Seduced by Paris
Paris Travel Blog› entry 1 of 5 › view all entries
June 24th, 2007 – by: Adrian_Liston
We saw the beautiful old apartment blocks, which have an amazing classical effect when the entire boulevard is matches height and is flush with the street, but with each house having its own theme. The uniform precision of Paris apartments dates back to Louis XIV, who made laws stating that private houses had to be built of stone no more than 8 toises (15.
After lunch we wandered down to the Seine and across the many bridges to the islands of Ile St-Louis and Ile de la Cite. On Ile de la Cite we spent the afternoon in Notre Dame. Note Dame was started in 1163, but has been continually rebuilt and remodelled since, creating a hodge-podge of ages and architectural styles.
The outside of Notre Dame is in a gorgeous gothic style. Lines of gargoyles and grotesques line the building, although oddly they seem to be more comedic in a Buffy the Vampire Slayer way than serious gothic art.
Our guide told us that the cathedral was designed in the shape of a cross to venerate Jesus, but actually it is a direct consequence of the inverse square law of light diffusion, since an analysis of church design over time showed that originally all churches were built as rectangles and kept down to a smaller size. The upper limit of size was determined by lighting, as the volume increases more rapidly than the surface area (window area) with building size, reaching a point where it becomes impossible to counter the diffusion of light with candles. Only after the breakthrough in design of a cross (increasing the surface area for the same volume) came did Churches become any larger, and this design was still kept only for the large churches. The light issue was also reflected in the fascination the Church had for stain glass, the massive rose windows in Notre Dame contain some of the oldest stain-glass in the world, dating back to the 13th century.
The most impressive aspect of Notre Dame is the main façade, covered with intricate carvings and statues. The main image is that of Jesus seated over a line of dead people who are having their soul’s weighed and being lead off in chains by the devil. One of the more interesting statues is that of the headless St Denis. Denis was sent to convert the Gauls to Christianity and was executed by the Romans ~250 CE. The legend has it that after being beheaded he picked up his head and walked for several miles while preaching a sermon. Apparently he only had enough miracle in him to defy death temporarily and he died again very soon. The statue of St Denis on Notre Dame chose to portray him headless as part of his fame, but this caused major problems for the sculptures (well, more the theologians) - where to put his halo? Around his severed head? Or around the place in which his head once was? Obviously a very important question for a group that once debated for decades whether people have belly buttons in heaven (they decided yes - on the grounds that people would look silly without them) and whether severed limbs would be reattached in heaven (again they decided yes, making the headless St Denis possibly heresy, but this only brought up the harder question of whether a limb severed and eaten by someone else stays with second person or is regenerated with the first).
The interior of Notre Dame was less impressive than the exterior, having decayed after the Catholic Church lost its iron grip on France in the 1789 Revolution. It required Victor Hugo's publication of Notre Dame de Paris in 1831 (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) to get it restored, but it is still not as ornate as Westminster.
Outside Notre Dame we visited Point Zero, the centre of Paris, then had ice-cream in Place du Pont Neuf.
From Place du Pont Neuf we crossed over to the Louvre and Cour Napoleon.
From the Louvre we walked along Jardin des Tuileries, the gardens landscaped by Andre Le Notre in 1664 and still closely following his design. We found the hedge garden, with little nooks designed for kissing in, and a fountain where children sent sail boats across the pool by angling their sail just right. There were beautiful statues are arches right up to Au des Champs-Élysées, which we followed up to Arc de Triomphe.
Champs-Élysées is the most expensive and exclusive avenue in Europe (the second in the world after New York’s 5th Avenue).
Arc de Triomphe was stunning. The Arc was commissioned in 1806 for Napoleon’s 1805 victory of Austerlitz. The Arc is so massive (51m tall, the second largest triumphal arch since North Korea built a slight larger arch in 1982 for the 70th birthday of Kim Il-Sung) that it needs 8m deep foundations. While the first stone was laid in August 1806, it was not finished until 1836, long after Napoleon’s exile and death, so they never knew what to put on top of it. A chariot, effigy of Napoleon, eagle, Statue of Liberty or a gigantic star were all proposed, but in the end the top was left bare.
From Arc de Triomphe we caught the metro (such a classy way to travel, with the individual Art Nouveau signs) to the Eiffel Tower, the most visited monument in the world.
Afterwards I was taken out to a charming restaurant by the tower for dinner, before heading back to our hotel for a well deserved rest.
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