Tag Archives: Historical sites 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 National du Moyen Age (Musée de Cluny)

Yesterday was the first Sunday of November, and on the first Sunday of the month here in Paris, many museums that normally charge to enter open their doors for free visits. I chose to go to the Musée Cluny for the first time yesterday. It is a favorite of one of my friends back home, so I thought I’d go see what all the fuss was about. Now I think it’s one of my favorites, too.

The building that houses the museum is very impressive. It was begun in the 14th century, and in 1843 it was turned into a museum. It is located right at the intersection of the Boulevard St-Michel and the Boulevard St-Germain, which is a busy area on the left bank. The hôtel is surrounded by really beautiful gardens that are always free to enter. Since it’s getting to be winter, the gardens were not at their most spectacular yesterday so I’ll definitely be back in the spring to see them at their finest. They were still nice though.

The entrance to the museum is located just off a nice medium-sized courtyard that immediately transports you back in time. I entered (for free!) and got an audio guide for €1, but I quickly abandoned it (you’ll see why later).

The first thing I saw was a room of stained glass from the 12th and 13th centuries. It was really beautiful, and I was surprised that it was in such good condition. The glass is from medieval churches in France, and it was illuminated all over the small room that housed it.

Next I moved on to a large open room that had the original sculptures from the Notre Dame de Paris. They were fantastic. Several massive heads representing the Kings of Judah were there; they had been plundered from the Notre Dame during the revolution because they represented monarchs. They were found in 1977 buried during excavation to build a garage. There were also many saints, but they were missing their heads. I believe these statues were also victims of the revolution. Fun fact: all of the original sculptures on the Notre Dame (and many other medieval locations around town) were originally done in color! You can see some red pigmentation on the lips and cheeks of the statues if you look closely, and some darker colors in the eyes. I had no idea. The room is vast and contains all types of original sculptures from Notre Dame. It also hosts concerts throughout the year, which would be a really cool venue to see some classical music. Yesterday they were getting ready for a concert of medieval chant music when I was there. Fantastic.

The next room I saw was quite a treat: the building is partially built on the site of 1st-3rd century Roman baths! The cavernous room is still intact, and you can see where the pool was, some baths, and large indoor sporting area. How amazing.

Then I went through rooms and rooms of medieval sculptures, books (they have some very nice illuminated manuscripts), art, tapestries, artifacts, and anything else you can think of. Some of my favorites were a chapel in the building with incredible vaulted ceilings and some medieval wooden chair stalls, a collection of rings, some shields and armor, and a collection of kitchen apparatuses and knives.

Ring Collection

Tapestries

Chapel Ceiling

 

Shields at the top of the Display Case

Armor

At some point you come to the absolute highlight of the museum: La dame à la Licorne tapestries (“The Lady and the Unicorn“). They are six tapestries from around the year 1500 that are huge and magnificent. They portray a woman with a unicorn and lion surrounded by flowers, trees, and other animals (my favorite is the monkey). They are considered one of the most important works of the middle ages in Europe. I sat for a while on a bench just trying to absorb them all. There is a lot to look at in them. I couldn’t take pictures of these gorgeous tapestries because they’re in a dark room (I assume for preservation purposes). Click the underlined title in the beginning of this paragraph for the wikipedia article, which contains pictures of all six tapestries.

My favorite part of the trip was a complete surprise. There were at least a couple of art students in each room to talk to the visitors about the art in the room. I don’t know if this was a special event, or if they always do that on the first Sunday of the month, or why they were there, but it was fantastic! The students would talk to a group of people, and you could walk over and listen to them explain a certain piece or collection, or sometimes if they didn’t have a group and they saw you take a particular interest in something, they’d come over and ask if you wanted an explanation of the piece that interested you. This happened to me, and I of course said yes, and I had a wonderful discussion with an art student about the array of influences on the statues from the Sainte-Chapelle and how the revolutionaries cut off the heads of the statues. I was able to ask all kinds of questions, and she was very knowledgeable. I learned so much from the students about the museum’s collection that I never would have known if I’d been listening to the audio guide, which only had short descriptions of the highlights. The students were able to tailor their discussions to the particular audience, and I saw a very patient girl talking to some well-behaved children that couldn’t have been older than about 5 all about unicorns and answering their questions. It was a really fantastic way to experience the museum. The discussions were all in French, so Anglophones should bring a Francophone friend who is very patient and able to translate. I am assuming that they had the students there yesterday because it was the first Sunday of the month, so a lot of Parisians come to the museums. That’s just a guess though. If anyone knows more information about the art students at the museum, please leave a comment; I’d love to learn more about the program.

I highly recommend this museum. It was a great collection. I could have stayed much longer than I did.

New words: créancier/débiteur (creditor/debtor), un point-virgule (semicolon), une virgule (comma, math: decimal point, because they use commas instead), selon (according to), selon que (depending on whether), s’agir (to be about), à défaut de (in the absence of/lack of/failing), rattachement (unification, incorporation), concubine (partner/cohabitant, but you only use this if you live with someone with whom you are in a relationship, also it doesn’t have the same connotation as in English as far as I can tell), alimentaire (dietary), gestion (management), le chômage (unemployment), exprimer (to express)

Cimetière du Père-Lachaise

Last Friday, the weather was beautiful. Actually, come to think of it, the weather has been perfect for a couple of weeks now. Anyway, my fellow foreigners and I went to our morning class and then had lunch as usual. After lunch, we came back for our afternoon oral language class, and the teacher announced that the copy machines were all broken and it was beautiful outside, so we were going to the Père Lachaise cemetery. We were all happy to be outside in the sunshine.

The cemetery is vast, and it is full of graves of Paris’s elite. It is still used as a cemetery today, but only the really rich or famous can be buried there. It is very hilly with cobblestones everywhere, so if you’re planning a trip you should wear comfortable shoes (I speak from experience; since this was an unplanned impromptu trip, I was wearing heals and it made the trip less pleasant). Since I didn’t know we were going on the trip, I not only wore uncomfortable shoes, but I also didn’t bring my camera. Sorry for the lack of photos in this post. I’ll make up for it in upcoming posts.

We visited the graves of Édith Piaf, Marcel Proust, Frédéric Chopin (who was not French, but Polish), Molière, Oscar Wilde (who’s grave was covered in red lipstick kisses and notes written in red lipstick in spite of a sign forbidding it—the French don’t really follow rules that conflict with tradition), and Jim Morrison.

Jim Morrison’s grave is closed off because people would go smoke on it. I don’t think that was a huge issue initially, but then people started writing on the nearby graves, which is disrespectful. There were actually a few nearby graves where people had written “I <3 Jim” and things like that. Who does that? Who writes on someone’s grave about someone else? I was disturbed.

When we visited, around 2pm on a Friday afternoon, there was a group of Americans sitting on a grave near Jim Morrison’s and drinking and listening to music and jumping onto other graves to take pictures. Out of our class, I’m the only American, and I was so embarrassed by them. I said, in French (partly because I didn’t want them to know that I was American), “those are not my compatriots,” and my teacher responded “Ce n’est pas à toi,” (“it’s not for you,” literally, but in this context it was more like “it’s not your fault”). When one guy jumped onto a grave, my teacher said to them “this is someone’s grave” in French. The guy who had jumped on the grave was sarcastic in responding “pas Jim Morrison’s grave.” Then the teacher said, in English, “Yes, but someone else is buried here, this is not a bar, it’s a cemetery.” Then the offenders just nodded and said “you’re right,” and kept drinking. It was disgusting. The French are generally tolerant of crazy partying, as far as I’ve been able to tell. But jumping on graves and listening to music and drinking on someone’s grave in a cemetery is just downright disrespectful. Maybe if they were on Jim Morrison’s grave, it would be okay, but they were on some random person’s grave nearby. The whole thing was weird, and I think everyone who came to visit the grave was put-off by them.

Other than the awkward exchange with the rude Americans, the cemetery was beautiful. It was very peaceful and FULL of famous people’s graves. We could have stayed all day and enjoyed the lovely weather and seen the graves of many other incredibly famous people (I wanted to see the graves of Georges Bizet, Francis Poulenc, and Gertrude Stein), but it was such a massive place and we were all hot and tired by the end of our long walk.

If you’re looking for a good walk on a nice day with interesting and historical scenery, come here. Overall, it’s very peaceful and beautiful.

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)

Jardin du Luxembourg

This morning I went for a run in the Luxembourg garden. It was fantastic. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a runner. At all. However, I plan to eat a lot of baguettes, cheese, and crème brûlée in the next couple of years (I’ve already gotten off to a great start!), and I figure I should pre-empt the calories while I still can.

The garden and palace were begun in 1611 for Marie de Médicis, the widow of Henry IV. There is a large palace and massive grounds. Today, the palace houses the Sénat (one of the legislative houses of the government).

Luxembourg Palace

Even though the weather today was chilly, the sun was out and so were the Parisians. There were garden chairs all over the grounds, and people were sitting and relaxing and enjoying the sun. There was a fountain where kids drove small remote-controlled sailboats (some simple, some very elaborate).

Fountain with Sailboats

The gardens were filled with people. There were many joggers going all around the sand path that circumnavigates the grounds, and I joined the ranks this morning. There were also at least 4 groups I saw doing doing t’ai chi, some jugglers practicing, and people stretching and doing sit-ups. There is a huge playground where it seemed like a thousand kids were running around, shrieking, swinging on the swings, climbing on the playset, and having a great time. There was also a large area where many adults (mostly men, but I saw at least one woman) were playing pétanque, which looked a lot like bocci ball. There were some tennis courts, and apparently chess is played there as well, although I didn’t see it.

Bee Hives

There is also an area with several bee hives where they have a beekeeping school. Once the honey is harvested, they sell it in the garden. I plan to purchase some once that happens. The bee houses originated long ago but were removed. They were recently added again, and would-be beekeepers can once again learn the skill right here in Paris.

The gardens themselves are magnificent. I’m no horticulturist, but the flowers and fruits are beautiful. They grow more varieties of pears than I have ever seen, and each type is carefully labeled. Oh yeah, and for some reason they grow some of the fruit in bags. I haven’t figured that one out.

Apples

Pears

Palace and Garden

This was a beautiful place to start the day.