After breakfast I used the two-day metro pass I bought the night before to travel to the museum. The Musée d'Orsay houses many famous artworks from the impressionists and post-impressionists, focusing on mainly the French artists such as Renoir, Degas, Monet, Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Cezanne (including his painting featured at the head of my blog), and Gaugin. The museum also had a large collection of the Dutch Vincent van Gogh including many of his self-portraits. A special exhibition of the strange Belgian artist, James Ensor was also at the museum. The building of the museum itself is interesting, as it was originally a train station built in 1900:
I also crossed the Seine to take some pictures of the outside of the Musée du Louvre:
The Louvre was originally the palace of the French monarchs since its original construction in the 1100s under King Philip II. The original medieval structure is no longer present as Francis I had the palace renovated in 1546. Once Louis XIV moved his court away from the intrigues of Paris to the new palace at Versailles, the former palace became a sort of storehouse for royal art collections. In 1791, during the French Revolution, with the overthrow of the monarchy and everything that tasted of the nobility, the National Assembly opened the Louvre to public viewings in the hope it would serve as a symbol of egalitarianism. The glass pyramids outside were constructed in 1988 by the architect I.M. Pei.
Here is a picture from a bridge on the Seine, near the Louvre:
I then met up with Melissa in the area of Montmartre. We walked past the famous cabaret, the Moulin Rouge, which originated in 1889 and was where the can-can and the striptease were born:
I stopped at a street stand and bought a crêpe with egg and diced ham. The stand served several different types of crêpes, with sweet and savory varieties. We then walked to the highest hill in the city (from which Montmartre gets its name) upon which rests the beautiful Basilique Sacré-Cœur (or Basilica of the Sacred Heart):
The Byzantine-style basilica was constructed from 1875 to 1914 and was meant to be in honor of those killed in the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune uprising (both from 1870-1871). The uprising, a working-class uprising which attempted to establish a Communist system, was just one of many political revolts Paris has known since the original French Revolution.
We walked up the steps which lead to the basilica. At the top, there was a good view of the city:
We went inside the basilica which had some interesting modernist stained-glass windows. Outside, I took some close-ups of the building:
We walked through the neighborhood atop the hill of Montmartre, which are some of the most expensive in Paris. In the midst of the houses sat the last vineyard in Paris. Across from it was an old cabaret called Au Lapin Agile:
Melissa says she has walked past this at night before and heard songs carrying through the windows. We then made our way toward the Arc de Triomphe. On our way there, we saw this art deco metro station:
We took this metro line to the Arc de Triomphe:
Napoleon ordered the construction of the arch in 1806, but it was not completed until 1836, well after the Emperor's final defeat. It serves as a war memorial, particularly for the Napoleonic Wars. The walls of the interior list the names of all the places Napoleon invaded. Here is a wall listing some of those places in Spain:
The tomb of the unknown soldier (from the First World War) is also located here:
From here, the area of Paris known as La Défense is visible. The area was originally named after the defenders of the city in the Franco-Prussian War and is now a modern business district. The main feature of the district is the Grande Arche, a cubed arch built in 1989 which houses business offices and an exhibition hall:
We returned to the center of the city after this and went to Place de la Concorde, which is near the Louvre. The Eiffel Tower can be seen in the background of the second picture:
The obelisk in the pictures is a real Egyptian obelisk given to France by the Egyptian government. It stands on the exact location where the guillotine chopped off the heads of the nobility (most notably Louis XV and his queen, Marie Antoinette) during the French Revolution.
The guillotine was a French invention which did away with the problem of an axeman (who was not always accurate and would sometimes only cut the head off partially or hack the condemned in the back). The guillotine was meant to be a more humane method of beheading in which the razor-sharp blade, dropped down a track, cut the head off in one fast motion. (Scientists later discovered that the head remains conscious for a few seconds after such a swift decapitation). The guillotine became a symbol of the period which directly followed the French Revolution, known as the Reign of Terror, during which the Committee of Public Safety (under the control of Maximilien Robespierre) executed thousands whom they claimed had monarchist sympathies. Estimates range from 16,000 to 40,000 beheaded during this period in which paranoia ran so high that no one was safe from the "national razor," including Robespierre himself who went under the blade in 1794. The guillotine remained a viable method of execution in France until 1981. The last public execution by this device was in 1939, and the last actual execution with it was 1977.
With that gory bit of history out of the way, here is a great view of the Eiffel Tower from the Place de la Concorde:
After this I walked along the Seine and came across this statue of my fellow countryman:
Many of the American "Founding Fathers" like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, who served as diplomats to France before and after the American Revolution, were popular among the French. They were inspired in their formation of the US government by the ideology of the French Enlightenment, that intellectual movement espoused by such philosophers as Rousseau and Voltaire, which stressed the use of reason over blind faith (faith in the authority of the noble classes as well as religious faith). The French Revolution took Enlightenment idealism too far and did away with anything that reflected the concept of a nobility or any form of religion (for example condemning the church and changing the names of the month because they were named for Roman gods and festivals, which is "just not reasonable.").
From this statue, I walked to the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. This massive cathedral, whose height is supported by a series of flying buttresses, was constructed from 1163 to the mid-1240s. It is, of course, the setting for the French writer, Victor Hugo's 1831 novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame:
Here are some of the cathedral's famous gargoyles:
Several interpretations of gargoyles exist. Some believe they were evil-spirit-deterring relics of pagan religions from the lands Christianity came in contact with; others that they were meant to frighten the commoners of the Middle Ages into repentance as a reminder of evil and eternal damnation; and still others believe they symbolized the fact that evil existed outside the church, but could not penetrate its walls.
In front of the cathedral stands this statue of Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, king of the Franks in the late 700s, early 800s who was crowned Emperor by the Pope and founded what was known as the Holy Roman Empire (which confusingly did not exist in Rome, but France, Germany, and parts of Eastern Europe). The Holy Roman Empire lasted until the 1830s, although by then it was a weak political entity and the title of Holy Roman Emperor meant nothing. Its lands too had diminished at the time to cover only the area of Austria and Hungary.
Charlemagne is also considered the first of the French kings (as Charles I). Many heroic legends were later written about him and his knights, similar to the legends of King Arthur in England.
I then retraced my footsteps along the Seine and walked by the Conciergerie:
The Conciergerie was originally a royal palace built in the 900s and heavily remodeled by successive kings until 1358. Today it is part of the Palais de Justice. It is most famous, however, as a prison. It became a prison in 1391. During the Renaissance it served as a prison for those awaiting the guillotine.
More to come soon!