DAY 2: Les Invalides, Eiffel Tower, Fragonard & the town centre

Hello everybody!

The alarm clock rings at 6:58am. We are supposed to have breakfast at 7am and at 7:30 our bus leaves. After extremely fast shower and even more fast packing we run out of the hotel door at 7:29 and just so hit the bus.

The first stop of out tour today is Les Invalides (or Hôtel national des Invalides), an unmissable monument in the Parisian landscape.

The Hôtel des Ivalides was commissioned in 1670 by Louis XIV in order to provide accommodation and hospital care for wounded soldiers. In 1815 after Napoleon’s abdication, over 5000 survivors of the Great Army were listed there. Napoleon inspected the place and visited his men in 1808, 1813 and 1815.

The chapel of the Invalides was built at the end of the 17th century by Jules-Hardouin Mansart and contains Napoleon’s tomb. In 1840, during the “Return of the Ashes”, a law passed on 10th June ordered the construction of the Emperor’s tomb below the dome of the Invalides. A national funeral was celebrated on 15th December and the body was laid to rest temporarily in the chapel of Saint-Jerôme until Visconti had completed his work. The coffin was subsequently transferred to the chapel on 2nd April, 1861, in Napoleon III’s presence and set up in a red porphyry sarcophagus in the middle of a circular uncovered crypt.

Visitors enter the crypt via a staircase. This leads to a heavy bronze door (forged from cannons taken at Austerlitz) flanked by two statues. Above the lintel is the following inscription (an extract from Napoleon’s will): “I wish my ashes to rest on the banks of the Seine among the people of France whom I so much loved”. The sarcophagus was put up on a green granite pedestal and contains a nest of six coffins: one made of soft iron, another of mahogany, two others of lead, one of ebony and finally the last one of oak. Napoleon is dressed in his Colonel’s uniform (of the cavalry of the Guard) which bears his sash of the Légion d’Honneur. His hat rests on his legs.

On the floor, a polychrome mosaic illustrates the main battles of the Empire, while twelve huge Victory statues by Pradier are mounted up against the pillars of the crypt. A circular gallery houses ten white marble bas-reliefs by Simart, all showing episodes from Napoleon’s reign. Halfway along the gallery, there is a vault containing the coffin of the King of Rome, transferred there on 15th December 1940 and placed under a marble slab in the crypt on 18th December 1969. Over the tomb stands a statue by Simart representing Napoleon as a Roman emperor.

Inside the church, two side chapels contain the tombs of Joseph and Jerôme Bonaparte. The gilt bees on the walls of the chapel of Saint-Jerôme serve to remind visitors that the Emperor’s coffin lay here while the crypt was being transformed.

The Military Museum (whose director is officially the “Keeper of the Emperor’s tomb”!) is housed in one wing of the Invalides. It was opened in 1905 and combined the Artillery Museum and the Historical Military Museum. It’s France’s greatest military museum and one of the biggest in the world.

The Turenne room on the ground floor, the soldiers’ former dining hall, has on show flags, trophies and standards from every period in history. Of particular note are: the painting by Ingres “Napoleon on the imperial throne in 1804”; and the flag belonging to the first regiment of the infantrymen of the Emperor’s Guard which Napoleon kissed during his farewell in Fontainebleau.

The rooms on the second floor are arranged in chronological order: those devoted to the monarchy are followed by an evocation of the Italian and Egyptian campaigns. The Boulogne room contains a few of the Emperor’s personal possessions, notably: his saddle for the Coronation, his sword at Austerlitz, his sash of the Légion d’Honneur, his grey coat, his hats and a (pitched) military tent. The following rooms are dedicated the Emperor’s brothers and the Marshals of Napoleon’s Great Army. In the Eylau room is “Le Vizir”, Napoleon’s horse (stuffed), and the Montmirail room exhibits a painting by Delaroche “Napoleon I in Fontainebleau during his first abdication”. The Restoration room is devoted to the islands of Elba and Saint Helena. Here visitors can see a reconstruction of Napoleon’s drawing room with the Emperor’s deathbed, various pieces of furniture and his personal belongings.

After approximately two hours spent there we walked towards the Eiffel Tower. Well, waiting in the line was quite longer than expected, but finally after like an hour we got to the entry. And in that moment we realized, that we are in the wrong entry and we have to walk up two levels on foot. Great, right? On the second level we somehow managed to get on the lift and went out on the third platform. The view was unbelievable and with a glass of champagne in the hand…lovely experience.

In 1889, Paris hosted an Exposition Universelle (World’s Fair) to mark the 100-year anniversary of the French Revolution. More than 100 artists submitted competing plans for a monument to be built on the Champ-de-Mars, located in central Paris, and serve as the exposition’s entrance. The commission was granted to Eiffel et Compagnie, a consulting and construction firm owned by the acclaimed bridge builder, architect and metals expert Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel. While Eiffel himself often receives full credit for the monument that bears his name, it was one of his employees – a structural engineer named Maurice Koechlin – who came up with and fine-tuned the concept. Several years earlier, the pair had collaborated on the Statue of Liberty’s metal armature.

Eiffel reportedly rejected Koechlin’s original plan for the tower, instructing him to add more ornate flourishes. The final design called for more than 18000 pieces of puddle iron, a type of wrought iron used in construction, and 2,5 million rivets. Several hundred workers spent two years assembling the framework of the iconic lattice tower, which at its inauguration in March 1889 stood nearly 1,000 feet high and was the tallest structure in the world – a distinction it held until the completion of New York City’s Chrysler Building in 1930. (In 1957, an antenna was added that increased the structure’s height by 65 feet, making it taller than the Chrysler Building but not the Empire State Building, which had surpassed its neighbor in 1931.) Initially, only the Eiffel Tower’s second-floor platform was open to the public; later, all three levels, two of which now feature restaurants, would be reachable by stairway or one of eight elevators.

Millions of visitors during and after the World’s Fair marveled at Paris’ newly erected architectural wonder. Not all of the city’s inhabitants were as enthusiastic, however: Many Parisians either feared it was structurally unsound or considered it an eyesore. The novelist Guy de Maupassant, for example, allegedly hated the tower so much that he often ate lunch in the restaurant at its base, the only vantage point from which he could completely avoid glimpsing its looming silhouette.

Originally intended as a temporary exhibit, the Eiffel Tower was almost torn down and scrapped in 1909. City officials opted to save it after recognizing its value as a radiotelegraph station. Several years later, during World War I, the Eiffel Tower intercepted enemy radio communications, relayed zeppelin alerts and was used to dispatch emergency troop reinforcements. It escaped destruction a second time during World War II: Hitler initially ordered the demolition of the city’s most cherished symbol, but the command was never carried out. Also during the German occupation of Paris, French resistance fighters famously cut the Eiffel Tower’s elevator cables so that the Nazis had to climb the stairs.

Over the years, the Eiffel Tower has been the site of numerous high-profile stunts, ceremonial events and even scientific experiments. In 1911, for instance, the German physicist Theodor Wulf used an electrometer to detect higher levels of radiation at its top than at its base, observing the effects of what are now called cosmic rays. The Eiffel Tower has also inspired more than 30 replicas and similar structures in various cities around the world.

Now one of the most recognizable structures on the planet, the Eiffel Tower underwent a major facelift in 1986 and is repainted every seven years. It welcomes more visitors than any other paid monument in the world – an estimated 7 million people per year. Around 500 employees are responsible for its daily operations, working in its restaurants, manning its elevators, ensuring its security and directing the eager crowds flocking the tower’s platforms to enjoy panoramic views of the City of Lights.

The next stop were church La Madeleine and Fragonard perfumery. While walking between these two destinations and then our dinner place we saw much of the town’ architecture, also captured in these photos.

Madeleine, in full Église Sainte-Marie-Madeleine, in english Church of St. Mary Magdalene is Parisian church designed by Pierre-Alexandre Vignon in 1806. Together with the Arc de Triomphe (1806–08) and the Vendôme Column, the Madeleine is one of the monuments with which Napoleon sought to turn Paris into an imperial capital. Built in the form of a Roman temple surrounded by a Corinthian colonnade, the Madeleine reflects the taste for Classical art and architecture that predominated in France during the Empire phase of the Neoclassical movement.

Napoleon had ordered its design and construction, originally intending the building to be a temple of glory celebrating his Grande Armée. This commemorative role, however, was assumed instead by the Arc de Triomphe, and in 1816 the Madeleine was made a church by the restored Bourbon regime. Its interior, completed 1828–42 under the supervision of Jean-Jacques Huvé, was modeled on the Roman baths.

 

France has been a world center of the perfume industry since the 17th century, when Louis XV’s court at Versailles was known as “le cour parfumée”. Over the centuries, French perfumers have developed techniques for making fragrances from flowers, leaves, mosses, herbs, spices and other ingredients. One such maker, Parfumerie Fragonard, shares its knowledge with the public (free of charge) at the Musée du Parfum in Paris.

Fragonard’s Perfume Museum occupies two stories of 19th Century townhouse on Rue Scribe in the 9th arrondissement. After entering on the ground floor, you head upstairs to a series of large rooms with a mixture of period furnishings and perfume exhibits. Displays show the history of perfume manufacturing and packaging from ancient times, and how natural ingredients are combined with fats and other substances to create modern perfumes. (If you’ve ever wondered why good perfumes are expensive, consider this: It takes 200 kg of lavender flowers to produce 1 kg of lavender extract for use in perfume.)

One of the more intriguing exhibits is the orgue à parfum, or “perfume organ”, so called because it resembles the keyboards of a seven-manual cathedral organ with its tiered rows of ingredient bottles arranged around a balance or scale that the perfumer uses when mixing and testing fragrances. Other interesting devices include stills (for steam distillation of perfume extracts) and glass frames that were coated with fat and flowers in the traditional “cold maceration” process.

After you’ve toured the museum, you’ll exit through the Fragonard perfume boutique, where you can spray yourself (or small slips of paper) with perfume samplers that are arranged on tables. There’s no sales pressure, although you’re welcome to buy perfume at the display counters if you wish.

Our dinner took place in Chinese quarter, in one Chinese restaurant. Honestly…I don’t want to experience this again, I didn’t really like the cuisine, not really my style. We ended our day with a walk from Opéra to Place de la Concorde and by Avenue des Champs-Élysées to Arc de Triomphe and then back to the hotel.

A 19th century architectural masterpiece, the Palais Garnier Opera House, built by Charles Garnier and opened in 1875, is the 13th opera house in Paris since the introduction of French opera by Louis XIV in 1669. Napoleon III commissioned it as part of the renovation works in the capital carried out under his command by Baron Haussmann. A historical monument open to visitors during the day staging opera and dance. Don’t forget to admire the ceiling painted by Chagall in the main auditorium.

 

In 1763, a large statue of king Louis XV was erected at this site to celebrate the recovery of the king after a serious illness. The square surrounding the statue was created later, in 1772, by the architect Jacques-Ange Gabriel. It was known as the place Louis XV.  In 1792, during the French revolution, the statue was replaced by a another, large statue, called “Liberté” (freedom) and the square was called Place de la Révolution. A guillotine was installed at the center of the square and in a time span of only a couple of years, 1119 people were beheaded here. Amongst them many famous people like King Louis XVI, Marie-Antionette, and revolutionary Robespierre, just to name a few. After the revolution the square was renamed several times until 1830, when it was given the current name “Place de la Concorde“.

In the 19th century the 3200 years old obelisk from the temple of Ramses II at Thebes was installed at the center of the Place de la Concorde. It’s a 23 meters tall monolith in pink granite and weighs approximately 230 tons. In 1831, it was offered by the Viceroy of Egypt to Louis Philippe. The obelisk – sometimes dubbed “L’aiguille de Cléopâtre” or Cleopatra’s Needle – is covered with hieroglyphs picturing the reign of pharaohs Ramses II & Ramses III. Pictures on the pedestal describe the transportation to Paris and its installation at the square in 1836.

At each corner of the octagonal square is a statue representing a French city: Bordeaux, Brest, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nantes, Rouen and Strasbourg. They were installed in 1836 by Jacob Ignaz Hittorf, who redesigned the Place de la Concorde between 1833 and 1846. That same year a bronze fountain, called “La fontaine des Mers” was added to the square. A second one, the “Elevation of the Maritime” fountain, was installed in 1839. Both fountains were designed by Hittorf.

From the Place de la Concorde you can see the Arc de Triomphe (west), the Madeleine (north), the Tuileries (east) and, across the Seine, the Palais Bourbon, now the Assemblée Nationale (south).

 

For glory and grandeur, this is the most famous avenue in the world. If the monuments and symmetrical landscaping don’t convince you, remember that Champs-Elysées means “Elysian Fields” which indicates that someone thought this street was heaven on earth. The monuments and history connected to this avenue are worth more than the reality of the place today. While the avenue is one of the required stopping sites in Paris, the place is a mere shadow of what is used to be. Once the famed meeting point for polititians and intellectuals, the stylish cafés have given way to a generally commercial atmosphere with enormous hub-stores such as Sephora, Gap, Virgin and even McDonalds. While the French publicly decry these monuments to American crasstitude and capitalism, they secretly adore them. Visit one on a Saturday at noon and my point will be proven. Still, if you can squint and try to imagine the area in its heyday, it is worth strolling the massive sidewalks with their elegant facades and leafy plane trees. The older avenue was once protected by severe building codes, limiting construction to the highest aesthetic standards and creating an avenue which was frequented almost exclusively by high-end Parisian society. In recent years, with metro access and a more flexible zoning law, the Champs-Elysées has drifted toward mass tourism and isolated horrors of consumerism.

 

Situated at the Place de l’Etoile, overlooking the Champs-Elysées, the Arc de Triomphe is the biggest arch in the world. It was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 to celebrate his victory at Austerlitz. The architects Chalgrin, Joust and Blouet all worked on the monument. Sculptures were designed by Cortot, Rude, Etex, Pradier and Lemaire. Beneath the arch is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and each evening at 6:30pm its flame is rekindled. From the top of the monument, visitors benefit from a panoramic view of Paris, during the day and at night, and two viewpoint indicators. A museum retracing the history of the Arc de Triomphe, situated within the structure, completes the visit.

What a perfect day it was! Weak and exhausted, we fell asleep right after a good shower and pampered ourselves with a long, fresh sleep before the upcoming day.

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Macaroons!

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