Paris was, and still is in my heart, the most beautiful city in the world, the place where I’ve dreamed to go ever since I was a child. It is one of the most visited capitals on Earth, filled with emblematic historical monuments, royal palaces, famous museums, imposing cathedrals, notorious streets, renowned parks and extravagant stores.
When in Paris for the first time, the Eiffel Tower is a must see, like a mandatory pilgrimage. Located on Champs des Mars, it is the main attraction in the metropolis. The highest building in Paris and the fifth in France is 324 m high and it was constructed between 1887 and 1889 by the architect Gustave Eiffel to celebrate the French Revolution centenary. The Eiffel Tower is truly impressive, especially at night when its colorful lights amplify the magic of the city. Crowds of tourists from all over the world were gathered here, taking pictures of this grand symbol. Long ques were lined before the elevators, as visitors were waiting to have a glimpse of Paris from the three platforms on top of the Eiffel Tower.
Near the Eiffel Tower, in Place de Trocadero, we stopped in front of the Museum of Man (Musée de l’Homme), located in the south wing of the Chaillot Palace, near the Naval Museum. Its famous exhibitions of fascinating anthropology collection are considered the most complete in the world. Its Prehistoric artifacts, some of the greatest discoveries in history, are of great importance for scientific research.
After we walked by the long façade of the Sorbona, we reached the Panthéon. The building resembles a Greek temple, with Corinthian columns that sustain a triangular fronton which symbolizes the Republic. Underneath it, an inscription reads Aux grandes hommes la patrie reconnaisante (“to great men, the grateful homeland”). Many of the country’s great celebrities are buried inside, among which Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, René Descartes, Emile Zola, Marie and Pierre Curie are just a few of the most resonant names. The edifice was built in the 18th century and initially served as a church. It changed its destination during the French Revolution, when it became Le Panthéon, a monument that would shelter the remnants of the illustrious personalities of France. Inside the Pantheon we found the famous Foucault Pendulum, installed by the physicist Leon Foucault. Back in 1851, he used it to prove that the Earth rotates around its axis.
Near the Pantheon, we admired the Saint Etienne du Mont Church, with a very interesting façade given by its asymmetry. It shows both Gothic and Renaissance elements. Inside lie the tombs of personalities such as Blaise Pascal, an illustrious mathematician and physicist, and Jean Racine, a French playwright. In front of the church we find the statue of another playwright, Pierre Corneille.
We passed by the Louvre, on the Rivoli Street, where, to the right of the Protestant Church (Temple Protestant de l’Oratorie de Louvre), we found the statue of Admiral Gaspard de Coligny. The monument was placed here back in 1889, in the memory of his assassination on St. Bartholomew Day Massacre. He was one of the leaders of the Huguenots (protestants) in the religious wars in the 16th century. He was assassinated at the order of Charles the 9th, following the intrigues of his mother, Catherine de Medici. This triggered the slaughter on St. Bartholomew Day Massacre on August 24th, 1572. During one bloody night, atrocious murders were committed, the Louvre filled up with corpses, the palace court-yard became a communal grave and the Seine filled up with the corpses of robbed protestant merchandisers.
Near the Seine and the Louvre, the Sainte Germain l’Auxerrois Church is one of the main attractions in the historical center of Paris. It was rebuilt several times during the centuries and until 1789 it served as the royal family’s church. Its bells are the ones who gave the signal for the commencing of the Night of Saint Bartholomew massacre, when, in Paris alone, around 3,000 Huguenots were killed by the Catholics. The atrocities continued in the provinces in France, with an estimated number of ten thousand murdered protestants.
Close to the Louvre, we found the Statue of Jean D’Arc. It was initially made from gold-plated bronze by Emmanuel Fremiet in 1874. In 1889, it was replaced with another statue. Jean D’Arc is one of the most mysterious characters in the history of France, the heroine of the One Hundred Years War, the savior of France and a symbol of the nation. This legendary character, together with Charlemagne, whose statue lies in front of the Notre Dame, are the most glorious and emblematic names in the history of the country.
We got back to the imposing building of the Paris City Hall (Hôtel de Ville), located across from Île de la Cité, decorated with complex statues representing the great personalities of France, Alfred de Musset, Antoine Lavoisier, Delacroix, Eugen Sue, Moliere, Victor Hugo and many others. The place is filled with history. This is where Robespierre, one of the leaders of the French Revolution, was arrested and shot in July, 1794. The place was set on fire by the Communards in 1870 and it was later reconstructed in Neo-Renaissance style. The square in front of the City Hall was once the place where heretics and witches were burned to the stake. It was also the starting point for many revolutionary movements.
Right by the City Hall, neighboring with Rue de Rivoli and Place de Châtelet, the Saint-Jacques Tower rises proud at 58 m above the ground. This is all that remained from the old Saint Jacques de la Boucherie Church, built at the beginning of the 16th century, during Francis the 1st. It was dedicated to the butcher’s guild near Les Halles Square. The church was destroyed during the French Revolution. Later, the facades were restored, including the statue of Saint-Jacques, which is 4.5m high. Inside the tower, visitors can admire an exhibition of old icons and statues of saints. Close to the tower, we found the marble statue of the great scientist Blaise Pascal.
Place de la Bastille became famous when the notorious prison once located in this square was attacked on July 14th, 1789 during the French Revolution. Two days after the mob captured the Bastille, it was ordered to be taken down. This is known though history as the Fall of the Bastille. The Bastille Square was created in 1803 and initially included a fountain in the shape of an elephant, which was later eliminated in 1847. The only monument that is still standing is Colonne de Juillet, with a statue on top called the Spirit of Freedom. This is a column that commemorates the victims of the 1830 revolution. The day of the Fall of the Bastille was declared the national day of France in 1860.
One evening we took a walk through the famous Montmartre neighborhood, passing by the notorious Moulin Rouge in the Pigalle neighborhood, with its red lit windmill on the roof. We did not use the cable cart. Instead, we climbed the steps to reach the top of the Montmartre hill, the highest point in the capital of France, all the way to the Sacre Coeur Basilica, one of the core symbols of France. This imposing basilica was built over an old Benedictine monastery which was destroyed during the 1789 Revolution, when all the nuns was guillotined. The current cathedral, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, was built in 1876, after the defeat during the Franco-Prussian war. It was built in a Romano-Byzantine style, the interior is decorated with mosaics, one of them representing Jesus. The old stained glasses were broken in 1944, during World War 2 and were later replaced. A wonderful view over Paris was unwinding before our eyes.
From here we went to Place de Tertre, a square located near the basilica, where artists exhibit their work and try to persuade tourists into buying them. Some of them expose their art directly on the sidewalk, while others make portraits. You cannot honestly say that you have visited Paris if you did not walk down the streets of Montmartre, a famous area where, at the end of the 19th century, artists like Edgar Degas, Henry Matisse and Pablo Picasso used to live. The neighborhood kept its charm and unequaled picturesque, with labyrinthine streets, art galleries, cafes and famous restaurants like Le Maison Rose and Le Lapin Agil, where writers and artists used to meet. Gheorge Zamfir, a famous Romanian pan-pipe player, made his debut in Le Lapin Agil, on the romantic streets of France.
Unfortunately, we only had enough time to see but a few of the attractions that Paris has to offer. However, I can honestly say that I was charmed by this magnificent city and its magic will follow me for the rest of my life. Paris’ cultural glow, its world-renowned monuments, its museums, the grandiosity and elegance, its opulence and richness of color and tastes will make me return some day. For me, as for Maurice Chevalier, Paris can be described by these wonderful lyrics:
…Paris sera toujours Paris!
La plus belle ville du monde
Malgré l’obscurité profonde
Son éclat ne peut être assombri…