Tag Archives: Paris

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!

The Sumptuous Château and Jardins de Versailles

June 15, 2021

Despite living near the rail line to Versailles for six months, Natasha and I delayed our visit to its famous palace and gardens until my brother Tom came to visit. His enthusiasm for seeing the palace was infectious, though seeing even a small part of the site consumed all our energy for that day.

The path of our wandering at Versailles

Coming to Versailles by train was easy. We hopped onto the RER C rail line that follows the left bank of the Seine in our area, double-checking that the train was the one that terminated in Versailles (the RER C has multiple routes). The tickets cost 3.65€ each way for each of the three of us, so the travel costs for each direction were only about twice the price of a subway ticket within Paris. One of the aspects of the rail route that I found striking is that the RER C passes through a long tunnel under the Forest of Meudon. The total travel time was just a hair over twenty minutes.

The Javel RER train station was built for the 1900 Universal Exposition.

Emerging from the train station at Versailles, we were happy to find a well-marked route for tourists on foot. We followed the D10 toward the north and then turned left to follow the D186 to the west. Once we made that turn, it was obvious we were heading toward a massive palace complex, with gold light reflected from the outer fence and the roof line. We arrived almost exactly at 11:00, the start time on our tickets (in order to space tourists throughout the day, Paris museums are currently allocating only so many arrivals at a give time). Because we had not “hot-footed” it from the train station to admissions, we had many tourists in line before us, but the time passed quickly.

The Chateau

Voltaire lampooned the eastern facade of Versailles, though he appreciated its gardens somewhat more.

Natasha and I decided to download the official Versailles tour app on our phones, while Tom used a free audioguide device. I soon felt very frustrated by the app’s guidance because it couldn’t seem to discern where I was in the complex despite my having enabled Android location services, and whole sections of the palace were missing from mine that were present on Natasha’s install. Tom’s dedicated audio guide seemed to work much better.

The Royal Chapel was a relatively late addition to Versailles, having been constructed during 1687-1710 CE by Jules Hardouin-Mansart and Robert de Cotte. The left pane was a photo from the first floor (“upstairs”), while the right pane was taken from the ground floor.

A visit to the Château is likely to take in a mix of State Apartments, Private Apartments, and Historic Galleries. We found ourselves in a large herd of tourists as we passed the royal chapel on the ground floor, but once we had climbed the stairs, the press of people diminished somewhat. I had thought we had visited most areas of the Château, but looking back at the website I see we entirely missed the Royal Opera and the Congress Chamber, plus many formerly private spaces for the royal family. Natasha noted that many areas were closed to public view during our visit.

Louis XIV et la famille royale by Jean Nocret (1670), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Louis XIV, at right, gets pride of place over his brother “Monsieur” Philippe, Duc d’Orleans (left), reputed for naughty behavior and military valor.

I cannot be the only person who sees room after room filled with fanciful images of god-king Louis XIV with a sense of revulsion. I would like to think that Louis XIV himself felt a sense of scorn about the cult of personality that the art of the Château of Versailles represents, even if he personally cultivated it.

La Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors) may be the most famous individual room of the palace. Visitors can walk through corrals at either end of the room, leaving the center clear for photographs.

Tom surprised me by echoing a refrain that I frequently say to myself on my travels: “I feel so frustrated when I imagine a substantial fraction of a nation’s resources being consumed to make a fabulous palace for the king.” Natasha was frustrated that the historical events that took place at the Château of Versailles were largely omitted by the information presented for each room. The 1871 Proclamation of the German Empire and the 1919 signing of the Treaty of Versailles both took place in the Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors), but the room was exhibited with no signboards to highlight these aspects of its history.

The Gallery of Great Battles was added by Louis-Philippe in 1833-1837 after the monarchy was restored in France. His additions abut those of Napoleon I, who also made use of the palace.

Having passed a couple of hours inside the Château, we were ready to see the gardens, grounds, and other buildings of the Versailles Estate. We started with the South Parterre, which was in bloom on our late spring day. We continued down to the Bosquet du Dauphin, which seemed more like a carefully partitioned area of small woods and undergrowth than a garden per se. The fountain in the Enceladus Grove was pretty interesting, but a barrier kept us from a better view. Natasha adored the gold lizards and turtles of Latona’s Fountain, and I loved the drama of Apollo’s Fountain.

Looking West from Latona’s Fountain gives a lovely perspective on the cross-shaped Grand-Eaux des Versailles in the distance.
Looking East from Apollo’s Fountain, Latona’s Fountain is the small mound at center just below the palace.

That said, we were all pretty hungry after our late-morning wander, so we stopped for lunch at La Flottille, a restaurant first opened in the late 19th century, located next door to the Grandes Eaux de Versailles (a long canal crossed at right angles by slightly shorter canal). We were grateful that the restaurant took reasonable precautions for folks with celiac disease. I ordered pizza and was very rapidly faced with a medium ham, mushroom and cheese I could have easily split with someone else, but Natasha and my brother both had plenty of food in front of them, too!

The rooms of the Grand Trianon have beautiful elements in considerably plainer walls than the main palace. They seemed like more comfortable places to live, though!

With full bellies, we decided to visit the Grand Trianon and Marie Antoinette’s Estate. We had a bit of a walk before us, though; the estate operates a little train of wagons to ship tourists from one site to another, but we were put off by its price (a bit less than five Euros per passenger).

The gardens lying west of the Grand Trianon were considerably plainer than those of the main chateau, but they were still beautiful.

We found Trianon without a lot of effort. Natasha and Tom agreed that the little palace seemed like a far more comfortable place to live than the Château proper. I was delighted that the substantial crowd we had encountered in the Château had not come to Trianon en masse; we encountered very few tourists at Trianon at all.

The Queen’s Hamlet was crafted in the 1780s, two generations after Louis XIV but just before the French Revolution. People were quite mad about Marie Antoinette’s rumored spending…

We continued past the Petit Trianon, enjoying the shaded walks and small canals with large-scale public art. I was feeling rather worn out from the high temperatures and bright sun of the day, so I asked that we limit to just one more site. Natasha placed a high priority on visiting the Queen’s Hamlet, so we continued to the northeast.

Does this look like the palace of a queen?

I didn’t know what to expect of the Queen’s Hamlet, but it surely wasn’t what we found. In 1783 Marie Antoinette (queen to Louis XVI, the grandson of Louis XIV) ordered the creation of a small village around a lake so that she would have a place to retreat from the pressures of court. The hamlet is perfectly charming, and we all enjoyed its peace and quiet.

I badly needed a beast of burden to haul me back out to the main gate!

When we walked up to the Queen’s Hamlet, we had thought we could exit the Versailles estates by the Saint-Antoine Porte, but a substantial ditch separates the Queen’s Hamlet from the exit road (the Grand Trianon seems to be the only port of entry allowing one to reach the Hamlet). We had a split vote on whether we were sufficiently tired and dehydrated to pay the cost of the little train back to the palace. Natasha has previously observed that once I start heading back home, it is an uphill battle to convince me to take an interest in anything other than plodding in that direction. For the next forty minutes or so, the three of us trudged and panted our way back to the main Château. Sadly the kiosk next to the Grandes Eaux where we planned to acquire more water was closed, so we just marched forward in the sun.

We were very happy to discover a cafe with refrigerated water bottles just before we reached the train station. Is it possible that too much sunlight would make us hesitate to revisit one of the greatest palaces on earth?

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.

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

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


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

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

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

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

The archaeology museum could hardly be easier to find!

Getting Medieval

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

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

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

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

Let’s make it royal.

The palace complex after expansion by Philippe IV

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2012 restoration did wonders for the Horloge!

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

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

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

Medieval Palais de la Cité by Jean-Claude Golvin

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

Place Dauphine, facing to the east

Baron Haussmann strikes again

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

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

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

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

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

Quai Branly: Anthropology or Art?

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


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

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

Paul Rivet, creator of the Museum of Man

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

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

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

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

Our visit

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

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

Olmec Temporary Exhibition

Monument 4 is no lightweight at 6 tons!

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

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

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

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

Oceania Region

Micronesian ancestor pole

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

Nose flutes from Marquesas Islands

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

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

Africa Region

The enigmatic faces of Nok terra cotta are otherworldly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Americas Region

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

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

Warrior fox and rain god await their new Netflix series.

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

Africa Reborn

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

Les Robots au marché, by Hervé di Rosa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L’Amour et la Folie by Paul Darbefeuille

The Affair of the Poisons

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

The walls certainly do not meet at right angles!

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

Luminous History

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

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

This defensive ditch now has a happier purpose.

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

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

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

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

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

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

These steps mark the location of Château-Neuf.

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

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

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

Jardin de Luxembourg and its neighborhoods

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

North of the park

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

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

A sidewalk sale! for old books!

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

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

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

Hôtel de Cluny panorama, south side (main entrance)

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

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

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

The Jardin de Luxembourg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strolling Rue Saint-Jacques

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

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

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

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

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

Val-de-Grâce in panorama

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

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

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

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

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

Wrapping up

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