but apparently this was valuable in foreign policy.

We walked along the shore of Lac Daumesnil for a bit but then tried moving northeast toward the other parts of the park. We hadn’t realized that the zoo forms a barrier separating the lake from the rest of the park. We could see some high concrete “landscape” for some of the animals and smell them, but we had to push southeast for some distance to navigate around it.

This bridge near Route des Batteries recharged me.

Natasha and I headed east along the Route des Batteries. After our experience in the western Bois de Boulogne, we were unsure just how natural the Bois de Vincennes would feel, but we needn’t have worried. The forest areas of Vincennes are perfectly lovely, with little streams passing through them. I found my happy place pretty rapidly when we encountered a tiny footbridge over a stream on our path. We encountered any number of other hikers and a fair number of people on bicycles, too, but it never felt crowded. After we had walked some distance, Natasha asked me if I had noticed the campers. Sure enough, we had passed by quite a few tents in the woods. I did not get the impression these were formal campsites, though; we were left with the impression that many people who are otherwise homeless have set up temporary housing in the forest. When we passed the Bayard UCPA horse-riding school, we saw some campers that seem to have been in place for more than a few days.

From the south, the Château shows its 14th century donjon at left and the 17th century pavilions of the king and queen at right.

After walking approximately 3 km, Natasha and I emerged from the woods at the Avenue des Minimes. The site that had drawn my attention to the Bois de Vincennes lay before us: the Château de Vincennes! A cynical person might at first believe that this castle is slightly too perfect to have much history, like Castle Gwynn in Tennessee (which is younger than I am). The Château de Vincennes, however, is the real deal, having seen the birth and death of many medieval kings. I believe only the Conciergerie and the Louvre can compete with it for age and significance in Paris.

This bird’s eye view from the national library shows the entire castle precinct.

Natasha and I walked along the castle’s west side, marveling at the depth of the moat and admiring the buildings within. When we saw some people walking around within the castle precinct, we realized that we might be able to visit the grounds ourselves! We entered through the northern portico, currently under restoration. A security guard asked me to open my bag, asked whether I had a knife packed away, and then sent me through the metal detector. In no time we were inside.

At 52m in height, the inner keep (“donjon”) was intended to protect the king from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

If I may offend European history teachers everywhere, I would characterize the “Hundred Years War” (1337-1453 A.D.) as a period when Great Britain repeatedly attempted to take advantage of a French civil war to pillage and claim France for itself. I was very surprised to learn that Henry V (yes, the Shakespeare one) died in the Château de Vincennes, having apparently succeeded in merging Great Britain and France under his crown (if I can borrow my language from above, his death in 1422 marked the “high-water moment for English power in France”). It is not merely coincidence that the construction of the “donjon” began in 1377; even though the French King Charles V directed the lords of France to attend a requiem for the death of English King Edward III, a new round hostilities was soon to begin in the Hundred Years War.

The Sainte-Chapelle de Vincennes was completed in 1480 under Louis XI.

In 1248, Louis IX (“Saint Louis”) consecrated the Sainte-Chapelle in the Palace of the of the City. As the kings of France began using the Château de Vincennes as principal residence, they sought to emulate this chapel in their new palace complex. Charles V initiated the project in 1379; his reign also saw the creation of long-standing walls around the city of Paris. While the original chapel was consecrated after only eleven years, the Vincennes chapel required a century of construction since the Hundred Years War was raging. Like many churches, the Sainte-Chapelle de Vincennes suffered considerable damage in the French Revolution. Many of its stained-glass windows were destroyed. One of the most prized items in its treasury, the 14th century “Baptistère de Saint-Louis” was moved to the Louvre for safekeeping.

Looking back toward the northern portico from the Sainte-Chapelle reveals plenty of room for a town inside the curtain walls.

There is certainly more to see in the Bois de Vincenne. I was interested to learn that Mata Hari, a famous spy in World War I, was executed at the Caserne de Vincennes, just to the east of the castle complex. Under normal conditions I would hope to visit the Theatre Cartoucherie regularly! Even if I might not visit the sporting complexes in the woods, I would still love to see the Buddhist pagoda there. Apart from these attractions, there’s an entirely separate lake in the eastern area!

That said, Natasha and I had used up all our energy from walking so far! We followed the D120 (“Avenue de Paris”) west toward the tramway. From the map, it looked reasonably close; I was sure we would be back to the Peripherique in ten or fifteen minutes. Given our sleepy state, however, we trundled along for perhaps half an hour before reaching the bridge across the belt highway. I know we might finally see Place de la Nation if we continued four blocks beyond our tram stop, but Natasha and I were ready for home. We slumped into seats on the busy tram and tried to keep our eyes open as we returned to the 15th Arrondissement.

Escaping the concrete canyons in the Bois de Boulogne

Because I had taken a day off from work, Natasha and I made a point of arising early for our visit to the Bois de Boulogne! We set out around 10AM to follow the T3 tram line to the west, knowing that we would need at least a half hour to reach the park’s extreme southeast corner.

Our walking path, from south to north

Although we had been close to our local bridge over the Seine when we visited Parc Andre Citroen, neither of us had crossed the Pont de Garigliano. I was happy that it offered a view all the way from the balloon in our park to the Tour Eiffel.

Looking north from Pont de Garigliano

I was unsure what to expect of Auteuil, the 16th Arondissement of Paris. Since we were passing through it rather than learning about what it had to offer, we missed seeing some of the Art Nouveau buildings along Rue Boileau. I also liked the more conventional “Gendarmerie Nationale” building, but Natasha noticed that the building had a new purpose. It now serves as a social innovation project, housing 350 displaced persons as well as 40 artists and social workers. It was a relief to see that the “main drag” in Auteil was not completely flanked by five- and six-story buildings. Natasha and I both unclenched a bit of stress that we hadn’t realized we were wearing on our shoulders.

In very little time, we arrived at Porte d’Auteuil, formerly the western-most gate in the 19th century “Thiers” walls surrounding Paris. We stopped by a grocery to equip our picnic, and then we entered Bois de Boulogne. It is easy to spot on the map below; it is the dark green box appearing on the west side (we will save our adventure in the Bois de Vincennes on the southeast side for another day).

This 1875 map of Paris shows the two “lungs” of the city, Bois de Boulogne to the west and Bois de Vincennes to the east.

The point of entry we had chosen for the park was not its most picturesque. At first, we followed Route d’Auteuil aux Lacs (literally translated as “the route from Auteuil to the lakes”). It followed the western edge of the Hippodrome d’Auteil. It might seem odd to have a horse-racing facility cheek-by-jowl with a nature preserve, especially since another, the Hippodrome de Paris-Longchamps, lies along the west side of the Bois de Boulogne, as well. Oddly, the creation of these racing facilities was key to establishing the Bois as a public park for Paris in 1852; it costs money to landscape a new public park and establish gates, restrooms, and other facilities. The popularity of the new racecourses produced the revenues that paid for that work.

Yes, there are trees in the Bois de Boulogne

Soon Natasha and I were able to take a separate path that put us in a more natural setting. We enjoyed an area with pine trees for reminding us of the “Pinelands” in Cape Town, but here the pine trees grow upward rather than being bent into hairpins by the winds of the Cape! Throughout the park, it is apparent that really old trees were simply absent. Sadly, this area was occupied by the Prussians during their 1871 siege of Paris, and the trees of the newly public park were used for soldiers’ cookfires (see the engraving below). This was not the first time the forest had been occupied by foreign troops, though. British and Russian forces had occupied the forest in the 1814 aftermath of Napoleon I’s defeat. British forces had also invested the forest (and burned it) in 1416-1417 during the Hundred Years’ War. If you are looking for old-growth forest, I would really recommend somewhere other than this soldiers’ campground.

This circa 1871 engraving shows the devestation war brought to the Bois de Boulogne

Ahead of us near our path, Natasha spied something large and white. I teased her that it must be a radio telescope, thinking of my visit to the Jodrell Bank. As usual, Natasha jumped to the right conclusion long before I did. We had found a circus tent! In November and December of each year, Le Cirque de Noël- Christiane Bouglione hosts holiday entertainment here in the heart of the Bois de Boulogne. Why is a circus a good match for a natural area? I couldn’t say, but I remember watching acrobatic slack rope walking while visiting a natural park in China. Different forests play different roles.

Lac Supérieur, to the south, is the smaller of the two.

I had kept our course fairly close to the eastern side of the park because I wanted to see the two lakes (reservoirs, really) that were constructed in the park in the nineteenth century. Napoleon III was a big fan of Hyde Park in London, and he wanted a water feature in the Bois de Boulogne that would play the same role as the Serpentine in Hyde Park. The landscape architect who took on the job botched the first try rather badly, essentially making a high and dry reservoir and a lower, overfull reservoir surrounded by marsh. When a dam was built to separate the areas (along the top of which now runs a road), “Lake Superior” and “Lake Inferior” were formed, with a controllable spillway between.

We had just a few moments of bright sunlight on our cloudy day.

Natasha and I stopped at a park bench on Lake Superior for our lunch. She was determined that I would develop some skills at “Park Life.” Instead of marching to the next place I wanted a photograph, I should try watching the world go by. Our spot was a good place for it. The pigeons certainly believe that an occupied park bench implies a meal for pigeons, but Natasha doesn’t like pigeons in particular and I distrust all birds! I was enthralled by an otter who was cruising back and forth for guillible diners. He seemed less interested in sticking around when a dog walker with a brace of hounds passed by.

The Kiosque de l’Empereur is on an island in the lower lake.

After a nice linger, Natasha and I continued northward. We bypassed the cascade joining the two lakes, but we did stop to look at the southernmost island in Lake Inferior. We saw some massive swans and geese larking about. When a swan approached us on our walk, Natasha spurred us forward. We didn’t want to be on the receiving end of an assertive swan.

Natasha explained that gazebos have roofs, but a pergola does not!

We were happy to see some lovely flowers in bloom. We paused again, this time in the Square de la Photo Hippique (1936). You might think such a square would have a hippie in costume, ready to take photos with guests, but no such luck. Instead, the area was set aside for equestrians to have beautiful photos with their mounts. Natasha and I settled down for a bit of book reading. When we saw some rain drops tap our pages, though, we decided to continue our travels. Our route out of the park led us to the Allée Saint-Denis. We passed through a lightly-wooded area to the Porte Dauphine.

It can be a little jarring to move from a natural area to a dense city in a hurry, but Porte Dauphine definitely seemed like an edge of Paris to me. The area is a massive traffic circle connecting the Périphérique highway to the heavy Avenue Foch. I was grateful we crossed it easily with the help of a maze of crosswalks and traffic lights. If I had spent some time with a map, I would surely have tried to peek down the length of Avenue Foche, since l’Arc de Triomphe stands at Étoile, just a kilometer down Avenue Foch!

Instead, my attention was drawn to another of the subway stations designed by Hector Guimard. This time the metro station was our gateway home. I loved the brightly colored orange, yellow, and green panels on the inside. The metro station at Porte Dauphine was better documented with historical panels on the Guimard entrance and on the decoration of the inside of the station. For once, our route home required that we go through three different lines of the metro, but it wasn’t very long before we returned home safely from our forest hike.

A Meander in the Marais

Our winding walking route

Natasha and I were relieved to hear that the newest “lock-down” for Paris left room for its citizens to stretch their legs in the great outdoors. We set our sights on the Marais because it contains a wealth of historic monuments. The Marais (literally the “Marsh,” from a time when the Seine was less mannerly) lies primarily in 4th arrondissement, stretching as far east as the Place de la Bastille. We were grateful that Metro Line 8 ran near our home directly to Bastille. When we emerged from the subway, we were inspired to keep moving by a chilly breeze; the open space of the plaza made us wonder if we should have dressed more warmly for our wander.

Cropped from “Vue de la Bastille pendant la démolition en juillet 1789

The first thing that a tourist notices at the Place de la Bastille is that the Bastille is no longer there. The massive fort was constructed in the 14th Century during the reign of Charles V (who constructed intimidating walls surrounding Paris), guarding eastern approaches to the city. Cardinal Richilieu (minister to Louis XIII) changed the role of the fortress to that of political prison. By the time of the French Revolution, the fortress had gained a reputation for autocratic cruelty in the public imagination. The storming of the Bastille on July 14th, 1789, marks a special birthday for France that is celebrated much as Americans would celebrate July 4th. Immediately, the revolutionaries decided to demolish the fortress, and a team under Pierre-François Palloy completed the task within just two years. Many of the stones were employed for construction projects, such as the construction of Pont de la Concorde.

The Canal St. Martin once served to fill a moat, but now it is a marina.

What signs of the Bastille are still to be seen at the site, then? The July Column that occupies the plaza today is dedicated to the events of the Revolution of 1830 (the overthrow of King Charles X Bourbon), not the Revolution of 1789-1799. If you look closely at the roads bordering the plaza, you will find little metal bumps marking the outlines of the fortress. If you descend the steps at the south side of the plaza, you will see a somewhat haunting site. To the south, you will see a marina filled with boats of Parisians, and to the north, the water disappears under the plaza. The marina was a canal dug on the north side of the Seine; its original purpose was to flood some approaches to the Bastille fortress! Later in this post, I will describe another remnant from the old fortress. I will also say that the 1989 Opéra Bastille is a beautiful building.

The Temple du Marais serves the Protestant community in this Catholic nation.

Natasha and I headed west on Rue Saint-Antoine, a part of the primary road that runs east and west through the city of Paris. The road originally served the Roman city of Lutetia. During the Second Empire (under Napoleon III), Baron Haussmann demolished many older buildings to connect Rue Sant-Antoine to Rue to Rivoli, which ran north of the Tuilerries gardens. Its prominence has marked it with monumental architecture. We passed by a cocky statue of Caron Beaumarchais, the otherworldly Temple de Marais (a Protestant Church), and the Hotel de Mayenne before turning north on Rue de Birague. It was clear that something special lay ahead.

The Pavillon du Roi is slightly taller than the other buildings surrounding Place des Vosges, though the square was not a royal residence after construction.

We passed under the Pavillion du Roi to reach the fascinating Place des Vosges (named for the first department of France to pay taxes after the French Revolution). Constructed as the Place Royale by Henri IV between 1605 and 1612, it marked a significant change in how Paris was to develop, from the Renaissance to a new Classicism. Like its contemporary Place Dauphine on the Île de la Cité, this symmetrical plaza was designed “to give a rational, ordered, and monumental aspect to the public areas of the capital” [Salvadori p. 12]. A cheerful statue of Louis XIII on horseback at the center of the plaza replaced a bronze in 1829. Four fountains, one at each corner, contributed a little cheer. I paused to shoot a video of one.

You will need a lens that can take a very wide field of view to photograph this facade in a single image!

From there, Natasha and I set out to see a unique neighborhood that illustrates Paris’ religious diversity. While King Charles VI exiled all French Jews in 1394 and Louis XIV expelled the Hugenots in 1685, these populations returned to France in later centuries. It may be surprising to learn that France was estimated to have become home to one million Muslims by the 1960s! Our walk led us west to the (closed) Carnavalet Museum and then south on Rue Pavée. Squeezed into an incredibly tight space, we found the Agoudas Hakehilos Synagogue, just around the corner from the Hammam St. Paul (formerly a steam bath). I was excited to see the Synagogue in particular because I simply love Art Nouveau. This structure was designed by Hector Guimard, one of the foremost architects of this style. Our walk this day encountered another of his structures, but you will have to read further to find it!

Tree blossoms on Saint-Antoine

In no time at all, Natasha and I had returned to the main road through the Marais, though this time it was labeled Rue Rivoli rather than Saint Antoine. We were delighted to see that a group of cherry trees had begun blooming in the early spring. We had returned to the main road at the site of Paroisse Saint Paul / Saint Louis du Marais. The massive facade (dating from 1634, under Cardinal Richilieu) made us feel rather small, despite the road being quite wide at this point. Our path was Rue St. Paul, just to the east of the church. It was a fun little street with lots of interesting shops. Natasha has an eye for ceramics, and we paused to gaze at a pretty vase for a moment. The shopkeeper emerged to let us know it was for sale at 120 €. When we declined, he note that it was also available in a deep blue. At this point, some police came by, apparently searching for someone who had listed this neighborhood as his home. The shopkeeper turned his attention entirely to the police, and we continued on our route toward the river. I was amused to see the museum of magic shows (closed like other museums due to the pandemic).

Bastille fragment at Square Henri Galli

After a short jog east, evading a jovial person seeking money, spotting a rogue vegetable garden in a tree planter, and dodging across traffic, we found ourselves at a children’s playground in Square Henri Galli. Natasha’s research into the Bastille had revealed that the base of the Liberty Tower of the Bastille, discovered during the creation of the Paris Metro, had been moved to this park and reassembled. Natasha and I could not resist, and we paused for a moment just touching one of the mammoth stone blocks.

A look toward the Île de la Cité from the exercise track on the Seine.

From there, we took a leisurely stroll down the Seine. It was a popular track for joggers. From there, I was able to spot the little bridge connecting the Île de la Cité and the Île Saint Louis. For one brief moment, the Panthéon on the Rive Gauche was visible through a gap in the buildings, with the towers of Notre Dame just to its right. As we moved further west, Hôtel-Dieu, a hospital next to the Notre Dame cathedral, came into sight and we saw the Conciergerie at a distance, too.

The Paris Hôtel de Ville presents a richly-decorated facade.

Our turn to the north directed us away from the Seine and near the boundary between the first and fourth arrondissements. I was a bit astonished by the scale of the Hôtel de Ville. Rather than having one city hall for all of Paris, the city has a separate “Mairie” over each arronidissement. Since Baron Haussmann used the building as a base of operations while serving as Prefect of the Seine, he ordered a considerable renovation of the Hôtel de Ville. He developed a reputation as one of the city’s most prominent party throwers. The massive square to the west of the building leaves a lot of room for a photograph, but the city hall fills quite a wide view!

How do they keep all the external elements of the Beaubourg clean?

The Hôtel de Ville and the Centre Pompidou could hardly be more different, though they are just a couple of blocks apart. The Centre, originally to be called “Beaubourg,” was the winning design for a 1971 competition for a mixed-use cultural center. Its construction took more than five years, with its grand opening in 1977. Like a lot of great art, we know it is art because each observer comes away with their own impression of “what it all means!” Is it an inside-out building? Is it a riot of colors surrounding a more serene inside? I walked up and down the block trying to wrap my head around it, but Natasha dodged into a high-end chocolatier and bought me some Easter treats. I am a lucky guy.

The Stravinsky Fountain looks like a great place to play!

We headed west into the first arrondissement, walking though an area replete with art installations. Since I am someone who naturally gravitates to the old stuff in a city, it was a bit surprising that I took almost no interest in the Fountain of the Innocents (1548-49) but absolutely loved the silly, colorful Stravinsky Fountain (1983). The mural work on the sides of buildings was first-rate. I would have missed seeing the lovely mosaic work on the building at the southwest corner of La Verririe and du Renard if Natasha hadn’t whispered, “look up.” In no time at all, we had reached Les Halles.

I think the modern shell to the Forum looks best from within the shopping centre. Natasha called it “a stack of Space Tortoises.”

I find it hard to understand Les Halles if only because it has long since it was subdivided into little shops, packed cheek by jowl. Today it is a massive open space, stretching between the massive, mostly underground shopping mall and train station Forum at Les Halles, the enormous and other-worldly Saint Eustache, and the Bourse de Commerce, an interesting transition between Neoclassical and metal-framed architecture. With that said, I offer this counter-point about Saint Eustache from a book I am currently reading:

[After enumerating many architectural flaws…] We are obliged to admit that the old authors of the XVIIIth century, for once in agreement with Viollet-le-Duc, were right a hundred times when they spoke of the “bad taste” which reigned supreme here.

p 43, Eglises Parisiennes: Actuelles et Disparues by Yvan Christ

As it happened, we arrived at Les Halles on the day of an antiques market. Natasha vanished in a flash, while I wandered with my camera. She found some very cool jewelry, but ultimately it is hard to pay 100€ for earrings one has just met!

I need to see Saint Eustache from the inside. It is apparently *the* example par excellence of Renaissance churches.

Having come so far, Natasha and I were ready to head homeward. Google showed us a diagonal Rue des Halles marked as a pedestrian shopping zone, but we were sharing the space with cars. Natasha stopped short when she recognized something I would want to see. I mentioned the Art Nouveau specialist Hector Guimard above. His eye for design got him selected to create the entrance and exit points of the Metro system at the start of the 20th century. Most of these places have been downgraded to a yellow “M” and a staircase leading into the ground, but just a couple of the original entrances are still available to be seen. I love the horror-movie font choice. I love the sea-creature fins of glass and metal. I love the busy iron railing. Of course I stopped for a photograph.

Now *that* is what I call making an entrance!

With that, Natasha and I found ourselves at our terminus. Our diagonal had dropped us at the Square de la Tour Saint-Jacques. The church of Saint-Jacques was constructed in the sixteenth century by wealthy wholesale butchers at the nearby market. Salvadori describes Saint-Jacques as “flamboyant gothic.” The church itself was destroyed during the French Revolution, but the tower was preserved as a monument in 1862, and Baron Haussman’s redesign of this area left the tower in its own little park. Yvan Christ had a more trenchant thought about the tower: “Now isolated in the most insipid of squares, it is the image of the misunderstanding piously cherished by the town planners of the Second Empire.” I thought the tower photo posted by Benh Lieu Song for Wikimedia Commons was much better than mine. I will show you the park instead.

The park at la Tour de Saint-Jacques shows some promise for the coming springtime.

With that, Natasha and I made our way to the Metro stop at Chatelet theatre. I was bemused by an odd fountain with Egyptian sphinxes on it. If I may bowlderdize Monty Python, I describe this fountain as “memorializing all the French soldiers who died keeping Egypt French.” We returned to our apartment and settled down for a quick lunch and a nap.

Are you also curious about Saint Jacques de la Boucherie, the church to which the tower belonged? The National Library of France had a cool engraving of the church in its heyday! I believe this photograph may also represent the church.