An April 2004 trip
to Paris by kjlouden
Quote: I wish for everyone a day on the Seine! Mine exceeded my expectations. I had never been to Paris and hadn’t had a glimpse of the waterway, but I have
always known, as we all know, that Paris is the ultimate river city that preserves a pastoral way of life.
U. S. revitalization projects since the 1950’s have been inspired by it, cleaning and
decorating our rivers to make them centers of activity, as in more pastoral times.
(That’s it! Paris is a pastoral city!) Anyone who has witnessed a renewal
like Chicago’s River North knows how a stream transforms a town and can try to
imagine Paris. But narrow those banks to make them "cozy," build many more
(pedestrian) bridges, and add enough romantic-era, classically-inspired statuary (some at water level) to fill a museum.
UNESCO’s designation (1991) for the banks of the Seine may pertain as much to a way
of life as to the grandeur of the monuments. At least, the illusion of an idyllic life along the river, a life merely enriched and not destroyed by the advent of civilization--this
may just be the source of our longing for Paris. "The best of both worlds," I thought, as I
practically swooned at adorable Petit-Pont, the "Little Bridge" below Notre
Dame, where the Seine is so narrow, lovers could have a private conversation from
opposite banks--well, maybe not on tourist weekends! But, the Seine is
personal. If not, do it again! (Batobus will let you go as many times
as you need.)
I was glad we took time for all four statues. They got our eyes off Eiffel Tower,
the Trocadera, and larger sights, so that we could focus on the myriad details. Then we
descended the stairs to the quay and boarded Batobus, best river-taxi
for exploring the center city. "Familiar" bridges paraded overhead: la passerelle
Debilly, ponts de l’Alma, Alexandre III, Carroussel, des Arts, and then Pont
Neuf, where Isle de la Cite begins and the banks become cozier and more
The river may talk to you. I heard it say, "You’ve come." Words of teachers, highlights
of evening news reminded me of all I knew of Paris. The boat was quiet, passengers
relating personally as the river called their names, paying attention as Banks of the Seine
unfolded before us, a parade of our own memories. The love that defines Paris, I
discovered, is for this river and those who have cared for it, our heritage.
We insisted on the grand waterway entrance to the ancient center. An unexpected plus
was the ease with which we found our way around to sites and then back to the waterway
and Batobus docks. It was easy as a small town at the beach after studying a map
of attractions the hotel provided. We always knew which way was north, south, east,
west, which bank we were on, which way back to the river. I would recommend touring
with Batobus for everyone’s first day in Paris. You’ll see all "obligatory" sites
and get oriented by the river.
Attraction | "Place de Greve and Hotel de Ville"
Torture took many forms. Dissenting folk were boiled alive, strangled, burned, beheaded
or "quartered" (pulled apart by 4 horses, one tied to each limb). Leonora Galigai, favorite
of Marie de Medici (Queen of France after Henry IV’s death) was beheaded and
burned here for sorcery (or, more accurately, for having too much influence). Anne
Dubourg (a man) was burned alive for pleading for more humanitarian treatment of
heretics under Henry II, and Captain Montgomery met a similar fate. The most
famous scene witnessed here must have been the torture and quartering in 1610 of
Francois Ravaillac, who stabbed Henry IV because he believed that the good King would
turn the country Protestant. I imagine a huge bloodthirsty public showed up for that event!
What drama! (I really must review our own history.)
The class struggle lasted a long time!
Shopping, griping, and torture--all combined to establish Place de Greve as
the main staging arena, the "message board" for communication between government and
citizenry--or aristocracy and common folk, if you want to look at it as a class thing. The
more I read, the more I am convinced that no other square in Paris saw so much of the
drama of political or class struggle. This fact alone makes it worth a visit. For
our Saturday there, it was bare, easy to view as a stage. Descriptions make much of
the lampposts, a long row of them, and even they are off to the side, but decorated with
Hotel de Ville
The building didn’t always look this impressive.
In 1871 after Thiers’ army and the Paris
Commune were finished with it, it looked like
this. If you
want to learn more about the bloodbath that occurred here that year that set back the labor
movement in France for many decades, see this story. The
Communards occupied this seat of government long enough to make major changes, which I imagine led to some compromises after they
were massacred. For one, they didn't want notaries to inherit their positions.
Inside, an exhibit (that has been there for some time) concerns the notaries of Paris and
the Notary Acts. This is complicated reading for one with limited French, so we deciphered little. We found no literature in English, but we didn’t ask.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on August 18, 2004
Hotel de Ville - City Hall of Paris
4, Place De L'hôtel-de-ville
Paris, France 75004
+33 1 42 76 50 49
Attraction | "Notre Dame de Paris"
Is change coming?
We found Notre Dame gleaming white in April sun. Its recent bath should be
only the beginning. Inside, markers in multiple languages would help folk to identify
the sparse artwork. (The church was sacked during the Revolution.) I could identify the statue of Joan of Arc.
Back home, I visited the website and found no discussion of artwork or artefacts but the Crown of Thorns and chunk of Cross in the Treasury and the pieta prescribed
by Louis XIII and a bronze crucifix. You can check here for history of
the architecture and artefacts. I wanted to buy a book, but didn’t see any stall. There is a bookstore, I understand, but I didn’t
see it because of the crowd. With a few hundred people inside, an attendant or sign
should have pointed the way. I understand that artwork has been destroyed, but what about the historic congregation?
Henry VI of England was crowned here, 1430. Mary Stuart, before she was Queen of
Scots, was married here to Francois II. Who’s buried here? I know
where Wilhelm II, Martin Luther, and Philipp Melancthon are buried in the Castle Church
in Wittenberg only because I visited there, but I believed we were herded through
Notre Dame without passing tombs until I read they were removed in 1699--considered out of style! (What?) I searched one-by-one for historic figures
who might be here. ( I found Cardinal Richelieu at the Sorbonne!) I know that Hugo’s
Hunchback renewed interest in the cathedral when it was about to be torn down, but not if
Hugo belonged to the congregation. I visit churches for these details! A cathedral
is more than artwork; it’s a community.
Still a marvel!
Most stained glass was removed (18th Century--just to let in light!), but rose windows are
My favorite decoration is over the choir stalls.
A portrait of St. Thomas Aquinas is easy to identify, even in Latin, as well as a statue of
first bishop and architect of Notre Dame, Maurice de Sully, who ordered destruction of the
Roman basilica on the site and built the cathedral.
Go on a weekday and ask questions. The website says people are there to talk to. (I’m
not sure this doesn’t mean "talk about faith.") A mass would be memorable, since Notre Dame is proud of its innovative choirs and offers several concerts and
masses each day. The Treasury can be visited for a small fee.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on August 19, 2004
6, place du Parvis-de-Notre-Dame
Paris, France 75004
+33 (1) 42 34 56 10
Maps contain suggestions from the river taxi’s staff for the best sites to see from each
The playful bubble on the water.
Run by Bateau Parisian, the river taxis Batobus seem to glide in their own
perky way by each stop every 15-25 minutes. At Eiffel Tower, where the river is busy
and wide, the bubble frollicked up to the dock in morning sunshine. It was love at
first sight! Later in the day, on the dark side of Ile de la Cite and Ile
Saint-Louis, sun and shade played on our cheeks as we gazed at tree-lined stone
quays and admired the arboreal city dancing with April sunshine all along the Seine.
Each time we wanted to move on to another spot--or return to one we had already
visited--we had only to descend the steps to the quay, and along came our ride, twinkling
clean and looking glad to see us.
Plan a walk for each stop--or not.
No matter how cute the boat, I couldn’t escape a sense of destiny, as though we were
headed across the River Styx--doesn’t everyone know he’ll make it to Paris someday and travel down the Seine? We hadn’t realized how many important monuments are visible from the river. First stop, Musee d’Orsay, we were still too spellbound to get off. Second stop, St.-Germain des-Pres (a suggested walking neighborhood), we still couldn’t find our feet. Third stop, Notre Dame, made us pop right up from our rather comfy seats.
From this stop, we walked all around Ile de la Cite, saw the Palace of Justice,
Sainte Chapelle, Conciergerie, and a few deserted, ancient park-like
squares, where we rested in solitude. This was easy touring, compared to chasing subways. Back on Batobus, we passed Jardin des Plantes and got off at Hotel de Ville, where we admired the Third Empire City Hall and some of the most delightful statuary in Paris. We strayed from the river to find Place des Vosges (oldest square in Paris, dating from 1610, and home of Victor Hugo) and enjoyed another walk along the Seine to the Louvre stop to meet our ride on the quay. Only one stop, Champs-Elysees, was between us and our return to Eiffel Tower, near our hotel.
Walk the Champs-Elysees from Batobus.
We could have got off at this stop and walked the world’s most famous avenue to Arc
de Triomphe, but we had only ten minutes before the ticket office at Eiffel Tower
closed. We liked Batobus so much, you see, we wanted another day! For two more euros (a total of 13), we could exchange our 1-day passes for 2-day passes, but another ticket office insisted we had to do that at Eiffel Tower--too late! Oh, well, we had only two days anyway, so we’d stick to our plan and walk Montmartre the second day. (We visited
Triomphe from our hotel next morning.) A better plan would be to find Place
Vendome (to see the glitz at the Ritz) behind the Tuileries, start your walk up the
Champs from there, and meet Batobus back at Eiffel Tower. In summer,
I’d also take one last spin around the city before 9:00 p.m. to see the lights from
Batobus. We felt we almost "had it all" with just a daypass!
A lazy day--first day in Paris?
I’m not sure if it was the interplay of light and shade combined with the cool temperature
or if we were just content to be there! Maybe it was the convenience of our ride, the
shade on the cool stone quays along the lazy river, or our amazement at all details falling
into place with very little planning. We had planned well for other regions of France and
left Paris somewhat to whim (or Batobus!), yet our first day there couldn’t have
been more perfect. Just look at this photo taken not far from Hotel de Ville and
ask yourself, "Is every visitor in Paris as content as these three?"
We three strangers were the only souls around, except for David with the camera.
Amazingly, we found no crowds near the Seine, not even on a Saturday in April, except
at Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. (Next day in Montmartre--that was a different story!)
But for all our little jaunts near the river, we had Paris almost to ourselves, a pastoral city
indeed, but one with many monuments and interesting squares along the lazy stream. All we needed to see them all were Batobus and good walking shoes.
In a pastoral city, everybody talks!
I had read about all the fuss the people of Paris make over every new building, such as the
Pompidou Center, even when it isn’t anything political, only aesthetic, so I was interested
in doing a little research to uncover the message behind some of the public displays.
Some represent political changes, and some don’t. Those that do usually relate to foreign
occupations of the city or to new respect for the peoples’ voice in a government that once
favored a withering aristocracy.
Bridges--all about invasions and military victories
After the Revolution, some classical statuary, perceived as favored by aristocracy, was
destroyed. In the Romantic era, though, sculptors returned to classical and medieval
subjects. I pictured before the Greek Warrior on Pont d’Iena, bridge leading to
Ecole Militaire (before Eiffel Tower was constructed) and named after Napoleon’s
victory at Jena. Four medieval knights were set at the four corners of the bridge in 1853.
The Arab warrior is by romantic sculptor Jean-Jacques Feuchere, a friend of
At least four of his works, including his Satan, are displayed in the Louvre. I
haven’t uncovered any "dialogue" about the statues, but the bridge was almost blown up
by the Prussians, who hated the name that reminded them of their loss. Louis XVII must
have participated in a dialogue with them, for he is credited with saving it.
Paris’ most elegant bridge
Pont Alexandre III was difficult for me to photograph. Early in our trip down the
river, I was too excited to realize I couldn’t take photos from a glass bubble! Gargoyles
hanging over the side seem to say to invaders on the water, "Don’t come any closer to the city of
Nazis with scorpion tails
This monument commemorating the end of German occupation in 1944 must have been
agreeable to all. The revival of an old, uniquely French style, the Louis-style monument,
probably gave solace to the French people after 50 months of
The "liberating armies" are mentioned in the inscription and depicted as a valiant nude
with sword. The rendering of the Nazis as mythic beasts is creative. The hounds from
Hell have reptilian tails with pincers.
It’s a delightful monument, despite the
This equestrian bronze along the river behind Hotel de Ville is of Etienne
(or Stephen) Marcel, Provost of Merchants in Medieval Paris. He was apparently ahead of
his time as a champion of the common working people. He organized the first Parisian
revolutionary act in 1358, participated in a revolt against Charles V ("the Wise"), and
was assassinated by an alderman Jean Maillard, loyal to the king, just as he was about to
turn over the keys to the city to Charles the Bad and open the Sainte-Antoine City
Gate to the King’s enemies. To show the people of Paris what happens to
revolutionaries, his naked body was exposed for several days and then thrown into the
Seine. At this point, nobody dared admit liking him or his cause, of
The sculptor was Jean-Antoine-Marie Idrac, whose Mercury is displayed in Musee
d’Orsay. The statue was not installed until 1882. Note that this date is long after
"revolution" became "respectable."
Statement from City Hall
The bronze figures of l’Art and La Science that grace Paris’ City Hall are
my favorites. La Science is by Jules Blanchard (1832-1913) and is considered by
many to be his most beautiful.
Laurent Marqueste (1848-1920) cast l’Art.
Together with all the dignitaries cast in insets in the building--I didn't count, but have read there are 136 of them!--these high-minded figures
speak to the "unseemliness" of worker revolt acted out here in 1871 by the Paris
Commune, who burned the building when tens of thousands of their numbers
were killed in the streets. The building itself with its Third Empire styling has been
called "pompous," but none can deny its beauty.
Place des Vosges
Park Louis XIII in the center of the oldest square in Paris is a beauty of a formal park
with rows of trees clipped square, a tiered fountain and a statue of Louis, of
More to my fancy is the mythical figure of the feminine feline at the entryway to the next
courtyard. We've seen this before--Saturday Night Live?
The square is a great place to sit and watch children play in the park while you admire the
statuary and visit the home of Victor Hugo.
I appreciated statuary inside the church, too, but this is about outdoor delights. Nobody
would want to miss Charlemagne in the square in front of the cathedral. I love looking up
into a tree and seeing animation there! I’m fond of this statue for the same reason I like
that of Steven Marcel--it is in turn decorated by a tree. While we admire it, though, let’s
consider that the Christian king had 4500 Saxon rebels beheaded in one day before he left for Thionville to view a nativity! Well, here
he is in front of Notre Dame.
Charlemagne was King of the Franks and Holy Roman Emperor, too, so his place here in
front of Paris' Cathedral might be expected. He fought the Moors in Spain (and some
Christians, too) just to be sure that Francia would have no unrulies on their borders. It
was during one of his returns across the Pyrenees that Hruodland was killed (778) in an ambush--the noble knight
celebrated in Chanson de Roland, France’s most famous poem. Roland, so
poetic, but where is his statue? If there is one, I missed it! (Germany has
The delight lasts!
It’s true that surprise and immediacy factor into appreciation of outdoor statuary,
especially for the casual visitor, who doesn’t get to live with it. Perhaps that’s why I
enjoy it more in trees, because it comes as more of a surprise there. Sometimes, the fancy
lasts, especially when the figure has a message or history to convey. Only thing is, that
message is difficult to "dig up" from a photo, but worth the trouble if the "communication"
lasts. Sometimes, I think of a statue I’ve seen and chuckle at its message, and I mean
"chuckle," even when the message is one of intense pain. After all, it’s all over now!
Besides, . . . it’s only art. Sculpture always has a sense of humor.
West Virginia, United States