Tag Archives: museum

Rome: National Roman Museum

The first post of this series will link to all our adventures in the city.

On our first day in Rome, Natasha and I thought we should familiarize ourselves with the massive National Roman Museum. Rather than split up the material to separate posts, I will talk about our visits to three of its four sites in this single, extra-length post, so the text below spans multiple days of our visit. Because we purchased the week-long version of museum admission, we could visit the other sites as time presented itself over the course of our week in the city.

Baths of Diocletian

August 28, 2021

Not appearing in this blog: the Baths of Diocletian

From Piazza Margana, we were close to a bus nexus stretching south from Piazza Venezia. We bought a book of ten tickets from a convenience store (in Euros, just as we would use in Paris)– they were good for bus or subway runs. In no time we were on a bus route to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major (to be featured in an upcoming post). The bus route was only a couple of kilometers, but we wanted to save our feet for the museum. We walked a few blocks north to the museum and were treated with a view of the massive Roma Termini rail station. When we reached Piazza dei Cinquecento, we were nearly pulled off our plan by sighting the massive Baths of Diocletian complex. The name of the train station is an allusion to these Baths, since the Latin term is “Thermae.” I mention the Baths here specifically because they are the one site of the National Roman Museum that we did not visit at all!

Palazzo Massimo alle Terme

August 28, 2021

The exterior of Palazza Massimo is not so distinguished as its peaceful internal courtyard; this photo comes from http://www.rome-passion.com/

Our destination for that first morning, though, was the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, a nineteenth-century palace that houses an excellent sculpture collection. The site opened its doors to the public in 1998. If you’re puzzling over the map to find its entrance, I suggest you try the northwest side! (It was our third try.) Because we were visiting on a Saturday, we had access to the ground floor and the first floor above but not the second floor or the basement level. The means we were able to see the Portrait Gallery (sculpted heads), the Sculpture Gallery, and Bronzes and Ivories, but we didn’t get to see the Gallery of Paintings and Mosaics or the Coin and Medal collection. We hoped we might return on a different day, but Rome offers sooooo much!

These sculpted heads were crafted just before our Common Era began.

I was glad to see a collection of sculptures from the Republican period of Rome, though these older works are fewer in number than those representing Imperial Rome. One that stuck out for me was of a woman from the end of the 1st century BCE, when the Republic was giving way to the Empire. It was interesting to see that some women favored a hairstyle featuring a small knot (nodus) over the forehead plus a bun in back. The woman’s determined face was recognizable across the centuries!

Augustus as Chief of State and High Priest, all in one.

The statue of Augustus as Pontifex Maximus performing his religious duties was really stunning. I believe this might be one of the museum’s most famous pieces. We might not expect our greatest political leaders to also have religious roles to play today, but this was more common in the ancient world. It is a good reminder of how carefully Augustus crafted images of himself to cement his hold on power.

“Underground there lies a boxer and a fighter by his trade, and he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down and cut him till he cried out in his anger and his shame” with apologies to Simon and Garfunkel

Italy established a law that the nation owned artifacts that were found below ground. We saw a few items that had been deliberately buried to protect them from destruction, but the reason for this bronze boxer to have been buried is more ambiguous. He was found with a princely bronze six meters below the surface, perhaps intentionally to sanctify the structure. The boxer figure shows considerable artistry, with copper alloy detailing atop the bronze surface.

At left, Marcus Aurelius as emperor (National Roman Museum); at right, Marcus Aurelius as a young man (Palatine Museum). What do we see in common? That’s right, somebody really hated that man’s nose!

A Roman emperor I find particularly intriguing is Marcus Aurelius, whose Stoic masterwork “Meditations” marks him as a particularly self-conscious individual. His second-century (CE) reign was the last of the “five good emperors.” I was glad to see his sculpted head in the collection of the museum, originally featured at the “Golden Square” of Hadrian’s villa.

The Romans produced admirable marble reproductions of Greek bronzes, such as this Discobolo.

The fascination the Romans had for Greece and Hellenistic Culture definitely shines through at the museum. Their paired “Discobolo” statues show two very different attempts to reproduce in marble the Greek bronze by the same name from Myron from the fifth century BCE. The later example from the second century CE shows beautiful detailing of musculature and detail, while the fragmentary one from a few decades earlier is much cruder in execution.

Imagine the elephant who produced a tusk broad as a human head! The Romans called ivory “chryselephantine.”

Natasha was enraptured by a haunting face, executed in ivory. It was once part of a statue, probably with a wooden frame, where the exposed “flesh” of the statue was rendered in ivory while the clothing was produced in fabric and gold. The pieces on display were recovered by the Italian police in 2003 from looters who had been trying to sell the objects through an international art dealer; some pieces had already entered the United Kingdom but were repatriated once their origin was established.

Dioniso, from the Hadrianic period (117-138 CE)

Did you know that Roman statues didn’t all have blank eyes? This second century CE bronze is a rare example where the limestone elements for the whites of the eyes remain in place!

Sleeping Hermaphrodite was sculpted in the mid-second century CE from a mid-second century BCE original of the Asia Minor school.

I know that people from the trans community and from the non-binary community have faced discrimination from others who wrongly insist that civilization has always recognized people as exclusively males or females. I wanted to include two photographs of this beautiful statue of a sleeping hermaphrodite in response. It was a second century CE copy of a bronze from Asia Minor in the second century BCE.

The Portonaccio Sarcophagus, dating from 180-190 CE, was recovered near Tiburtina.

Natasha and I both marveled at the astonishing depth, craftsmanship, and drama of the Portonaccio Sarcophagus. We sat in the room for quite a while just gazing at it, seeing both the Roman army’s power illustrated as well as some empathy for the barbarians who were destroyed in the attack.

With that, Natasha and I had finished our first visit to the National Roman Museum. The Massimo location had a lot more for us to see on its two other floors, but they were not available to us on the day we visited.

Palazzo Altemps

September 2, 2021

Torso of a Satyr (Bigio marble, 2nd century CE) atop Funerary Urn (Luni marble, 1st century CE)

I want to be fair to the Palazzo Altemps, but I must admit my visit was tacked onto the end of a day visiting other sites, and Natasha decided to get some rest back at our lodgings rather than see the gallery. The fact that I could just wander over to the museum without much fuss is another testament to Natasha’s ability to pick the right place for us to lodge; the walk between the two was a mere 1.2 km (three-quarters of a mile).

Central courtyard of Altemps

I decided to make the trip because I thought some of the statues on display there seemed dramatic. Where the Massimo facility is a proper museum, with lots of historical context stitching together related displays and contextualizing them well, Altemps feels a bit more like a “gosh, that’s pretty!” kind of place. To give one example, a bust of Pharaoh Amenemhet III dating from the 19th century BCE stood atop a pillar with the label “Faraone;” for more detail, you consult a small printed sign that stands nearby. Many of these items came from private collections, and the details about their origins were assessed long after they had been removed from their original contexts.

If you were a wealthy Roman noble in 1612, you might want to construct a gorgeous church adjoining your palace. Church of the Blessed Virgin of Clemency and of St. Anicetus.

Like many buildings in Rome, the Altemps surrounds an inner courtyard, and the five-bay arcade on its north side is one of the most common images you will see for the mueum online. The building also features some other distinctive rooms, such as the Grand Hall of the Ludovisi Gaul with its monumental fireplace, the Church of the Blessed Virgin of Clemency and of St. Anicetus, and the room of the Painted Perspectives (all from the late 16th century CE).

Don’t drink and drive… on a super-size panther!

One of my takeaways from the Palazzo Altemps was that a given Roman statue may vary widely in the origin of its parts. Apparently many Roman statues featured sockets for updating the head. Naturally, if you invest significant money in a heroic statue of the emperor, it would only be prudent to replace its head to represent the new emperor when one takes office! One of the other surprises in store for me at Altemps was the information that Dionysus was occasionally thought by the Greeks to ride a panther!

At first glance, the Gaul is in heroic pose, but then you realize you are looking at a murder-suicide. Note, also, the monumental fireplace in that magnificent chamber!

The statue that proved decisive in bringing me to the Altemps was the Ludovisi Gaul. It may have been part of a pair with the “Dying Gaul” on display in the Capitoline Museums. It was part of the Ludivisi Collection, named for the 17th century cardinal who acquired them. The Gauls had quite a reputation for fierceness; this statue features a defeated warrior killing his wife and then himself. The original was probably a bronze from 240 BCE, but this marble was probably crafted two centuries later, perhaps even for the villa of Julius Caesar to celebrate his victory in Gaul.

The god Apis doesn’t seem to be a zebu cow!

This last image is an Egyptian statue in granodiorite from the second century BCE. Apis was a bull god, part of the cult of Isis. Because my lovely wife spent an entire semester learning about the introduction of cattle to Africa, I had to stop for a photograph. Look, Natasha, it has almost no shoulder hump!

Crypta Balbi

September 1, 2021

The demolition of a modern city block enabled its exploration two millenia into the past.

The last of the National Roman Musem sites is as different from the others as possible. Crypta Balbi is the best museum I have ever seen for explaining the concept of stratigraphy in archaeology, the idea that recent periods of use for an area leave their evidence atop layers from earlier periods. The museum documents more than two millennia of use for its neighborhood– because our lodgings lay on the other side of its “dig,” we were learning what had occupied our neighborhood over that long interval. Natasha simply says, “it’s the best museum in the chain!”

This fragment of a pilaster from the portico of the Theatre of Balbus stands several meters in height.

I have mentioned that our lodgings (and Crypta Balbi) were in an area called the Campus Martius (“Campo Manzio” in Italian). During the Roman Republic, it was outside the city walls. By the time of the empire, the area was very much part of the city. Lucius Cornelius Balbus, a consul born in Gades (Cadiz) whose career advanced through his relationship with Julius Caesar and then Augustus, created a theatre in Rome in 13 BCE. The Theatre of Balbus was the smallest of three theatres in the city but quite near to the other two (Theatre of Pompey Magnus and Theatre of Marcellus). The theatre was damaged in a fire during 80 CE, but it was restored. The term “crypta” refers to a colonnaded courtyard adjoining the theatre.

In the early Medieval, what might a workshop cast aside?

As the centuries passed, Rome suffered terribly from earthquakes, floods, and of course the misery of being sacked by the Visigoths under Alaric in 410 CE and then by the Vandals under Genseric in 455 CE. The eastern empire at Byzantium was forced to reconquer Rome in 553 CE. The ruins of the former theatre then hosted tombs and became a scrap heap from a neighboring workshop and then lime kilns in the 8th century.

Frescoes from chapel outside the church of St. Adrian

The Church of Santa Maria Domine Rose was built on the site of the former theatre in the 9th century. By the 16th century, this church was dedicated to Santa Caterina dei Funari, and its convent became a home for the daughters of prostitutes. I suggest the museum website for the full list of transitions. All of these stages left their own layers of artifacts in the rising level of the streets and city blocks. In 1981, a special law set aside this area for stratigraphic research, with the zone declared the property of the nation in 1983.

How widespread was international trade? We can ask which nations contributed amphorae of olive oil for a given period of the city’s discards.

I would recommend Crypta Balbi to anyone who wants to develop a sense for how history can shape a landscape. It may seem unimaginable that a few square blocks could play so many roles over the centuries, but the evidence is all here to be observed first-hand. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Conclusion

Summing up, it seems obvious that the four sites of the National Roman Museum offer quite a lot to help visitors understand the history of the Eternal city. If your interest emphasizes sculpture and metalwork, I would definitely recommend Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. If you prefer “history from below,” you must see Crypta Balbi! I would recommend Palazzo Altemps more for its structure than its works of art; it contains vivid examples of what wealth could construct in the 16th century.

Hamburg: the Museum for Hamburg History and the Alter Elbtunnel

Our walking path

Natasha and I can never resist a history museum, and so we decided to spend our Saturday visiting the Museum for Hamburg History. We headed for an area on the border of St. Pauli and the Hamburg Neustadt along the Elbe River. Helpfully, our hotel near Berliner Tor positioned us well for a train running directly to the Landungsbrücken (“Landing stages”) stop.

The type of stone used to build the landing structures is called “volcanic tuff.”

We emerged from the train station to see the waterfront. We had arrived around 9:30, and relatively few people were out and about. The stone landing buildings (constructed 1907-1909) are really pretty, and a modern promenade extends in either direction along the shore for quite some distance. The landing is two-thirds of a kilometer of length. We “bookmarked” the site, knowing we would want to return later in the day. For now, though, we wanted to reach the museum early in case we were only able to schedule our visit at a later time; neither Natasha nor I could determine how to purchase tickets from the website.

The 35-meter Bismarck Monument stands atop a catacomb of World War II air raid shelters.

We should have realized that marching to the museum would require us to climb quite a height above sea level. We huffed and puffed up the stairs to the Hotel Hafen Hamburg, but soon we realized we were on the wrong side of the ravine centered on Helgoländer Allee. We walked across the bridge of Seewartenstrasse to the east side. We thought we would walk north through the park there, but a heavily graffitied wall around construction pushed us further east. We had a tantalizing glimpse of an imposing white stone statue of Otto von Bismarck. When we reached it, we were looking across an active basketball court at Otto’s back. We had just another block or so to the museum, and Natasha was happy to spot berries growing wild at the side of the road.

Museum for Hamburg History

The Museum entrance

It is no mistake that the Museum for Hamburg History appears just east of a ravine; it was constructed atop the 17th century Henricus Bastion, part of the western wall protecting Hamburg from attack. The museum is run by the city, rather than the nation, and that makes it quite similar in role and administration to the Carnavalet Museum in Paris. The current structure was purpose-built for the museum (founded 1908), with construction spanning 1914-1922. You might imagine that other challenges were besetting Germany during this period of construction. I particularly like that the building incorporates elements saved from much older buildings that were destroyed or replaced in the period before it existed, some remaining from homes that were built in the sixteenth century!

If you’ve ever been curious about the phrase “breaking on a wheel…”
Some “miniatures” were much taller than I am!

From looking at a map, it might not be obvious that Hamburg is a marine city, but the Elbe River widens to an estuary (mixing area for salt and fresh water) just west of the city. As a bit of shorthand, we can find the boundary where an estuary becomes a river by asking where it was possible to build a bridge with medieval technology. For the Elbe River, that boundary is Hamburg. We often think of pirates as being special to the Caribbean Sea, but Hamburg was apparently the haunt of a great many medieval and early modern pirates. The museum exhibits a few skulls from that period, because the penalty for being a pirate was to have your skull nailed to the pier! The original dock area of Hamburg was relatively compact, but a light-show connected with a model of the docks illustrates just how much this harbor has been expanded over time, particularly as Hamburg became a key shipbuilding area during the World Wars. If you are a fan of miniatures, I would definitely say do not miss this museum, because it features them everywhere, particularly on its top floor display of a massive model train network.

I think we would have to pay quite a premium today to acquire a hand-painted pianoforte or harpsichord. Hamburg has featured some very prominent musicians over time.

I think many contemporary visitors to the museum will be a bit confused by a prominent seventeenth-century model of the Solomon’s Temple; it essentially gets a room by itself due to its size! In 1604, Juan Bautista Villalpando wrote a commentary on Ezekiel’s vision, trying to develop a fully-realized schematic for the Temple. For some architects of the period, Solomon’s Temple was considered the apogee of earthly design and as the reflection of the celestial temple. In 1680-1692, Gerhard Schott commissioned a scale model to be constructed in wood, lead, silver, leather, and gilt. It fascinates me that so much effort went into the realization of this model starting from fewer than 100 verses drawn from a book of the Old Testament!

This downscaled image from Wikiwand is a much cleaner image of the room-sized Temple of Jerusalem model; have I mentioned I loathe shooting photos through glass? In this case, the second story has been removed from the foreground wings to allow a better view of the temple itself.
This Wikiwand photograph emphasizes the temple proper at the center of the model.

The city history museum is well worth the time for a visit. I found it a little hard to stitch all its material into a single timeline in my my mind. I would find it difficult, for example, to answer a question like, “what events marked the biggest turning points in Hamburger history?” A question that frequently bothers me is, “why did the principalities, baronies, and free cities of Germany coalesce into a single nation relatively slowly?” I am not sure how to answer that even now.

St. Nicholas, carved in the early 16th century, was regarded as the patron saint of seafarers.

It is worth noting that the marked pathways in the museum anticipate that each visitor will follow a single path through all the displays of the museum. Because Natasha and I were skipping past some sections, we frequently found ourselves having to pass through doors that had been marked with “do not enter” signs since the museum wanted us to follow their prescribed route.

The inner atrium has been covered by a glass roof to create a pretty cool event space!

I have frequently explored topics in Jewish history on the blog, and I would say that the exhibits on the Jewish community of Hamburg were worth a look. Natasha and I spent a while exploring that area when I came across this sentence in an area with a schoolroom exhibit: “On June 30th, 1942 all teaching of Jewish schoolchildren was prohibited and those few Jewish pupils and teachers still living in Hamburg were almost all deported and put to death.” I don’t know what about that matter-of-fact statement affected me so much, but I had to sit down for a while. We humans must learn some lessons from our past to avoid destroying ourselves.

The Anglican Church, consecrated in 1838, was a nod to the English-speaking members of the Guild of Merchant Adventurers

Our museum visit had come to an end, and it was time for lunch! Natasha is a friend of phở, and she realized we were only a couple of blocks from a Vietnamese fusion restaurant called “Nom.” We had almost reached it when we stumbled upon the Anglican Church of Thomas à Becket— just as the Museum had reported, the church had few external features that announced it as a church, though more recently a gold cross had been emblazoned on its facade. The Vietnamese food was excellent, by the way. I had the chicken coconut curry soup and a jasmine tea. They really hit the spot!

St. Michael’s Church

Hauptkirche St. Michaelis

Since we were just a couple of blocks away from it, we decided to visit St. Michael’s Church. We did not brave the line to enter, but we did pause for a photo or two. An epic statue of St. Michael braining a demon stands above the main portal; it’s a particularly lurid design. Much more modestly, Martin Luther stands around the corner, facing a parking lot. At least, I think of him as more modest; the statue had him looking rather pompous!

Saint Michael and Martin Luther

Natasha and I descended once more to the waterfront. We followed a shaded path through the Michelwiese. Halfway down, we had quite a surprise when we encountered a statuesque head carved from stone, dubbed “Angelito,” that was brought here from Easter Island in 1999 (the image appears at the top of this blog post).

The park at Michelwiese

Alter Elbtunnel

The Hambuger Elbphilharmonie was constructed during 2007-2017 atop a 1963 brick warehouse in the Elbe River.

With only a little more walking, we had returned to the Elbe Waterfront. I paused for a photograph of the symphony hall, built with many delays and added expense atop a building at the west end of an island in the river.

Natasha and I walked along the waterfront toward the west. The sidewalk had become far more crowded by the early afternoon. We tried to merge with the traffic, but we had plenty of stops and starts as people sped up, slowed down, ducked in and out, or pushed bikes and strollers into the mix.

Gustav Adolf Church of Sweden, Hamburg, Germany

Rather suddenly, a cacophony broke loose on the road running alongside the jetty. A parade of decorated cars, flanked by police cars, protested the infringements of basic rights, perhaps agitated by enforced mask wearing or vaccine pressures from the government. For my part, I would really like it if people would follow public health guidance so this plague can finally end.

Another few steps forward, we encountered another protest, this time by vegans. I felt at least a bit sympathetic to their cause. What drew my eye, though, was that a protester was dressed in a shark onesie. Where do I sign to get my shark onesie?

North entrance to the Alter Elbtunnel

At long last, our feet brought us to the grand, round entrance hallway of the Alter Elbtunnel. The Old Elbe Tunnel was constructed during 1907-1911 to connect the St. Pauli waterfront to the Steinwerder shipyards. Today Hamburgers can use it any time of day to traverse the Elbe by bicycle or foot. Natasha and I opted to descend to the level of the tunnel by the stairs since it seemed a great press of people were using the large and small elevators. I don’t think we realized just how far down those stairs ran…

Looking downward at the stairs leading to the Elbtunnel
Looking upward from the Elbtunnel at the elevators in motion

The tunnel itself was not so different than one might expect, with tiled walls, a bike pathway down the middle, and pedestrian sidewalks on either side. If motor-powered traffic had ever been used for moving cargo this way, there’s little sign of it today. The massive elevator that drew us back up to ground level, though, was rated to handle 10,000 kg / 130 people!

If you have claustrophobia, you might avoid the Elbtunnel.

Since the tunnel was a bit claustrophobic, we thought we might take a ferry back across. We found the ticket machine at the landing, but it insisted on our paying the 6.80 euro in coins rather than card or notes. We didn’t have enough change in hand, so we trudged back toward the tunnel. Our return walk was less enthusiastic than our first pass. With our feet sending messages of unhappiness, we returned to the Landungsbrucken station. The ticket machines, however, had become quite uncooperative, arguing against my using a French bank card and then refusing to recognize my euro notes. Natasha and I piled in all of our change to acquire our tickets, and in no time flat we were back at Berliner Tor.

This skyline of Hamburg from the south side of the Elbtunnel shows Bismarck right by the Landungsbrücken tower at the left. St. Michael’s tower appears near the center.

Hamburg: Altstadt and Speicherstadt

Natasha and I briefly visited the city of Hamburg, poised at the mouth of the Elbe River. With just two days in Hamburg and one day in Lübeck, we had an admirable taste of maritime Germany! Natasha picked the Park Hotel for our stay, located in the Berliner Tor neighborhood, which gave us good access to both the airport and the main train station of Hamburg.

Our wander in Altstadt

Our first brush with the old town or “Altstadt” came in the evening hours of Saturday, August 14th. We started in the Rathausmarkt, the marketplace adjacent to the town hall. We hopped the subway from Berliner Tor to Jungfernstieg, a lakefront walk where the wealthy daughters of Hamburg could promenade in public. We came aboveground to discover a busy shopping area, but we turned toward the Rathaus, the first stop on our tour. We had a lovely surprise waiting for us. The Philharmonia was playing an open-air concert!

The Hamburg Rathaus is a bit of a fairy tale! The blue arc at left is the bandshell for the symphony performance.

The Rathaus was a beautiful site, with its high spire visible throughout most of the Altstadt. My eye decoded the outside as “Victorian,” and Natasha called it nineteenth century. Maiken Umbach noted that the design competition for the town hall took place in 1885, with a “Neo-Renaissance” exterior that featured twenty statues of emperors from the Holy Roman Empire. That high spire I admired shows the imperial eagle above the coat of arms for the City of Hamburg.

The passage behind the Rathaus allowed for a much closer inspection.

We followed a passageway between the Rathaus and the Chamber of Commerce behind it to find an enclosed plaza with an impressive fountain. As we exited the plaza, we were surprised to find a little fuel station at the exit! The Chamber of Commerce is pretty impressive in its own right, though the view of its facade (marked as “Handelskamer Hamburg”) is somewhat obscured by the construction taking place on the next building.

Who doesn’t like a stately chamber of commerce building?

Natasha reminded me that it was time for dinner, and she had located a restaurant that seemed a good prospect for gluten-safe food. We moved a couple of blocks northwest to the Bok Imbiss Cafe, located in a food court behind the mall space along Bleichenbrüke. We crossed the former city wall and then two canals in two blocks to reach the restaurant. It’s a reminder that Hamburg’s wealth came from maritime trade, and these inlets and canals (“Venice of the North”) produce a lot of surface area for businesses to access the water. I was also reminded of the incredible water channels in St. Petersburg.

That tower to the left belongs to the Alte Post building (1847).

The Bok Imbiss Cafe was an excellent choice! I enjoyed a teriyaki tofu and Natasha relished a lovely red Thai curry salmon salad. We still had a bit of light in the sky, so we continued our tour to the southeast. We reached the Trostbrücke bridge, the original of which was constructed in 1300 C.E. The bridge has a really cool pair of statues, one of Archbishop Ansgar and one of Count Adolf III, two figures associated with the origins of Hamburg. The bridge also offers a stellar view of some astonishing brick buildings, one of which features copper models of sailing ships at its crest.

This stately building appears to be the home of the F. Laeisz group of shipping companies. At lower left, you can see the archbishop’s statue.

When we passed those two buildings, we found another surprise. St. Nikolai Church occupies a site that has been home to a church since the late twelfth century. The current structure was constructed in 1874, but in 1943, the Allied bombing of Hamburg obliterated the building. I liked that the stabilized ruins have been turned into an art gallery of sorts and as a monument against war. For a couple years after its construction, the tower was the tallest building on earth, so it’s cool that people can visit its top to see the city from above (during business hours).

As the daylight fled, I captured an image of St. Nikolai, now a memorial against war and art gallery.

We exited the park to the west where we marveled at a massive pedestrian overpass with its own escalators. We struck out toward the Rathaus again to finish our tour since the light was fading. When we reached the city hall, the music from the symphony was reflected between buildings, so I paused to shoot a video while panning across the Rathaus exterior. Natasha and I strolled hand-in-hand to the waterfront, looking at the Binnenalster with its central fountain. it was a lovely image to savor at the heart of Hamburg.

Looking across the Binnenalster toward the headquarters of Hapag-Lloyd

The Kontorhausviertel and Speicherstadt

Our walking course was only a mile, but it crossed water six times!

Natasha and I resolved to spend more time learning about Hamburg’s trade history. The following morning (Sunday), she and I set out for the Speicherstadt, the “warehouse city” of Hamburg. Starting from the Meßberg underground station, our first priority was finding a quality cup of coffee for Natasha. It seems a bit of an oversight now, but we turned our backs on the Chocoversum, the chocolate museum of Hamburg, in search of a cafe.

Much of the Hontorhausviertel is constructed in “clinker” bricks, but I think the building housing the chocolate museum is constructed of more conventional ones.

We were happy to find ourselves in the middle of an historic area, the Kontorhausviertel (office building quarter), where massive buildings to support Hamburg’s commerce were established in the early twentieth century. We particularly liked the Chilehaus, designed by architect Fritz Höger and constructed in 1922-1924. It’s a fine example of “Brick Expressionism” for that era, with an acute corner like the prow of a ship!

The Chilehaus was named for the trade that won Henry Brarens Sloman his fortune; he imported saltpeter from Chile.

Right next door in the Sprinkenhof (constructed between 1927 and 1943), we found our cafe. Natasha and I arrived in the middle of Sunday Brunch, which looked pretty tasty! Nonetheless, we limited ourself to coffee and tea, and we enjoyed the happy patter of relaxed munchers around us. I was pretty impressed by a copy of the “Kontorhaus Journal,” a glossy publication detailing the businesses in the area.

This photo of the Speicherstadt warehouses was taken from a bridge on Bei St. Annen since the sun was shining when I crossed that one!

Natasha and I crossed the Wandrahmsteg (bridge from 1962) to the Speicherstadt, getting a pretty good view of the trend-setting building for Der Spiegel. The Speicherstadt itself is an artificial island created by driving oak piles into the riverbed. The motivation was the occasion of Hamburg’s joining the German Empire in 1888. Since the free port would be excluded from import sales taxes and customs, Hamburg was very motivated to have its warehouses located in the free port. They responded by building a massive warehouse district between 1883 and 1927. World War II’s Operation Gomorrah destroyed the western section of the warehouse district in 1943 (along with much of the rest of the city). The operation was notable for its use of “chaff” to prevent radar detection of the bomber wings bringing incendiary and high explosive bombs to the city. To talk about the military technology or loss of buildings is beside the point, though. The 9000 tons of bombs dropped in this operation resulted in more than 37,000 fatalities, largely civilians.

The misty morning supplied some drama to the warehouse district.

I was taken by an interesting museum at the northeastern end of Alter Wandrahm. The “Dialog House” has exhibits dedicated to enabling participants with normal sight to experience the world from the perspective of guides who lack sight. If we had more time in Hamburg, I would have liked to have tried it. Instead, we crossed to Brooktorkai and walked southwest to the Fleetschlösschen restaurant. We might have continued down that route to reach Miniatur Wunderland, but we hadn’t reserved tickets weeks in advance as would be necessary! We might have taken in the Maritime Museum, but we had other plans. We turned back to the northwest to cross on Bei St. Annan, because we knew our next destination. It was time for the coffee museum!

I believe the building with the copper domes is the headquarters for HHLA Hamburger Hafen und Logistik. It is rather pretty.

Coffee Museum

Since the late nineteenth century Hamburg and its free port had become the main hub for importing green coffee to central Europe. In the huge warehouse district, around two hundred coffee merchants at a time occupied the Sandtorkai, their offices and the coffee exchange just a short walk away from the city center, the town hall, and the chamber of commerce.

German History as Global History: The Case of Coffee by Dorothee Wierling in German History in Global and Transnational Perspective, edited by David Lederer (2017)

The Burg coffee roastery has been based near its current address since 1923. It’s a lovely place to stop for coffee, and we saw lots of lovely gifts that family members might enjoy. I was tempted to try one of the coffees, but I am really a tea person at heart. Natasha lingered over a cup of Burundian roast, with a smile that would not leave her face. I munched my way through a lovely chocolate cake with mighty chunks of pear.

This portable coffee making kit includes a roaster and spice kit.

The outstanding aspect of the roastery, however, is that it sits above a museum of coffee history. Helpfully, the museum starts the story long before Hamburg was involved. It was my first time to learn of the “dancing goat” legend, of Ethiopian shepherds who saw strange behavior from goats eating from particular bushes. Gradually the coffee bean migrated outward from the sahel, particularly once Arabian trade began featuring the commodity. Portuguese and then Spanish traders moved cultivation much farther afield, to east Asia, Brazil, Guatemala, and many other places. We might today think of Central America as the natural home of coffee production, but cultivation on a large scale there only began in the 1840s.

Early espresso makers brought Italian style to Germany.

Hamburg’s connection with coffee is tied to the rapid industrialization that took place in Germany throughout the 19th century. Coffee was a means to an end by early capitallists: “Coffee turned out to be ideal because of the enormous advantages of its triple effect: it helped workers stay awake, it apparently muted hunger and it optimized the capitalist goal of raising profits by increasing worker output. On the downside, coffee masked medical problems and exhaustion, causing premature worker death.” (Justus Fenner 2013)

An early professional-grade high-pressure coffee maker of contemporary type

Hamburg’s enviable position in maritime trade had persisted for centuries, and by the 1860s, coffee had become the most valuable agricultural product imported into its harbor. “The strategy of the Hanseatic coffee firms to assure steady profits had three components. First, they would step up importation of low-quality coffee from Brazil. At the same time, they would make a direct incursion into high-quality coffee production in order to control that part of the coffee commodity chain. Third, they would create a bifurcated consumer market in Germany, where more profitable sales of high-quality coffee would compensate the lower prices and potential risks of importing lower grade coffee.” (Justus Fenner 2013)

Turn-of-the-century grinders or roasters

In many respects, Germany was a Johnny-come-lately to colonization. Its merchants, however, found ways to benefit from Guatemala’s openness to external investment. After Guatemalan coffee gained a reputation for high-end coffee exports, German firms gained control of existing plantations within the country and cultivated new ones. Hamburg had soon become the pre-eminent supplier of coffee to Central Europe.

Natasha and I wandered north to Hauptkirche Sankt Petri, close to the Rathaus. At last the sun had come out, and we were able to enjoy our wander from the harbor to the old town in style.

The Hauptkirche Sankt Petri is our beacon back to the old town.

Grande Galerie de l’Évolution and Masala Dosas

Even people who live in dramatic world cities have a sleepy Sunday now and then. Natasha, being mindful of my banged-up knee, suggested that we take on a mild walk in the Jardin des Plantes, a public garden we had first seen in the heaviest snow day that we’ve had in Paris! The natural history museum there was hosting a special exhibition of cut and uncut precious stones that had drawn her eye. She purchased tickets online, and soon we were on our way!

Our wander, segment 1

We rode line 8 to La Motte-Picquet Grenelle and then transfered to line 10, which passes through my favorite Saint-Germain-des-Prés district before reaching Gare d’Austerlitz. We were able to find the exit dropping us directly across the street from the Jardin des Plantes. I would give kudos to the McDonald’s site planner who realized that corner was a hot property.

The entrance to the Gallery of Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy also featured a cool stegasaurus bronze, just around the corner.

We entered the park by its south-eastern corner. We first encountered the entrance to the Galerie de Paléontologie et d’Anatomie Comparée (Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy). We were interested in natural history, but this wasn’t the museum for which we’d bought tickets! We continued onwards and saw an amazing array of colored blossoms, spreading just as far as the eye could see. The Jardin des Plantes had been transformed since we first saw it in January!

What a nice place to meander on a sunny day! What a nice place to shelter when rain drops suddenly appear!

As I have mentioned before, the parks of Paris are designed for active use, not passive looking. The many parallel paths of the Jardin des Plantes had plenty of families in motion along with many joggers. The tree-lined paths bracketed a central green just packed with little patches of flowers, each with helpful labels.

The sunlight was answered in these tiny eyes, staring at the sky.

Natasha paused before a lovely space packed with warm colors. “Which of these flowers do we have planted at Turtle House?” she inquired. I picked at my collar nervously, having failed to study for the quiz. “Marigolds!” I suddenly ventured, pointing my finger. “Yes,” she replied, “and calendulas and zinnias, too!”

The massive Grande Galerie de l’Évolution is the centerpiece lying at one end of the extensive flowerbeds.

Moments later, a few sprinkles fell from the sky, and so we made a more concentrated effort to reach the museum entrance. I was distracted once again when I saw the Galerie de Géologie et de Minéralogie, but ironically that was not the location for the precious stones exhibit. We continued just a bit further to the entrance of the Grande Galerie de l’Évolution.

The Great Gallery of Evolution

We encountered a great disappointment when we entered the line for the precious stones special exhibition. Due to our misunderstanding the ticketing options, we had acquired tickets for the permanent exhibition of the museum but not for the precious stones. Compounding the problem, we learned that no more tickets were available for the special exhibition for today. It’s the sort of thing we would have caught if we had planned this visit earlier than this morning! We were crestfallen but continued into the exhibition space.

The Grand Gallery of Evolution lives up to its name!

If you have ever explored a natural history museum crammed with small glass boxes with dusty taxidermy animals inside, please push that thought out of your mind. The Grand Gallery of Evolution occupies a building of 97,000 cubic meters, similar to the volume of Notre Dame Cathedral. Its three upper floors cover land animals, while the ground floor features sea life (it is below the floor you see in the image above). The panels in the ceiling change color from moment to moment, sometimes emulating thundershowers to accompany a soundtrack. It’s a surprisingly open indoor space.

Can’t visit Africa? It will come to you!

Natasha and I felt right at home as we examined the beasts in the parade down the first floor, titled “the diversity of living things: terrestrial environments.” We were surprised to see just how many African beasts were represented in the parade. Since I am writing a manuscript on the spotted hyena right now, I was very happy to see that the taxidermy collection included both a striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena) and spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta), though I did not see a brown hyena or aardwolf.

At the left, we have the striped hyena. At the right, we have the spotted hyena. I would not wish to tangle with either.

I would draw special attention to a side gallery that appears on the second floor. “Menaced species, disappeared species” shows that man has become a factor in evolution, adding our unnatural selection to natural selection, both by hunting and by destruction of habitat.

It seems unlikely you will ever see any of these species in the wild.

This gallery of extinct and threatened animals is a hard one to visit, knowing that some of these species will soon fade from memory as no animals of those species remain in the wild. Since the logo used to mark each case was a dodo, I was disappointed that no dodo skeleton or taxidermy was on display; I believe that one was previously visible at the entrance to this hall, though it seems to be absent for now. The roll call is extensive, from California condors (fewer than 100 remaining) to Cape Lions (an example of which appears at the lower left in the image above). I particularly loved the Eurasian Lynx, a feline you would have to seek in Asia today.

The Eurasian Lynx can be found in some regions of Asia, but in France, it appears the last sighting was in the 1970s in the Pyrenees Mountains.

A surprising artifact in the extinction hall was a beautifully machined clockwork installed at the Versailles Petit Trianon chapel in 1785 for Marie-Antoinette. It didn’t stay there long, since the Revolutionary government decided to move the machine to the museum in 1794.

This is a gharial. Farewell, peaceful sleep!

I don’t think I would give you a complete account of the museum without mentioning some fresh material for my nightmares. The museum held two different stuffed gharials. That name didn’t mean very much to me, but these are crocodilians that grow up to six meters in length (just under 20 feet). The animals living in Southeast Asia have become critically endangered, with fewer than 1000 remaining in the wild. Some populations are being maintained in the upper reaches of the Ganges River, though. It is important to remember that non-cuddly animals deserve to live, too.

This is a Southern right whale. Does that mean she has a Confederate flag on her truck? No! It does mean, however, that those brown “strings” hanging from her skull are “baleen,” enabling her to filter krill from sea water for food.

…and some lovely extras

The Great Mosque, along with its 26-meter minaret, was inaugurated in 1926.

Ever since I saw that the Great Mosque of Paris was next door to this museum, I have wanted a proper photograph of its minaret. Today the sunlight was beautiful and the cloudy skies were dramatic. I finally had my image!

I rejoined Natasha in the garden, and we would have lingered there if another cloudburst hadn’t come on-scene. We paused at the garden exit (where we had entered earlier) when we realized that the French had erected a statue to the founder of the doctrine of evolution. You might have expected to see Charles Darwin up there, but no, it was a majestic statue of Lamarck! Well, he had the benefit of being fifty years earlier and of being French. We’ll let that one slide.

This image of Chennai Dosa next to Gare du Nord is from a user at Tripadvisor.

Even though Natasha and I had fortified ourselves with brunch before we started our adventure, we knew we would be ready for proper food when we finished our adventure. We boarded the metro again, but this time we used line 5 to move from Gare d’Austerlitz to Gare du Nord. Generally we crave masala dosa, and sometimes WE CRAVE MASALA DOSA! It was our second visit to Chennai Dosa, and we emerged with happy bellies.

A twenty-minute constitutional was just what we needed after a dose of dosa.

It’s not really straightforward to take the metro from Gare du Nord to our place, so we decided to walk off the dosas with a little constitutional down to the Bonne Nouvelle metro station on line 8. Our route was not very demanding since we we needed to toddle down Rue la Fayette, make a turn south on Rue d’Hauteville, and then stop when we ran out of road.

Saint-Vincent-de-Paul’s prominence benefits from being built on a small hill.

I had a bit of a problem when that turn to the south arrived, though. My attention was drawn by the lovely facade of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul. We had encountered the church only at a distance before; it’s a pretty prominent landmark to the left as one looks toward the city center from Sacré-Cœur atop Montmartre. I was fascinated to learn that this church was constructed on the site of the Saint-Lazare enclosure, which once served as a half-way house for wayward members of aristocratic families before it became a prison during the French Revolution. The current church only began construction in 1824.

I may be mistaken, but the Bonne Nouvelle metro station seems a little scruffier than others in the network.

Natasha and I ambled south, occasionally peeking back at the church as framed by the concrete canyon surrounding us. Rue d’Hauteville was a nice place to walk, since the cross streets were all minor and ground-floor businesses didn’t project into the road. When we reached its terminus at Boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle (my brain always translates this as “Good News”), we realized we were in proximity to three notable sites: La Esquinita Mexican Grocery, the Chocolate Museum, and our metro stop. Turning neither right nor left, we immediately descended for our ride home. Our nap awaited!

Carnavalet: a museum dedicated to Paris of the past

Despite being hell-bent upon reshaping Paris to reflect a new French Empire, Baron Haussmann was also responsible for creating a new institution to honor the city’s past. For my brother Tom’s first full day in France, Natasha and I decided that a visit to Musée Carnavalet was the best way to introduce him to the city.

Louis XIV offers a hand to the queue of tourists at Museum Carnavalet.

Our 20 minute walk down from Place de la République was rather beautiful, taking us by the Temple and then the National Archives. We had a lovely exit path, too, passing Place des Vosges, the Hôtel de Sully, and Rue Saint-Antoine. It is hard to go wrong in a city full of monuments! We arrived at the museum right on time after a picnic lunch on a park bench; Paris museums are requiring booked arrivals to ensure the concentration of guests is not too large for plague conditions.

In the days before widespread literacy, shops would be remembered by the imaginative signs they hung outside.

The Carnavalet Museum is distinctive in that it is operated by Museums of the City of Paris, along with the Petit Palais and the Catacombes and others, rather than the National Museums of France, which operates heavy-hitters like the Louvre and Versailles. The initial building housing the museum dates from 1544, though it had substantial additions in 1654 under noted architect Francois Mansart. I enjoyed the oddity of the name Carnavalet being a distortion of the name “Kernevenoy,” an owner of the building back in 1572. In the late 1980s, the museum doubled its exhibition space by incorporating the adjoining Hôtel le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau. The latter is a spring chicken by comparison; it was only constructed in 1686!

A pleasant courtyard near the museum entrance

The City of Paris decided in 1866 to create a museum of its own history. The odd contrast is that this period was one filled with destruction throughout the city. Seine Prefect Baron Haussmann was the perfect instrument of Napoleon III for reshaping Paris during the Second Empire. The emperor wanted wide, straight boulevards, and Haussmann was perfectly willing to bulldoze existing structures to create them. I guess we should be grateful that Haussmann thought it might be worth storing engravings, paintings, and photographs of the Paris he was actively destroying? It is probably no mistake that the Carnavalet Museum houses a painting of Haussmann that takes up an entire wall. Perhaps if Haussmann hadn’t spent in excess of 2.5 billion francs on renovations, the City of Light wouldn’t shine so brightly.

The exhibits

Plan de Paris by Tamburini (between 1632 and 1641)– image downscaled from http://www.parismuseescollections.paris.fr

I would highlight just a few things that made me feel really happy in the Museum. The first was a 17th century painting of Paris itself by Tamburini. I get absolutely fixated on historic maps, and it was lovely to see this one up close. It measures roughly two meters wide and 1.5 tall, so one can make out many landmarks that are now lost (such as the Temple) and others that were not yet in place (such as the Champs-Élysées).

La joute des mariniers, entre le pont Notre-Dame et le pont au Change by Raguenet– image downscaled from http://www.parismuseescollections.paris.fr

I also loved the paintings, drawings, and models of the Pont Notre-Dame (a Seine bridge at a spot that has always had a bridge), showing the bridge absolutely littered with people’s homes and businesses. In 1499, the bridge had collapsed since its structure couldn’t properly be maintained against periodic floods. The image above pictures the bridge in 1756; just thirty years later all of these buildings were demolished. The bridge was then rebuilt in stone (1853), but that structure caused a lot of accidents for boats passing beneath it. The metal bridge currently in place was constructed in 1919.

This Harlequin statue guarded the Théâtre de Séraphin for years.

At first glance, the figure above might appear to be in blackface. Instead, his face covering is a leather mask. He represents Harlequin, a servant from the Italian popular theatre at the Palais Royal. Italian comedy had reached France by 1603, and commedia dell’arte became a big deal across all of Europe.

The Revolution, at last

David, Jacques-Louis (1748-08-30 – 1825-12-29), Serment du Jeu de paume, le 20 juin 1789, 1791. Huile sur toile. Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris– image downscaled from http://www.parismuseescollections.paris.fr

Okay, I got distracted. Our goal in visiting the museum was to show my brother Tom exhibits from the time of the French Revolution. Happily, the museum sets aside quite a lot of space for this period, powered by the 1881 donated collection of Comte Alfred de Liesville. The painting above by J-L David represents the “Tennis Court Oath,” where deputies of the National Assembly began negotiating a constitution for the Republic of France. If you have ever been in student government, I dare you to imagine yourself in this place without cringing.

If you liked this Bastille carved from Bastille, you might also like a Bastille facade to hang on your wall, or a Bastille-themed oven, all at the Museum Carnavalet!

Of course I love remnants of the past, and I absolutely salivated at this model of the Bastille. What makes it special? This was carved from one of the stones that comprised the real thing! Pierre-Francois Pallow, the fellow who won the contract to demolish the obsolete fortress, decided to carve 83 of the blocks into replicas. One was sent to each department of France. Who knows how much that cost on shipping!

Have I mentioned how much I dislike photographing artifacts behind glass?

Natasha always spots the best stuff, and this time I mean the worst. These earrings were manufactured around 1880, almost a century after the French Revolution. Wasn’t it obvious that they were in bad taste? Yes, those are royal heads dangling from the bottom.

Portrait of singer Simon Chenard in the costume of a sans-culotte flag bearer by L-L Boilly– image downscaled from http://www.parismuseescollections.paris.fr

I have seen the term “sans-culotte” used to describe the politically-minded members of the laboring class during the revolution. I found this 1792 painting of a sans-culotte by L-L Boilly to be strangely affecting. I am reflexively opposed to populists who try to whip up unthinking mobs and the people who let themselves be used by populists. On the other hand, it is clear that the people of France had been horribly used for centuries. For many of them, joining the Revolution must have seemed the only option to a better life.

Marie-Antoinette au Temple, by Prieur (~1793)– image downscaled from http://www.parismuseescollections.paris.fr

Natasha was moved by a recreation of the final room in which Queen Marie-Antoinette was imprisoned. I also liked a painting of her ostensibly created in her last days of life.

Couthon’s 18th century wheel chair

This wheel chair was probably constructed around 1780 for Georges Couthon, a paraplegic deputy to the Convention who helped unify the revolutionary movement (“La République est une et indivisible”). Eventually he became President of the Assembly. His life, along with that of Robespierre, was snuffed out on 28 July, 1794.

Pay no attention to your eyes; my brother is taller than Napoleon was!

Of course, the Revolution itself soon surrendered power to Napoléon I, who soon gained total control over Republican France, reorganizing it as an Empire. I couldn’t help but take my brother’s photo with this 1809 painting of the emperor by Robert Lefèvre.

Fouquet boutique by Mucha

We had a great time in the Museum Carnavalet. I may need to sneak up there for another look when I have fresh legs! I want another look at the Georges Fouquet art nouveau boutique by Mucha and examine the antiquities down in the basement…

Legacy of the Templars and the Benedictines in Paris

Northeastern Paris offers two sites with immense religious heritage that are all but invisible today. I would like to step back in time a few centuries to the heydays of the Saint-Martin-des-Champs Priory and the Old Temple Quarter, just a few blocks southwest of Place de la République. What has become of these ancient sites?

Saint-Marin-des-Champs (red box to the west) and the Temple Quarter (red box to the east) have each taken on new roles in today’s Paris.

My first chance to wander through the Temple Quarter came when my big brother Tom visited Paris last month. He wanted to see parts of the city that related to the French Revolution, and so we planned a bit of a saunter through the northeastern area of the city:

  • Place de la République, which hosts an admirable timeline on its monument for the chief events of this period,
  • the Temple, which served as a prison for the royal family before their executions,
  • the Carnavalet Museum, which tells the history of Paris with great coverage for the revolution period, and
  • the Bastille, which was the site of one of the Revolution’s most dramatic events.

The Temple Quarter

A late 18th century maquette of the Temple Quarter from the Carnavaelt Museum. We are looking north.

The Temple Quarter takes its name from the Knights Templar, a Catholic organization founded in 1119 CE to protect pilgrims on their way to and from the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem after the city was captured during the First Crusade (1099 CE). The initial home of this order was on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, but the knights were compelled to move their headquarters repeatedly when Jerusalem was recaptured by Muslim armies under Saladin in 1187 CE. Generous gifts of land and money fueled the growth of the Templars, and their 1139 CE settlement in the marshy area to the northeast of Paris’ city hall (“Marais” means “marsh”) rapidly transformed it into a rich farm, supported with windmills just outside the Porte du Temple.

This 19th century map of the Temple Quarter shows the Palace of the Prior with its U-shaped court (labeled “IV”), the donjon keep (four black dots joined in a square), and the church of Saint-Marie du Temple, which incorporated a rotunda design to resemble the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

When the Latin Kingdoms of the holy land were lost, the Temple Quarter became a European headquarters for the order. The Temple Quarter had considerable autonomy, as the Templars were not accountable to the King of France. That was acceptable to Philippe Augustus and to “Saint” Louis IX, but it was not to Philip IV “the Fair” (r. 1285-1314 CE). In 1307, he arrested the leaders of the Templars and subjected them to torture and trials. When the last of them were burned at the stake in 1314, the pyre was apparently at the western point of the Île de la Cité, near Place Dauphine. The Temple Quarter then became a home for the Knights Hospitallers, ironically a rival branch of Catholic knights from the Crusades. Over time, the Temple Quarter shifted from farmlands to the urban landscape shown in the maquette above.

This 18th century engraving by J. B. Rigaud looks east toward the palace of the prior. See also his view from inside the gates.

I would highlight two buildings of this complex. The palace of the prior, constructed by François Mansart in the 1660s, was the large building at the lower left corner of the maquette shown above. A horseshoe-shaped court draws attention to the building. At first, however, it was surrounded by gardens, as in the 17th century engraving below by Israel Silvestre.

The Palace of the Prior was grand, but it could not match the height of the donjon (great tower) of the Temple.

The donjon of the Temple, dating to the 13th century, made the most lasting impression on the citizens of Paris. As we saw at the Bastille, small bumps mark the outline of this tower on the pavement in front of the city hall for the third arrondissement of Paris. Because the royal family was held here before their execution in the French Revolution, it became a site of pilgrimage for royalists. That was intolerable to Napoleon I, so he ordered its destruction in the first decade of the 19th century.

A 1792 engraving. The text translates roughly to “people stare wide-eyed at the sight of these towers of the Temple containing Louis XVI and his family.”
The altar of Sainte-Élisabeth de Hongrie

On our walk through the Temple, we paused at the Church of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, just across the street from the former Temple Enclosure. The church, consecrated in 1648, for some time retained some works of art relating to the zenith of the Temple Quarter. I was glad my brother could see this church, since even humble parish churches in Europe are pretty eye-popping. I could almost hear the thoughts in his head, “this is older than my home country!”

The Square du Temple is a lovely place to relax in front of the 3rd Arrondissement town hall.

When we reached the Square of the Temple itself, you might ask what remains of the medieval Temple enclosure. The answer is… nothing. Today the square is a park of grassy lawns and a lovely reservoir. The other day, however, Natasha and I returned to this spot. We had arrived just as a tremendous street market was closing up. The market is linked to two locations nearby. Le Carreau du Temple was formerly a big cloth market, just northeast of the Square du Temple. The Marché des Enfants Rouges (market of the red children) is the oldest surviving covered market area in Paris, dating from 1615. It looked like a delightful place to shop and eat, if only we had had enough energy!

The Priory of Saint-Martin-des-Champs

An arithmetical machine for counting money, courtesy of Blaise Pascal (1645)

The reason we were out of energy was that we were coming from the Musée des Arts et Métiers, housed in a former Benedictine Priory just a few blocks to the west of the Temple. This museum of scientific and technological arts has one of the best collections I have ever seen! It particularly emphasizes great French innovators, such as Blaise Pascal, Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier, Ferdinand Berthoud, Léon Foucault, Augustin-Jean Fresnel, Léon Bollée, Jacques Vaucanson, Louis-Nicolas Robert, Jules Hardouin-Mansart, the Lumière brothers, Louis-Jacques Mandé Daguerre, Clément Ader, Nicolas Joseph Cugnot, and a host of others. All of these are represented by personal instruments, measurement standards, precision machinery, clockworks, cars, and even airplanes.

Natasha said she would be willing to try Otto’s Safety Bicycle (1879)

Given that the Paris skyline so prominently features the masterpiece of Gustave Eiffel, it is perhaps not so huge an omission that his name is not widely seen at the museum (he shows up as having helped August Bartholdi in creating the massive “Statue of Liberty Lighting the World” by building its iron skeleton). I was grateful that American pioneers also made an appearance, with prominent exhibits from Seymour Cray, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford. The museum sits cheek-by-jowl by the Arts et Métiers ParisTech, an engineering school dating from 1780 that has long led France’s efforts in mechanization and industrialization.

The chevet of Saint-Martin-des-Champs guards the entryway for the museum.

Given that this entire city block is given over to science and technology, it might be surprising to realize that this entire complex occupies the ground of the second-oldest church still standing in Paris (it was constructed just after Saint-Germain-des-Prés). The structure of Saint-Martin-des-Champs was first consecrated in 1067 CE for the Canons Regular by King Philippe I; the “des-Champs” part reflects that the church was build in the fields lying to the northeast of the city of Paris. I think it’s pretty funny that both London and Paris feature churches dedicated to Saint Martin in an area of the current city that was previously agricultural lands.

Western facade of Saint-Martin-des-Champs

At first the church design was essentially Romanesque. Two notable changes to its structure came in 1135 CE, when the chevet was rebuilt in a precursor to the Gothic style (much like Saint-Pierre-de-Montmartre), and in 1455 CE, when its western facade was changed to a flat plane from its previous porch design. The thirteenth century saw the nave rebuilt on grander scale. Saint-Martin-des-Champs was constructed right on the boundary between the worlds of the Romanesque and of the Gothic.

Looking west from the chevet into the nave at Saint-Martin-des-Champs

Today, however, we encounter the nave of the church as the final display area of the museum. From the highest point of the ceiling a Foucault pendulum gently swings, showing evidence of the Earth’s rotation, and three different airplanes are suspended nearby. A grand piano was roped off in the axial chapel. The colors of the nave interior are quite lovely, reminding us that churches are not required to be dun and bland inside.

Looking east from the nave into the chevet at Saint-Martin-des-Champs

Nonetheless, it is clear that Saint-Martin-des-Champs is no longer a church. I was grateful I could spend a moment imagining it in an earlier time.

Étienne Martellange left us this 17th century drawing of the priory of Saint-Martin-des-Champs at its height.

That is why I am glad we have images from the distant past to remind us of those times. The drawing above comes from 1630 CE. In 1079 CE, the church was given to the Benedictine order, particularly to the Cluny community (the same group that built the medieval mansion over Roman baths on the left bank). As a “daughter of Cluny,” Saint-Martin gained a belltower and a chapel by the early twelfth century. In the thirteenth century an adjoining refectory and dining hall was also constructed (today the dining hall houses the library of the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers).

This map from 1742 shows the extent of Saint-Martin-des-Champs Priory after Paris had grown to surround it.

Unlike the Temple, the buildings of Saint-Martin-des-Champs have remained intact and unified in purpose. Of course, training the next generations of the science and technology community is a rather different mission than serving as a home for the Benedictine order in the capital! The surprising proximity of the Temple to Saint-Martin-des-Champs (just about three blocks) contributed a structure to this area of Paris. When Philippe Auguste constructed his wall around the city in the thirteenth century, these two districts contributed neighboring gateways in the wall: Porte St. Martin (late 12th century) and Porte du Temple (completed in 1280 CE).

Porte Saint-Martin (1674), as viewed from the south

Today, however, it would be very easy to travel through this area of Paris and see little more than another old church and another pretty park. I am glad to have had the chance to examine each a little more closely!

The Louvre and Tuileries Palaces: a six-hundred year project

Royal and Imperial palaces don’t simply sprout from the Earth. They start with a ruler, someone with enough money, manpower, real estate, and administrative skill to follow through on an a perceived need. As with all buildings, the role a palace plays over time can change quite substantially. Drawing from the immense library of images at the National Library of France, I hope to sketch a history that explains how the palatial complex spanning the Louvre and Tuileries palaces was completed in the 19th century after its humble beginnings at the start of the 13th century.

The Philippe Augustus Walls and thirteenth century Paris (from Atlas of Ancient Plans of Paris)

Philippe II “Augustus” of France (r. 1190-1223) had a problem. He wanted to leave on the Third Crusade with Richard I “the Lionheart” of England, but ongoing tensions between the two suggested that his absence would leave his capital at Paris vulnerable to attack by the Angevin Empire (ironically led by Richard the Lionheart). His solution was straightforward: build a wall to surround the prosperous main part of the city on the right bank and another to surround the less urbanized area of the city on the left bank. Because he was concerned about an attack from the northwest, he needed a fortress to protect that approach to the city. If we think of the Philippe Augustus walls as a circle, the Louvre guarded the ring at “10 o’clock.” Keep in mind that the Champs-Élysées were agricultural lands rather than a boulevard at the start of the thirteenth century– the name quite literally means “the fields of elysium!”

The thirteenth-century Louvre, as rendered by Jean-Claude Golvin.

The original Louvre fortress, completed around 1202, covered a small fraction of the area occupied by today’s museum. If we cast aside the long galleries extending to the west, what remains is the Cour Carrée, or square court. The original fortress covered approximately the southwest quarter of today’s square court; the only remnants of the north and east walls that can be seen today are underground. I was surprised to learn that the roughly square wall was dotted by an off-center, massive, round “donjon” tower, probably around 31 meters in height. The tower endured 300 years, but it was demolished in the 1527 renovations by Francois I.

The base of the donjon can be viewed in an underground gallery of the Louvre Museum; this panorama was pasted together from four photographs.

Between 1589 and 1789, considerable additions to the fortress transformed the Louvre into a palace rather than a fortress. Francois I had set the ball in motion during his Renaissance renovations by Lescot to create an enlarged square court. His personal art collection, in fact, became the nucleus of the future museum’s collection.

The facade of the Louvre, as it appeared in 1830.
This 19th century drawing by Jean-Arnould Leveil connects the Tuileries (bottom) to the Louvre (top) with planned galleries.

I have previously written about Marie des Medicis, who created the Palais de Luxembourg. Just 51 years before, Catherine des Medicis launched an even more ambitious project when she commissioned the Palais de Tuileries, a Renaissance mansion to the west of the Louvre. Her ambition for this palace was that it would be connected at either end to the Louvre by long galleries, creating a vast palace precinct stretching all the way from today’s Avenue du Général Lemonnier to Rue de l’Amiral de Coligny. To the west, her royal Tuileries gardens would continue to today’s Place de la Concorde.

An image of the Louvre gallerie along the Seine from the Bisson brothers, published in 1853.
This 1847 drawing of the Palais de Tuileries by G. Gobaut shows it in its heyday.

Only part of Marie des Medicis’ vision for the two palaces would be realized before the French Revolution in 1789. The Grande Gallerie along the Seine was constructed between 1595 and 1610. Its great length saw it used as an art gallery for the royal collection, but its collection of topographic maps for various cities was intended for military use rather than as art per se. That collection is now on display in the Musée de Plan-Reliefs.

This 1824 image of the Tuileries throne room under Louis XVIII shows its opulence.

The French Revolution, of course, had a tremendous impact on the Louvre and the Tuileries. For the first three years of the revolution, the king and queen were jailed at the Tuileries. The Louvre, however, was refounded as a museum by the legislative assembly in 1792 and opened to the public in 1793 by the national convention.

This historic map shows the different developments to link the Louvre (at right) with the Tuileries (at left).

Even though the French empires came to power by the failure of democratic governments (in 1809 and 1852), both Napoleon I and Napoleon III sought to buttress their legitimacy by borrowing royal symbols. The two emperors altered the Louvre and the Tuileries quite substantially, completing the vision of Marie des Medicis by completing the vast “box” of the two palaces by constructing a theatre and galleries along the north side of the complex (begun in 1808). Napoleon III accentuated this development by constructing Rue de Rivoli along that side of the palace. The Arc de Tromphe du Carrousel was built to the east side of the Palais de Tuileries during 1806-1808 (this monument is around half the size of the massive Arc de Trimphe at Etoile, completed in 1836)– today the Arc de Trimphe du Carrousel is a useful landmark for discerning where the Tuileries Palace once stood. Napoleon I made Tuileries his primary residence, with a massive throne room.

The charred facade of the Palais de Tuileries stood for a dozen years after the Communards’ arson.

When Napoleon III’s forces were defeated in the 1870 Battle of Sedan, then, the great dream of Catherine of Medicis was in place, with the Louvre connected on both sides to the Palais de Tuileries. The 1871 Commune of Paris, however, produced a large number of people who felt their country had been betrayed by its leaders in the humiliating peace following the Franco-Prussian War. Arsonists loaded inflammables into the Palais de Tuileries, and the building was entirely gutted, though the galleries connected to it were saved. In 1883 the husk of the palace was demolished.

Today we visit the Louvre to see its storied art collection, but the building does have a complicated history in its own right. I am glad that the Louvre helps to keep that history alive in the underground areas of the Cour Carrée!

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 “bit.ly” 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.

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.

Origins

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!