The street plan and total urban development of Paris are divided into two parts by the Seine and connected by 31 bridges.
The major street pattern is the result of the 19th-century plan (effected between 1853 and 1870) of Baron Georges Haussmann, prefect under Napoleon III. He positioned the main streets and boulevards so that they are long and straight and focus on the major traffic circles, intersections, and architectural landmarks throughout the city. Between the major thoroughfares are the narrow, winding, congested streets.
Towering, graceful, majestic, triumphant - these are but a few of the adjectives one tends to ascribe to many of the monuments in Paris. Certainly, foreigners associate such architectural marvels as the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and Notre Dame Cathedral with Paris, but the City of Light offers a wealth of other breathtaking, thought-provoking, and often controversial landmarks to behold. Veteran tourists will tell you that there's no point trying to see them all in one trip; console yourself with the knowledge that you'll need to revisit Paris another time.
A number of monuments which now lend Paris its international identity were met with scorn and disdain by native Parisians at the time of their construction. For example, the Eiffel Tower, which was built to serve as a centerpiece for the Paris Exposition (World's Fair) in 1889, met with vociferous dissension among a number of the Parisian literati, who wrote, "We, the writers, painters, sculptors, architects and lovers of the beauty of Paris, do protest with all our vigour and all our indignation, in the name of French taste and endangered French art and history, against the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower."
Modern-day citizens surely felt mixed emotions about the Pompidou Centre, commissioned in 1968, which is known as the most infamous post-modernist outhouse (in polite terms) in Europe. British architect Richard Rogers' notorious "inside-out" design places the framework of the structure on the outside of the building itself!
Whatever your opinion may be on the worth of avant garde design, you will surely agree that the tremendous range of architectural period styles in Paris mirrors a fascinating history which traces back through its 2,000 years of evolution. Some may prefer the grandeur of High Gothic architecture evidenced by Notre Dame, or the resplendent furnishings and decor at the Palace of Versailles, while others may opt for the simplicity and clean lines of the Grande Arche de la Défense.
** two numbers are for the arrondissement - "01" is the 1st (or Ile de la Cité / Louvre), "18" is the 18th (or Montmartre), etc.
Bibliothèque Nationale de France - 75002
This new national library, opened in 1996 and nicknamed the TGB (Très Grande Bibliothèque), is the grandest of the grand projets bestowed upon Paris by former president François Mitterand. The sprawling 17-acre complex, with four looming glass towers shaped like open books, was designed by Dominique Perrault.
Notre Dame de Paris - 04
Situated on the Ile de la Cité, and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Notre Dame is a celebration of Early and High Gothic architecture, begun in 1163. Christmas Mass is an unforgettable experience, with thousands packing the cathedral to hear the choir singing carols in many different languages. The view of Paris from the clock tower is stupendous, and the gargoyles are a special treat. Be sure to explore the Crypt, a fascinating preservation of archaeological remnants and streets dating back to Roman times. (Admission to both the tower and the crypt are free with the card.)
Opéra National de Paris (Bastille) - 12
The newest of the Paris opera houses, this facility was designed by Carlos Ott and inaugurated in 1989, a building characterized by the transparency of its façades and the use of the same materials inside and out.
Opéra National de Paris (Garnier) - 09
Many of the postcards sold in Paris bear the image of this famous and ornate neo-baroque landmark, designed by architect Charles Garnier and built between 1862-1875. The opera seats only 2,200, though the vast stage can accommodate up to 450 performers. Interestingly, there is an underground lake situated beneath its cellars.
Eiffel Tower - 07
Few vistas are as magnificent and breathtaking as one from the topmost platform of the Eiffel Tower, especially one hour before sunset. Built in commemoration of the centenary of the French Revolution, towering 300 meters high and weighing 7,000 tons, it was the world's tallest building until 1930. Nearly demolished in 1909 at the expiration of its 20-year lease, the Tower gained new utility as a perch for broadcast antennae and was saved.
Observatoire de Paris - 14
The first observatory built in the world, designed by architect Claude Perrault (1667-1672), this historic building houses both antique and modern instruments for studying astronomy.
Colonne de Juillet - Place de la Bastille - 04
Begun in 1370 as a fortress for the city's defenses, and used as a prison by the 17th century (Voltaire and the Marquis de Sade were among its most famous inmates), the Bastille was demolished soon after the French Revolution. Its former locale is now marked by a column celebrating the 1789 and 1830 revolutions. (for more details, see French Revolution)
Obélisque de Luxor - 08
Situated in the Place de la Concorde, this obelisk — 75 feet (22.83m) high and weighing 230 tons — formerly marked the entrance to the Amon temple at Luxor in Egypt. It was given to Louis Phillipe by the Viceroy of Egypt, Mohamed Ali Pasha, and installed in 1836.
Place de la Concorde - 08
The largest public square in Paris, separating the Tuileries Gardens from the beginning of the Champs-Elysées. Most notable for its history, including the guillotine executions of Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette, Danton, Robespierre, and 2800 others between 1793 and 1795. Its central landmark, the Obelisk of Luxor, is more than 3,000 years old.
Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel - 01
Envisioning an imperial capital in the style of ancient Rome, Napoleon I ordered a second, smaller triumphal arch built in the Gardens near the Tuileries Palace where he had moved as First Consul. Though the palace did not survive destruction by the Communards, the Arc du Carrousel still looks up the Voie Triomphale toward the larger Arc de l'Etoile.
Arc de Triomphe de l'Etoile - 08
The world's largest triumphal arch, 49.5 m (162 ft) in height, was conceived in 1806 by Napoleon I as a tribute to his Grande Armée and its 128 victorious battles. Surmounting the hill of Chaillot at the center of a star-shaped configuration of 12 radiating avenues, it is the climax of a vista seen the length of the Champs Elysées. Since 1920 it has sheltered the tomb of France's Unknown Soldier. (Admission to the top is free with the card.)
Arc de Triomphe de la Porte St-Denis - 10
The triumphal arch of the Porte Saint-Denis was commissioned by Louis XIV to commemorate his military victories, and erected by Nicolas François Blondel between 1671-74.
Arc de Triomphe de la Porte St-Martin - 10
One of two triumphal arches commissioned by Louis XIV to commemorate his military victories, the Porte Saint-Martin was constructed immediately after the Porte Saint-Denis in 1674.
Arènes de Lutece - 05
Built during the 1st and 2nd centuries, this amphitheater could seat up to 17,000 people, hosting gladiator fights as well as less bloody entertainment. Now a popular spot for playing boules, it is one of the only remaining ruins from the Gallo-Roman era in Paris, along with the Thermes (public baths) at Cluny. (Admission free.)
Château de Bagatelle - 16
Designed by architect Belanger, and built by the Comte d'Artois in 1777 as a folly, after a wager with Queen Marie-Antoinette, this castle houses a collection of decorative arts, historical items, furniture, paintings, sculpture, and textiles of the period.
Fondation le Corbusier - 16
Home to the largest collection of Le Corbusier drawings, studies and plans. Representative of 1920's architecture (built by Le Corbusier in 1923).
Couvent des Cordeliers - 06
While the church and cloister were demolished in 1872, only the refectory remains of this 13th century convent, built on land lent by the Abbey of St.-Germain-des-Près to the Cordeliers for theology lessons. Temporary exhibitions feature decorative arts, paintings, photography, and sculpture.
Halle Saint Pierre - 18
Housing the Musée d'Art Naïf - Max Fourny, with temporary exhibitions spanning history, painting, and sciences, as well as an auditorium. Redeveloped from the former Pavillon Baltard.
Luxembourg Palace & Gardens - 06
Designed by architect Salomon de Brosse as a Florentine palace for Marie de Medicis, built in the years 1615-1627 and surrounded by sumptuous gardens, the Palais also once served as a prison, and currently houses the Senate. Paintings by Rubens and Eugène Delacroix embellish the large gallery and the library.
Eglise de la Madeleine - 08
Nearly selected to be the first railway station of Paris, it was consecrated as a church in 1842. Though started in 1764, previous iterations of its architecture were razed as it was redesigned twice, lastly by the wishes of Napoléon who sought a Greek-style Temple of Glory to his Grande Armée.
Palais Brongniart - Bourse de Paris - 02
Home to the Paris Stock Exchange, this imposing structure built in the classical Greek style boasts 64 columns on the outside, surrounding what resembles a Greek temple. Napoleon enlisted the services of architect Alexandre-Théodore Brongniart (1739-1813) for the design, completed in 1825.
Palais de Chaillot - 16
Designed by architects Carlu, Boileau, and Azema, this palace was built in 1937 for the Universal Exhibition, and houses the Museum of Film, the National Museum of French Monuments, the Museum of Man, the Marine Museum, and the National Theatre of Chaillot. (Admission to Marine Museum and National Museum of French Monuments are free with the card.)
Palais Royal - 01
Originating as a private theater in the residence of Cardinal Richelieu, and designed by architect Jacques Lemercier, the Palais was the first theater in France with movable scenery wings and a proscenium arch. Hosting its first production in 1641, it was used extensively by Molière and his troupe between 1660 and 1673. (see also French Theatre.)
Panthéon - 05
Characterized by its imposing dome and a portico of corinthian columns, this massive temple to the great men of France houses the bodies of Voltaire, Rousseau, Mirabeau, Marat, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Soufflot (its architect), and Jean Moulin (hero of the French Resistance during WWII) in a vast necropolis. (Admission free with the card.)
Basilique du Sacré Coeur - 18
Built in the Romano-Byzantine style as an act of penance following France's defeat by the Prussians in 1870, this basilica on the butte of Montmartre offers a panoramic view of Paris from the top of its dome. Though started in 1875, it was not completed until 1914, and consecrated in 1919 after WWI. Its bell weighs 19 tons!
La Sainte Chapelle - 01
Situated on the Ile de la Cité near Notre Dame, this small 12th century gothic chapel was built by Louis IX to house relics from the Holy Land (believed to be the Crown of Thorns and part of the True Cross). Its precious stained glass windows were painstakingly removed during WWII to prevent damage, then restored. (Admission free with the card.)
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