Hear, dear visitors! Do you like history? Do you like vintage? Then this challenge is perfect for you. I suggest you visit the great classics of Paris because Paris is like good French food, there is nothing better than a good old croque-monsieur and a macaron from Fauchon. I guarantee you, the menu of this challenge will be very consistent On the menu today: churches, castles, bridges and gardens. Bon appétit!
Everything has already been said about the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. It is perhaps, with the Chinese wall, the Eiffel Tower and the coliseum in Rome, the most brilliant and striking thing one can imagine in the history of humanity. So, what could be more logical than to start with this masterpiece of 12th century Gothic architecture?
Notre-Dame was built on the site of an older church called Saint Stephen and is a medieval Catholic cathedral consecrated to the Virgin Mary. It is largely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, notably due to the use of the rib vault, its giant rose windows, as well as the abundance of its sculptures that set it apart from the earlier Romanesque style.
The construction begun in 1160 and stretched over one hundred years and Notre-Dame progressively became the symbol of Paris and France, although it is not France's tallest cathedral (the winner is Amiens Cathedral) and the kings of France preferred Reims Cathedral as the place of their coronation. The dimensions are also spectacular: it is 148 meters in height and 48 meters in width, 29 lateral chapels and 113 windows. Its surface approaches 5,500 square meters and it can host up to 9,000 people at the same time.
Unfortunately, Notre-Dame was progressively stripped of its original decoration and works of art and was modified many times throughout history, especially at the turn of the 19th century after the French Revolution. Although Napoleon's coronation took place in it, the cathedral underwent progressive desecration until Victor Hugo (see Challenge "Writers in Paris") managed to raise public awareness of the danger to the loss of this monument of historical importance. This led to a major restoration project between 1844 and 1864, supervised by star-architect Viollet-le-Duc (see Challenge "Viollet-le-Duc"), who had the genius idea to add a spire over the transept.
Until the 2019 fire that destroyed part of its the oak frame, spire and lead roof, the cathedral used to host some of the most important relics in Christendom, notably a sliver of the true cross, a nail from the true cross and the Crown of Thorns. The works are since then in progress and are expected to end in 2024.
Address: 6 Parvis Notre-Dame - Pl. Jean-Paul II, 75004 Paris, France
A few minutes from Notre-Dame, towards Châtelet, you will find a rather modest sign next to the former Justice Palace and unfortunately a long queue. This is the entrance of the Sainte-Chapelle. The Holy Chapel is a royal chapel within the medieval Palais de la Cité, which used to be the residence of the Kings of France until the 14th century until they moved to the Right Bank.
Its construction started under Louis IX (see Challenge "Royal Paris") and the chapel itself was consecrated ten years later to serve one particular purpose, to house the pious king's collection of Passion relics, notably the Crown of Thorns, before it was transferred to Notre-Dame.
The Sainte-Chapelle is one of the rare surviving buildings of the Capetian royal palace on the Île de la Cité. It was built in the Gothic style and is considered as one of the most beautiful symbols of the Rayonnant period of Gothic architecture. It also has one of the most impressive 13th-century stained glass collections in the world.
I know it is boring to wait too long to visit a place, especially if you never really heard of it before you started this challenge (I do not blame you, I probably don't know a lot about your homeland either), but honestly, you will not be disappointed. The upper and lower level interiors are simply gorgeous and once you enter the chapel, you cannot take your eyes off the richly decorated vault and the stained-glass windows.
Address: 8 Boulevard du Palais, 75001 Paris, France
This is perhaps the most unfairly ignored historical building in Paris and it is a real paradox since it appears in the pictures of almost all the tourists who had the chance to visit the city. I am speaking about the Conciergerie, which, along with the Sainte-Chapelle, is part of the former royal palace. As you have noted, the Sainte-Chapelle is not far away, only 5 minutes. I don't want you to get exhausted today!
La Conciergerie basically means the keeper's house: the concierge was a person of trust who was appointed by the king and was responsible for policing within the palace in his absence. It got this name as of the 14th century, when it started to house the king's law courts and Parliament sessions that were called ''lits de justice''. However, the building itself is much older. It was built under the Merovingian dynasties (6th to 8th centuries) and served as the main palace of Carolingian and Capetian kings from 10th to 14th centuries until Charles V decided to move to the Louvre Palace.
The reputation of the Conciergerie is rather gruesome. While some parts of the palace were used to deliver justice, other parts served as a prison. Thousands of prisoners were held, died in the so-called ''oubliettes'', i.e. underground dungeons, or waited to be summarily executed by guillotine. Among the most famous captives, one may mention Robespierre, Madame du Barry, Louis XV's mistress, and of course Marie Antoinette.
Today, the Conciergerie is a much more welcoming place. From the outside, you can see the three remaining towers from the medieval building: the Caesar Tower, the Silver Tower, and the Bonbec ("good beak") Tower, named for the torture chamber that it housed. Inside, you will discover the "Grande Salle" (Great Hall), the 64m long "Salle des Gens d'Armes" (The Hall of the Soldiers), the Salle des Gardes (The Hall of the Guards) as well as some cells. You may also find the walls that are covered by 4000 names of those who got killed during the Grand Terror of 1793-1794.
Address: 2 Boulevard du Palais, 75001 Paris, France
- Monday: 09:30 - 18:00
- Tuesday: 09:30 - 18:00
- Wednesday: 09:30 - 18:00
- Thursday: 09:30 - 18:00
- Friday: 09:30 - 18:00
- Saturday: 09:30 - 18:00
- Sunday: 09:30 - 18:00
The Pont Neuf ("New Bridge") is the oldest standing bridge across the river Seine and it is composed of two separate spans, one joining the Left Bank to the Île de la Cité, and another joining the island to the Right Bank. It is 232 meters long and 22 meters wide, which makes it the third longest Paris bridge out of 37. For your information, the longest is the Simone de Beauvoir footbridge in front of the Jardin des plantes (see Challenge "Parisian Gardens"). The name Pont Neuf was given in the XVIIth century to distinguish it from older bridges that were lined on both sides with houses. Ironically, it is the only one to survive the successive waves of urban planning that progressively destroyed and replaced the other bridges. So what makes the Pont Neuf so special? I may say lots of things make it special. First, its location is absolutely incredible and I think one of the most beautiful viewpoints of Paris is to find there: it stands west of the Ile de la Cité and faces the Louvre, the Pont des Arts, the Institut de France and much more. Secondly, the structure of the bridge is itself fascinating. It is decorated with 381 stone masks called ''mascarons'' and hosts the impressive equestrian statue of King Henry IV who commissioned the construction of the bridge. But what I like most in the Pont-Neuf is the inspiring atmosphere when you stroll around the bridge. The traffic is not dense so that you can peacefully look at the old but beautifully renovated houses or simply enjoy the scenery, hand in hand with your chéri, or if you are single, with an ice cream in hand.
Contrary to the legend, the Pont des Arts is not one of the oldest bridges in Paris (remember, you already walked on the oldest bridge just a few minutes ago). However, it is certainly one of the most popular ones because of its geographical location. The first metal bridge in Paris was erected between 1802 and 1804, under the reign of Napoleon. It aimed at reproducing a sort of hanging garden and therefore included flowers, trees and benches to relax. However, crossing it would have costed you money and you could not reach the other side of the river unless you paid a small fee. Today, thanks Lord, the current bridge is free of charge. The current bridge was built in 1984 to replace the first one, which had finally collapsed after decades of degradation. The current bridge is 155 metres long, i. e. more or less the length of the Alexandre III bridge (see Challenge "Midnight in Paris") and 11 metres wide, that is to say half the width of the Mirabeau bridge (see Challenge "Singing Paris"), making it the narrowest bridge in Paris. The bridge serves as a place for art exhibitions and picnics, especially in summer time. It also allows to join the royal district of Le Louvre on the Right Bank with the bohemian district of Saint-Germain-des-prés on the Left Bank in only 15 minutes.
The pyramid of the Louvre has become a symbol of Paris architecture, which was not won at first. Many polemics accompanied this construction, which was commissioned by the then French President François Mitterrand, whose nickname was actually the ''Sphinx''. The controversy focused on two points: the first seems incomprehensible to us today and concerned the iconoclastic character of the work of the American-Chinese architect Pei, i.e. destroying the ground of the Napoleon Court to install a glass pyramid in the middle of historic buildings dating back to the 17th century. The second concerned the number of panes that had been used by the architect. That number was 666, the devil's number. Even if the true number is 673, the myth of the number of the beast persists, as Dan Brown recalled it in his Da Vinci Code. Speaking of dimensions, Pei's pyramid is not as big as we think. It is of course impressive in the middle of this classical style square, but if we compare it to the real pyramids of Egypt, its size is very modest. it is only 21 meters high, while the pyramid of Giza is 148 meters high, i.e. 7 times bigger! But this is not the most important. The true thing is that the pyramid was a real revolution in 1989 and that was Mitterrand's ultimate goal: to mark the history of Paris positively on the occasion of the bicentenary of the French Revolution. In addition, the pyramid may not be aesthetically pleasing to everyone, but it has fulfilled its functional role as the visitors to the Louvre must now pass through it to enter the Museum, which eliminated the long queues in the side aisles and allowed the visitors to enjoy the square.
This is your final destination. You have so far walked, or run, or driven about 5 kilometers. Piece of cake, isn't it? I guess you are in good shape, so why stop here in the heart of the capital? Well wait a minute. You should stop for two reasons: first, all good things have an end, and secondly, the Tuileries garden offers you a 360-degree view of the wonders of Paris that you can visit right after. Simply take a look around you, you see the Louvre and the triumphal arch of the Carrousel, the Musée d'Orsay, the Place de la Concorde, and looking far away, the Eiffel Tower.
But before leaving to visit one of these world-class tourist destinations, I suggest you stay a bit in this magnificent garden. The Tuileries were constructed under Catherine de Medici (see Challenge "Romantic Paris") in the 17th century and its structure has significantly changed since then.
Its name comes from a tile factory that used to operate in the past, when there was still a château du Louvre (if it had still existed, it would undoubtedly have been included in the "Parisian Castles" Challenge). Unfortunately, the castle has been destroyed, but you can see some remains inside the Louvre Museum.
Today, its total area exceeds 25ha and is divided into three major parts: the Grand Couvert (the area covered with trees), the Grand Carré (the area with gardens à la française) and the Bassin octogonal (near the Place de la Concorde).
The garden is famous for several reasons. First, the sweet melancholy that it inspires to walkers, especially in autumn because of all the plane and chestnut leaves that litter the ground. Then, it is where the main events of the French Revolution, so dear to the hearts of Parisians, took place. Finally, because it hosts an exceptional place to visit, the Musée de l'Orangerie, where the eight large Water Lilies murals by Claude Monet are located. C'est fantastique! And that's it, it's over! I hope you enjoyed this short and sweet visit to the historic heart of Paris. I could have taken you to other places in the Parisian Middle Ages or to other Egyptian monuments such as the Luxor Obelisk, but I think it's good sometimes just to walk around without much thought and keep your energy for the evening. You are free to decide where you will spend it, but I can only suggest one place: the Champs-Elysées!
Address: Place de la Concorde, 75001 Paris, France