As I sit here drinking today’s third cup of tea with the soundtrack to Midnight in Paris wafting around the room I’m struck by the realization that I have been granted the incredible privilege of having Paris as the subject of this blog post and many to come.
To be quite honest, I was a little bit terrified of what my return to Paris would have in store. Terrified that everything would seem foreign, terrified that the 6 months I spent living there would remain a distant, intangible memory, terrified that I wouldn’t be able to go home without heart-wrenching pains. In His constant, steadfast faithfulness though, God immediately quieted these fears and reminded me that this trip was an incredible gift. I immediately felt right back at home as though everything was exactly where I left it two years ago. It is because of this, I believe, that I was actually relatively okay with the idea of returning home at the end of my trip. This served as a comforting reminder that I will always have Paris. Even more beautifully, I will always experience Paris in a different way. So far, each trip has been better than the last because of the growing and life I’ve lived between visits. For example, in 2010 I felt like an awkward 21-year-old American who most certainly didn’t belong in an establishment like Les Deux Magots. This time, though, Emilie and I casually enjoyed a lingering cup of tea at Café de Flore before allowing another day in our city to unfold. Contrary to my fears and apprehensions, Paris just felt right. And I now believe she always will.
Okay, I did also promise some history in these posts. For the past dozen years or so I’ve been entranced by this city, its streets, and its people who carry subtle allusions to the past while embracing the speed and developments of our contemporary world. While writing my senior thesis on the reconstruction of Paris in the 19th century I gained a far greater appreciation for the French capital whose history dates back to 52BC yet whose major infrastructure is, for the most part, less than 150 years old. This is all thanks to Louis-Napoléon and Georges-Eugène Haussmann, the Emperor and “Vice Emperor” of Paris during their orchestration of a razing and rebuilding of the city between 1853 and 1870. While much of medieval Paris was lost during this time, I have come to believe that this was an admittedly harsh necessity if Paris were to evolve from a city which Voltaire abhorred for the “overcrowding, the danger, the filth that everywhere assaulted his gaze” in order to become a city truly capable of supporting a population that had swelled exponentially in the first half of the 1800s. Moreover, Paris would certainly not be the metropolis it is today without Haussmann’s influence. More about him later though–this post is about the 1er arrondissement, a tiny slice of the city that the king himself used to call home.
With that said, I’ll start with the Louvre, the former royal residence and currently one of the most recognizable museums in the world. Not often discussed, though is the Cour Carrée du Louvre, the origins of the palace whose construction lasted nearly 700 years. Beginning as Philippe-Auguste’s fortress around 1200, the structure was originally recognized as a symbol of royal power. I learned on this trip that remains of the fortress were found during excavations between 1984 and 1985 and that they can be visited as an exhibition in the Musée du Louvre itself. Throughout the centuries and the influence of many kings and architects, the Cour Carrée as it stands today slowly took shape.
This wing is the Pavillon de l’Horloge, designed by architect Jacques Lemercier in the Lescot style. It dates back to 1624 and the reign of Louis XIII.
Below is the long corridor now known as the Grande Gallerie, which was an idea conceived by Catherine de Médicis in an effort to connect her Palais des Tuileries to the Louvre. This was completed by her son-in-law Henri IV from 1595 to 1608, two years before his assassination.
Catherine de Médici’s Palais des Tuileries was destroyed during the Paris Commune in 1871, opening up the view from the palace beyond the Cour Napoléon (the site of I. M. Pei’s Pyramid) to the Arc de Triomphe.
The image above has Haussmann written all over it. This is the Avenue de l’Opéra, which extends from Rue de Rivoli near the Louvre to the Opéra Garnier. Construction of this boulevard required a massive leveling of a hill, la Butte des Moulins, where a young Joan of Arc once stood with an army prepared to defend Paris from the English in September 1429.
Just to the right of the Avenue de l’Opéra is the Palais Royal, where the elite would flock day and night to indulge in fine wines, beers, coffees, and chocolates and the offerings of some of the most elegant shops in Paris. This was a must-see for anyone visiting Paris in the 18th and 19th century. By the mid-19th century, however, the Palais Royal was almost completely deserted as the Grands Boulevards became the new hub of nightlife in Paris.
During the 1980s restaurants began re-opening and the gardens regained popularity. Today, the Palais Royal is a calm escape from the hustle and bustle of the streets of the 1er arrondissement beyond.
Our final stop in the 1er arrondissement is Place Dauphine and the Galerie du Vert Galant on the Ile de la Cité. Place Dauphine was one of Henri IV’s most important urban projects. It is only fitting that his magnificent statue stands facing it at the center of Pont Neuf. The Place was originally composed of three sides with uniform houses, though in the 18th century adjustments began which skewed the design with new windows and additional floors. In 1874, the east side of the Place was torn down to give a more impressive approach to the Palais de Justice…which ironically has never been used. Place Dauphine narrowly escaped Haussmann’s demolition and the construction of a new place in a Neo-Greek style.
This jolly Labrador patrolled the square like he owned the place, greeting the children and sniffing strangers while his owner chatted with neighbors. Emilie and I named him Henri IV Le Beau.
Just beyond the Pont Neuf, the “New Bridge” which is actually the oldest bridge in Paris, is the western end of Ile de la Cité which originally consisted of two small islands–Ile des Juifs and Ile aux Vaches. These were connected to the Ile de la Cité in the 1570s to enable the construction of the Pont Neuf. Now, Square du Vert Galant at the end of the Ile is like a little slice of paradise, with the Seine parting beneath your feet and the majestic willows casting a shade over the cobblestone walkway. This is also the original level of the Ile de la Cité.
My faithful companions as we enjoyed one of the few warm days on our trip. After a stop at our favorite 3 euro panini man in the Latin quarter we walked to the Ile de la Cité to enjoy lunch on the Seine.
There is so much more I could say about the 1er arrondissment. Hello, I haven’t even mentioned Angelina’s, where the absolute best hot chocolate in the world is served in a carafe and is almost more of a solid than a liquid beverage. It is probably close to impossible, though, to include everything I’d like to talk about. So I’ll be satisfied with this rough sketch for now and move on to other areas of this beautiful city.