The Eiffel Tower is definitely a must-see, but there are many other landmarks you can’t miss either!
(Photo By: Kimberly Vardeman)
Paris! The City of Light, the City of Love, Gay Paris… no matter what you call it, Paris is an amazing city. The capital of France is located in the northern part of the country, and is one of Europe’s most populated cities. Over 12 million people call Paris and its outer-lying metropolitan area home. The city is rich in artistic and architectural history and is considered by many to be one of the artistic hubs of the world. Paris has been inhabited for over two millennia, and today Paris is positioned as a world economic leader. When we think of Paris, however, we don’t think of business; we think of the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre… so, let’s tour some of Gay Paris’ finest landmarks.
Arc de Triomphe
Many think the Eiffel Tower is Paris’ most impressive landmark, and it is awesome. When it comes to Paris landmarks for me, however, I think the Arc de Triomphe is one of the most breathtaking pieces of architecture I have ever seen. “Arc de Triomphe” means “Triumphal Arch,” in English and boy is it just that! Inaugurated in 1836, the Arc de Triomphe was built to honor those who lost their lives in historic French battles, including the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. The Arc de Triomphe is the second largest arch in the world, only to be outdone by North Korea’s Arch of Triumph in Pyongyang – and they didn’t build that until 1982! The Arc de Triomphe is so big in fact, that during Paris’ World War I victory parade in 1919, Charles Godefroy, a famous French aviator, flew his Nieuport biplane right through it! Now that’s impressive!
Boulevard des Capucines
What makes the Boulevard des Capucines such an impressive landmark isn’t so much the boulevard itself, although it is beautiful, it’s what’s been on the boulevard throughout the centuries. The Boulevard des Capucines has been home to such landmarks as the Neapolitan Café, serving patrons such as Catulle Mendes, Jean Moreas, Armand Silvestre, and Laurent Tailhade. The Boulevard also housed one of France’s most prolific writers, Victor Hugo’s, L’Evenement newspaper buildings. Art fans will also note that Renoir, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, and Pissarro held their first art exhibition on the Boulevard in April of 1874. Monet’s Impressions was part of the exhibit and inspired the “Impressionists” moniker of which this movement is now called. Monet also memorialized the Boulevard des Capucines on canvas, which can be seen at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.
I just like saying our next landmark! Say it with me: the Champs-Elysees… it just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? This beautiful street’s full name is the Avenue des Champs-Elysees and it truly is one of the most famous avenues in the world. Lined with horse-chestnut trees, the Champs-Elysees is home to many of Paris’ most expensive cafes and luxury specialty shops. It also houses cinemas and several Paris landmarks. In fact, the Champs-Elysees ends at our first landmark, the Arc de Triomphe. The avenue itself is only 1.18 miles in distance, and it has been part of the Paris landscape since 1616. This was when Marie de’ Medici – you know, from the Italian Medici’s? – decided to add an avenue of trees to the existing Tuileries Garden. She was married to King Henry IV of France, so, as Queen, she could do almost anything she wanted. The Champs-Elysees puts other avenues to shame!
Okay, we simply cannot visit Paris and not stop by the Eiffel Tower; it is, after all, France’s most famous landmark. In French, you would say the “La Tour Eiffel.” It’s named after its engineer Gustave Eiffel. This iron-lattice tower was built in 1889 in honor of the World Fair. The French were looking to impress, and they sure did with this 1,063-foot beauty. The Eiffel holds the distinction of being the most-visited paid monument in the world. More than 7.1 million people dropped dough to climb the tower in 2011. Aside from a hefty hike – I’d take the elevator! – the tower boasts three levels from which tourists can view Paris in all its splendor and glory. There are also restaurants on the first and second levels. Despite the landmark’s fame now, it wasn’t received well by the French when it was initially proposed. Some key figures in France’s artistic movement petitioned against building the Eiffel Tower, including architect Charles Garnier, painter Adolphe Bouguereau, writer Guy de Maupassant, and Ave Maria composer Charles Gounod; if they only knew then what we know now!
Speaking of art, the Louvre also holds a “most-visited” distinction; more people visit the Louvre annually than any other art museum in the world. This is most likely because the Louvre is home to the most famous painting in the world, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. If your intent to go to the Louvre is just to see the beautiful woman and her mysterious smile, you’ll do yourself a huge disservice. You should plan to spend all day at this iconic museum, because the museum architecture itself, and its expansive art collection, are a feast for all eyes – not just those of you into art. The “Musee du Louvre” houses an extensive collection of over 380,000 objects and 35,000 works of art including archaeological finds, drawings, paintings, and sculptures from some of the most famous and groundbreaking artists in the world. It also has a beautiful glass pyramid on its grounds that, when lit at night, is breathtaking.
Place de la Bastille
Simply called “Bastille,” this historic Paris square has seen its share of conflict and political demonstration. Built between 1370 and 1383, the Bastille initially served as part of Paris’s defense fortresses. Charles VI, the King of France from 1380 to 1422, was called “Charles the Mad,” because the king suffered from bouts of insanity. It is believed that he converted the Bastille into a prison in the 17th century. Housed within the prison walls were political and religious prisoners, writers of an unsavory voice, and if your kid wasn’t behaving, you could throw him in there, too! The Bastille was known as a vile, horrible place, with people being held in nightmarish conditions. Eventually, the French decided enough was enough, and they stormed the Bastille during the French Revolution. The Bastille was completely destroyed by July 14, 1790; nothing of it remains. Today, it is home to several artistic venues, cafes, and the July Column, which was erected in 1830 to commemorate the Storming of the Bastille. This historic square is worth seeing, and still holds political rallies to this day.
Place de la Concorde
Speaking of revolutions, the Place de la Concorde is the Paris square where the French revolutionaries said, “Off with King Louis XVI’s head!” on January 21, 1793. At that time, the Place de la Concorde was known as the “Place de la Revolution,” and the French Revolutionist government erected the nasty head-chopper in the center of the square. This guillotine also claimed Marie Antoinette’s life, and many other French political figures. Overall, 1,300 people were executed in the Place de la Revolution, but when all was said and done, the square’s name was changed to the Place de la Concorde to signify reconciliation amongst the French people. Today, this 21.3 acre square is Paris’s largest square, and is home to some beautiful architecture, including the Luxor Obelisk and two glorious fountains designed by Jacques Ignace Hittorff. Who would have thought that a place with such a violent history could turn into such a beautiful and relaxing square where Parisians and tourists alike flock to enjoy a warm, sunny day!
So there you go, a few of my favorite destinations in all of Paris. Let me know if you think I missed anything!