Tag Archives: Architecture in Paris

Sainte-Chapelle

This is one of my favorite treasures in Paris. I have been a handful of times, and it never fails to awe me.

A year ago, I was in Paris under the pretense of an academic program (okay, so we actually did do a lot of work, but that didn’t slow down our fun). A professor suggested that I visit the Sainte-Chapelle, and I had never been. I went with a couple of friends on our first free day, and here’s what I wrote in my private blog:

First, we went right across the bridge to the Sainte-Chapelle. It’s in the Palais de la Cité (or what’s left of it), which was the royal residence and seat of power from the 10th to 14th century. Louis the IX ordered the tiny chapel to be built for the use of the royal family. He spent twice as much money on the relics (including some of the Crown of Thorns) as he did on building the chapel. We went in and walked around, and I was thinking, ‘okay, this place is nice, but it’s not that great. It’s not in great condition or anything, and the stained glass windows are not as impressive as advertised.’

I was just about to leave the chapel, thinking that my Professor had led me astray, when I saw a sign on the way out in the corner that said “Haute Chapelle” with an arrow pointing to a staircase in the corner. I thought, ‘why not’ so I went up the stairs. Wow. Oh my gosh. I stood there for a few minutes just staring up and circling. It is one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. Ever. Our best guess is that the chapel is at least 3 stories high with gorgeous intricate stained glass windows covering the walls. Like, 50 feet high stained  glass windows.
That was my post from over a year ago, and now that I’ve been a few more times, the stained glass still has the same effect on me. There’s just so much of it! And it’s so beautiful! There are 1,113 biblical scenes depicted on the 15 stained glass windows, and they start on the left with Genesis and go all the way around the room, finishing with a huge rose window that shows the Apocalypse. It’s breathtaking. The building and windows are from the 13th century. I was surprised to learn that about 70% of the windows are still the originals! They’ve done a lot of work to restore and preserve them.
In the lower chapel, there used to be beautiful statues, but I believe that a lot of them were victims of the revolution. However, you can go over to the Musée Cluny to see the what’s left of the original, medieval statues. They are still quite impressive!
I cannot recommend this place highly enough, even if you only have a short time in Paris. If you can come on a bright and sunny day, even better. You have to pay to enter (except on the first Sunday of the month), but the price of admission is well worth it. This is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. In the summer they host concerts here. That’s on my to-do list.

Musée Carnavalet: Histoire de Paris

Sorry for the lack of posts! I have been getting settled into my routine with classes and general busyness, and I hadn’t ventured out on any excursions until yesterday.

On the way home I decided to go to the Musée Carnavalet. I’d been meaning to go for quite a while, and finally yesterday I had some spare time. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how vast and amazing the museum would be, and I didn’t allot myself nearly enough time. The museum was much more wonderful than I expected, and I had to hurry through a lot of it. I will surely return  soon to see more and hear a concert.

First, this is a FREE museum! That immediately merits points in its favor. Also, the museum is in Le Marais, a very chic right bank neighborhood near the center of Paris. The neighborhood is full of very high-fashion boutiques, art galleries, cafés, and shops. It’s always a fun place to walk around or grab a bite to eat. So before I even got to the museum, it already had potential.

Link Gallery

I came to the museum, which is housed in two old hôtels connected by a bridge. The entrance is through a courtyard. The buildings themselves are impressive, and they make a grand backdrop for the collections. The hôtel Carnavalet was built in 1548 and showcases fantastic architectural features. The hôtel Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau houses an incredible orangerie (greenhouse) and surrounds a beautiful garden. There are over 100 rooms in the museum, and each shows a different period or aspect of Parisian history. The overall feeling of the museum is like being in a miniature castle (but this comparison is not intended to imply that it’s small!).

"Les retardataires" (The Latecomers)

The premise of this lovely museum is that it is dedicated to the history of Paris. Therefore, visitors can walk through rooms with collections from prehistoric Paris and the Roman era all the way through the time of the monarchs, the revolution, and modern day.

Sign Gallery

When I walked into the fantastic sign gallery at the museum’s entrance, I asked the man at the table in French if I could take one of the guides. He said that I certainly could and handed me one in French. I picked up one in English and told him that it was my langue maternelle, and he said “But you speak French! Here, take the French one too and you can switch between the two.” (This is a very loose translation.) I was happy to have the compliment, and told him “Thank you, that will be good for me since I am learning.” A compliment on my French from a Parisian stranger! Happy day! (It was a very basic conversation, and not too much to brag about, but a small triumph is welcome nonetheless.)

My favorite parts of the museum were the buildings themselves and their beautiful rooms (some decorated with furniture collections), the Roman ruins in the orangerie (It’s easy to forget about the Gallo-Roman period in Paris, but there were temples, baths, an amphitheater, and everything else Roman here for about 400 years!), and the paintings in the link gallery (the bridge connecting the two buildings). Also, the concise descriptions of each historical period were good (but they are in French, so bring a Francophone friend or get a listening guide). I was a bit disappointed by the revolutionary period rooms. They mostly contained models and smaller mementos from that time.

L'orangerie

As I was getting ready to leave the museum, they announced that there would be a classical concert with piano, violin, and singing. The cost was €10. I didn’t have time to stay and enjoy the music in this incredible setting (and imagine that I was

Roman Collection

here in another era being entertained at a party), but I will try to come back for another concert later on.

Highlights of this museum include: the gallery of shop signs from the 16th-20th centuries at the entrance, a chess set Louis XVI used to distract himself while awaiting the guillotine, a recreation of Marcel Proust’s bedroom with his bed and other furniture, carved stones from the Roman period, Neolithic dugout canoes from 2800-2500 BC, paintings of Paris’s belle epoque in the link gallery.

New Words: grève (strike), soutien (support), chausson (a fruit-filled pastry, often in apple: pomme), les cuivres (brass instruments), salarié (salaried employee), prestation (performance)

Le Panthéon

Last weekend I went to the Panthéon with a friend. I had never been before, and it was definitely something to cross off the list, since I walk by it frequently. It’s hard to miss, as the building towers over much of the 5th arrondissement and many roads seem to lead to it. I knew nothing about it, so I went out of curiosity.

The building has a fascinating history. In 1744 king Louis XV was ill and vowed that if he recovered he would build a church to honor St. Genevieve, who was born in Nanterre and lived in Paris. He recovered, and the church was begun. However, it was not completed until  the early stages of the French Revolution, and the revolutionaries were not great fans of the church, to say the least (that’s The Church, capitalized; I read somewhere that they liked Jesus because he was poor and also railed against the man, but they killed a lot of priests because anyway because the clergy was the First Estate under the Ancien Régime). They turned it into a place for the burial of great Frenchman. It has gone back and forth over the years, sometimes becoming a church and then returning to a civic building.

The feeling inside is strange because it has the feeling of a church, but instead of alters and such there are statues of revolutionaries.

One of the most interesting features is the Foucault Pendulum. It’s a huge pendulum suspended from the top of the Panthéon almost to the ground. The pendulum was an experiment to demonstrate the phenomenon that the earth (and the Panthéon) revolves around the path of the pendulum’s swing, which remains the same. There is a “clock” that doesn’t move and marks the 24 hours of the day below the pendulum, and by looking at the pendulum’s swing, you can tell what time it is because of the earth’s rotation.

I was immediately confused by the large gap between the 24th hour of the clock and the top (the start of the next day). I watched the video in French and English (just to be sure I hadn’t missed the explanation), and they didn’t discuss it. I flipped through the books they were selling and didn’t find an explanation about the gap. Wikipedia saved the day by providing the answer (as usual). The article also contains a nice animation of the phenomenon. I am not smart enough to completely understand it, but the basic explanation for the gap is that the latitude of France causes the rotation of the earth around a single point in France (such as the pendulum) to take 32.7 hours. If we did the experiment at the North or South Pole, the earth would rotate around the pendulum in 24 hours. This is possibly more information than you wanted to know, but it drove me crazy for the rest of the day.

The main event for the Panthéon is underneath it, where many of France’s finest are buried. To be interred there is an honor, and it takes a Parliamentary act to get a resting place down there. We saw the graves of Rousseau, Voltaire, Marie Curie, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, and Louis Braille (who invented–you guessed it!–braille). There are many graves down there, but we breezed through it relatively quickly. Graves all look mostly alike.

Rousseau's Grave

New Words: tromé (verlan for métro), les flics (style familier for police), une cible (a target), l’effroi (fear), soupçon (suspect), en douce (secretly), misérable (poor, but not just poor, extremely poor, without any money at all), rogner (to cut/make smaller/reduce), moitié (half/halfway, as in half of the bill)