How to See the Best of Paris – Part 1

PARIS. Synonymous with gaiety, good food for gastronomes, gorgeous gowns, delectable wine, all the good things of life, is unrivaled, appealing Paris. The early morning mists on the Seine, the lazy-plying barges, the ever-patient fishermen, the spellbinding orators in the Chamber of Deputies, the gaunt, leafless trees along the quays in the fall, the flowering horse-chestnut trees in the spring, the breath-taking vistas from the bridges, the ageless, awe-inspiring beauty of the churches, the avid poets and painters, all this and much, much more is Paris. For centuries generation after generation of people from all over the world have gravitated to her narrow alleys and wide boulevards, for Paris “is not just a city, she is a world.” To women, she is the undisputed center of high fashion, the acknowledged authority on what well-dressed beauties everywhere should wear. As style leader, the showings of top Paris dress designers draw all the editors, manufacturers and buyers of the fashion world, while their collections continually attract wealthy shoppers and less-wealthy window-shoppers. The noted Rue de la Paix is identical with Parisian- elegance, an air every woman openly or secretly strives to exude. Not only the epitome of glamour, this fabulous capital has been a focal point of culture, too. In Paris, history, poetry and art sit on every doorstep, set the backdrop for everyday living, and great painters, musicians and writers have all been caught in the seductive web she weaves. The left bank of the Seine, lined by the famous open-air book stalls, is the intellectual and governmental section. Here is the Sorbonne, center of the University of Paris, perhaps the most influential and greatest school of liberal arts in Europe; the classical Church of Saint-Sulpice, with famous paintings by Delacroix, and noteworthy Saint-Germain-de-Pres, oldest church in Paris, dating from the eleventh century. The gallery of nearby Ecole des Beaux Arts, scene of the annual wild Art Students’ Ball, displays works of Fragonard, David and Ingres. Radiating from the university is the Latin Quarter, second oldest and one of the most picturesque sections in the city. For centuries these streets around Boulevard Saint-Michel have been the haunt of university students and teachers. Also in this area are the Cluny Museum, one of the fine medieval buildings still standing in Paris, housing a rare collection of medieval arts and crafts, and the Luxembourg Palace and Museum, surrounded by its beautiful gardens, housing contemporary painting and sculpture.

http://instantworldbooking.com/france.php


Saint-Chapelle, The Chapels

Sainte-Chapelle

A gem of High Gothic architecture

In the centre of the Ile-de-la-Cite

The Palais de la Cite was the residence and seat of royal power from the 10th to the 14th centuries in Paris, and housed the Conciergerie and Sainte Chapelle which are now part of the Palace of justice, the new function of the building. I The Sainte-Chapelle was built between 1242 and 1248, in accordance with the wishes of Louis IX (king from 1226 to 1270 and the future Saint Louis) to house the relics of the Passion of Christ. The most famous of these relics was the Crown of Thorns, acquired in 1239 for a sum that greatly exceeded the cost of building the Chapel itself.    

Religious and political influence

The Holy Relics had belonged to the emperors of Constantinople since the 4thcentury. In purchasing them, Louis IX added to the prestige of both France and Paris which, in the eyes of medieval Europe, became a “New Jerusalem”, and hence the second capital of Christianity. Throughout the revolutionary period, the Sainte-Chapelle, which was a symbol of royalty by divine right, suffered a great deal of damage, although the stained glass windows remained intact. From 1846 onwards, a huge wave of restoration work was carried out on the building, giving it its current appearance.

The Ile-de-la-Cite

The seat of royal power

In the 1st century BC, the Parisii, a Gallic tribe, settled on an island in the middle of the River Seine, later known as the I1e-de-la-Cite, and founded the town of Lutetia, which in the 5th century took the name of Paris. In the 6th century Clovis, the first French King, made the Palais de la Cite his royal residence. His son Childebert had Paris’s first cathedral built.

At the end of the l Oth century, Nugues Caper, the first Capetian king, established his royal council and government in the palace, which thus became the seat of royal power.

A palace deserted by its kings

In 1248, when Louis IX signed the deed foun­ding the Sainte-Chapelle, the nearby Cathedral of Notre-Dame already had its current facade. In 1358, the advisors to King john II (The Good) were assassinated before the eyes of the Dauphin, the future Charles V, who once he became king decided to move to better protected premises, firstly the Hotel Saint-Pol, one of his Paris residences (no longer standing), then to the Louvre and Vincennes. The royal government, Parliament, Chancery and the Chamber of Accounts remained in the Capetian palace for a while, but as the centuries passed only the law courts and prison stayed on.

Nowadays, the Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie are the only visible remains of the oldest palace of the kings of France.

Two sanctuaries, one on top of the other

From the beginning, the relics were displayed and worshipped in the upper chapel. Only the king, his close friends and family, and the canons leading the services entered it via the outdoor terrace, which at the time was connected to the Palace. The lower chapel was the place of worship for the palace staff.

The basilica-type layout with a semi-circular apse was very simple. It was to be used as a model for other Holy Chapels, including those of Vincennes and Chateaudun.

The lower chapel

Visitors are greeted by a statue of the Virgin Mary, the sanctuary’s patron saint, at the portal. Inside, the polychrome decoration, like the carved decoration in the porch, dates back to the 19th­century restoration work. In the apse on the left, above the door to the former sacristy, is a 13th­century fresco depicting the Annunciation. This is the oldest wall painting in Paris.

The low vault is held up by openwork struts linking the aisle columns to the lateral walls. These walls are decorated with blind trefoil arcatures and 12 medallions featuring the apostles. The vaults’ fleur-de-lvson an azure background are also found on the columns, alternating with the towers on a purple background which were the arms of Queen Blanche of Castile, Louis IX’s mother.

The Upper Chapel

This is a truly monumental and sumptuously decorated reliquary. Sculptures and windows combine harmoniously to glorify the Passion of Christ and create a feeling of entry into the Heavenly jerusalem, bathed in light and colour. The Sainre-Chapelle owes much of even its early fame to its stained glass windows.

The 1,113 scenes depicted in the 15 stained glass windows tell the story of mankind from Genesis through to Christ’s resurrection. Fourteen of the windows, depicting episodes from the bible, should be read from left to right, from the bottom upwards.

I The window telling the story of the relics of the Passion is the only one to he read houstro­phedonicall. In the lower part of the lights, it illustrates the tale of the relics, from their discovery bv Saint Helen in Jerusalem to their arrival in the kingdom of France.

2 The Statue of Saint Peter is the original, as are 5 other apostle statues. He is holding the keys to heaven. The statues of the 12 apostles, the “pillars of the Church” are symbolically arranged in the nave on the ribbed vault’s springing line. Thev typify the harmony and idealised faces of Parisian sculpture in the years between 1240 and 1260.

3 The great shrine containing the 22 relics” of the Passion of Christ, including the fragment of the Holy Cross and the Crown of Thorns, used to be displayed on the gallery but was melted down during the Revolution. The remaining relics are now kept in the treasury of the Cathedral of Notre-Darne de Paris.

4 The western rose illustrates the prophetic Apocalypse of St John, symbolically represented opposite the Passion of Christ in the choir’s central stained glass window. In the centre of the rose, Christ returns in glory at the end of Time to judge the dead and the living.

The 100 foliage-decorated capitals along the lateral walls are all different. The angels on the corner pieces of the arcatures echo the 42 martyr scenes featured in the quatrefoils.


Conciergerie – Palace and Prison, The Medieval and Revolutionary Halls

The medieval halls

The lower parts, the only ones still standing today, were reserved for the Royal Guard and the numerous staff – clerks, officers and servants – who worked for the king and his family (about 2,000 people in all). The floor of the medieval halls is still at its 14th-century level. The creation of embankments in the 19th century raised the level of the rest of the Ile-de-la-Cite and its other buildings.

The Hall of Men-at-Arms, built from 1302 onwards under Philippe le Bel, is one of the finest examples in Europe of Gothic secular architecture. Consisting of four rib vaulted “naves”, the hall was generously lit by twin windows, traces of which can be seen on the left wall. This huge refectory was heated by four large fireplaces. On the left hand wall, there is still a fragment of the black marble table used during the sumptuous receptions held by the Capetian monarchy in the Palace’s Great Ceremonial Hall, on the upper floor. The latter, which has now disappeared, used to be served by spiral staircases, an example of which can still be seen on the right hand side of the hall.

2 The kitchen outbuilding, built during the reign of John the Good and of which only the lower level remains, was built slightly later and used by the king’ staff. Foodstuffs were delivered there directly by river.

3 The Guardroom was built around the same time as the Hall of Men-at-Arms. The capitals” on the central pillar are thought to portray Heloise and Abelard. This hall was used as an antechamber to the Great Chamber on the upper floor (no longer standing), where the king held meetings with his council and his “lits de justice”. The Revolutionary Tribunal also sat here in 1793.

4 The Rue de Paris which gets its name from that given to the executioner during the Revolution, “Monsieur de Paris”, was used to imprison pailleux”. This area was once an integral part of the Hall of Men-at-Arms, but was separated off and raised in the 15th century.

The revolutionary halls

After the fire of 1776, Louis XVI modernized the Conciergerie prison, later used during the Revolution.

5 The Prisoners’ Gallery was the prison’s main thoroughfare, where prisoners could wander freely.

6 The Girondins’ Chapel stands on the site of the king’s medieval oratory’. The 21 Cirondins  feasted here prior to their execution on 30 October 1793.

7 Marie-Antoinette’s Chapel was built in 1815 on the exact spot where her prison cell stood.

 8 The Women’s Courtyard surrounded by two floors of prisoners’ cells, still has the fountain where they washed their clothes and one of the stone tables at which they ate, and the “Corner of the Twelve” or “of last goodbyes”. This is where condemned prisoners waited in groups of 12 for the cart that would carry them off to the scaffold.

9 Marie-Antoinette’s cell was reconstituted on part of the actual site of her dungeon. She was permanently guarded by two gendarmes.


Conciergerie – Paris Palace and Prison

About the Conciergerie, Paris

Palace and prison

Residence of the Kings of France

In the 6th century, Clovis, the first French king, established his royal residence on the Ile-de-la­Cite. Five centuries later, Hugues Caper, the first Capetian king, established his council and government in the Palais de la Cite, which thus became the seat of royal power.

Symbol of royal power

In the 14th century, Philippe IV the Fair – continuing the work of his grandfather, Saint Louis – turned the Palace into a prestigious symbol of the monarchy. It became the seat of the Parlement de Paris.

Palace of justice and prison

At the end of the 14th century, Charles V left the royal residence on the Ile-de-la-Cite for the hotel Saint-Pol, since destroyed, following the assassination of his father’s advisors. He appointed a steward, or “concierge”, endowed with legal powers, to run the Palace and prison Numerous prisoners of State were kept here, such as Ravaillac, Henri IV’s assassin. In later times, the Revolutionary Tribunal sat in the Palace and used it increasingly as a prison. The Conciergerie was listed as a historical monument in 1914.

A major centre during the Revolution

The Revolutionary Tribunal

In 1790, the mayor of Paris sealed the doors of the Palace, up until then the seat of the Parlement de Paris”. The Revolutionary Tribunal initiated in March 1793 took over the Grand Chamber. In July, Robespierre joined the Committee for Public Safety with a programme based on virtue and terror. The “Law of Suspects” ordered the arrest of anyone pre-sumed to be an enemy of the Revolution or who confessed to being so.

Over 1793 and 1794, more than 2,700 people appeared before Fouquier-Tinville, the tribunal’s public prosecutor, including Queen Marie-Antoinette and Robespierre. The trials of famous people gave way to collective trials. In 1794, witnesses and defenders were eliminated and tens of people were guillotined each day. After the fall of Robespierre, the Tribunal was dissolved in May 1795.

Everyday life in the prison

The Conciergerie had a reputation for being the toughest of all prisons. During the Reign of Terror”, its cells accommodated several hundred prisoners kept in terribly unhealthy and crowded conditions. Up until 1794, “suspects” were kept together with common law prisoners. On the eve of their court appearance, prisoners were notified that their trial was to begin

and of the charges brought against them by the “evening journal” or bill of indictment. Once the verdict had been given, prisoners sentenced to death were allowed to enjoy a final feast.


Saint-Denis, Ile de France

The consecration of the new western facade and new choir of the abbey church of Saint-Denis in Paris in 1144 had a Europe-wide impact. On the artistic level to begin with since it was there and around the personality of the Abbot Suger that Gothic art took its first steps. On the facade, the first statue-columns, carved from the same block as the column whose form they blend with; inside, at the far western end of the renovated Carolingian nave, the first ambulatory beneath crossed arches offers a uniform space, unified by a remarkable luminosity. But the impact was also political since, given the close ties between Saint-Denis and French royalty, this event also seemed to consecrate a new European political order in which the kingdoms of France and England gained ascendancy over the German and Byzantine Empires.