A Salute to Louis XIV at Place des Victoires

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A little-visited but still quite scenic—and historic—site in Paris’s 1st Arrondissement is the Place des Victoires, a circular “square” that was created to honor King Loius XIV. Place des Victoires is a short walk from the more popular Palais Royal, but few tourists make their way to this locale. And that’s mostly because aside from a large statue of Louis in the center of the circle, there’s no real “sight” to see. That’s a shame, because the circle has delightful 17th century architecture and, for history buffs, roots stretching back to the French royal House of Bourbon, and links to the French Revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte. Continue Reading →

Off the Beaten Path: The Historic Square du Temple

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On the northernmost edge of the Marais is a fantastic public park that is quite literally an oasis in the midst of urban Paris—the Square du Temple. Because the Square is a considerable distance from any major tourist site, the garden and park is used almost exclusively by locals, particularly families living nearby. The park also provides a splendid view of the ornate Mairie du 3rd Arrondissement, the municipal offices for that district of the city. And for history buffs, the park occupies the site of a former fortified monastery of the Knights Templar and the infamous Tower of the Temple prison that served as the final “residence” of King Louis XVI before his execution. It’s well worth visiting, and is a short walk from the Musee des Arts et Metiers or from the Place de la Republique. Continue Reading →

Rue Quincampoix: A Perfect Medieval Parisian Street

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One of the most enjoyable experiences in Paris is to wander along a medieval, cobblestone lane lined with ancient stone buildings and massive arched doorways that is so narrow that is seems barely able to accommodate a Smart Car, much less any other modern mode of transportation. Yes, you can certainly meander the City of Light’s many streets—particularly those in the twisty, turny Marais—to find your own favorite byways to stroll. Actually, one of the most popular tourist experiences is “getting lost” in Paris’s charming neighborhoods and stumbling across that perfect Parisian street on your own. But there’s a quaint, ancient lane that’s literally within a stone’s throw of a major tourist destination that somehow escapes most visitors’ attentions—and yet delivers wholly on that medieval Parisian experience: the tiny Rue Quincampoix just west of the Pompidou Center. And it’s well worth a visit. Continue Reading →

Golden Statue Near the Louvre Honors Joan of Arc

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Visitors to the Louvre and the Tuileries Gardens are often surprised to stumble across a glittering gold statue of a soldier on horseback, seemingly guarding the posh Hotel Regina that overlooks the area. And many snap pics of the equestrian sculpture without ever really knowing that they’ve captured the likeness of Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc), a peasant from northeast France who became a commander in the French military and led several victories over the invading English forces during the Hundred Years’ War. Today, Jeanne d’Arc is a martyr of the Catholic Church and one of the nine patron saints of France. Continue Reading →

Popular Paris Square Has a Dark Revolutionary Past

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Place de la Concorde, one of the most popular squares—and the largest in terms of sheer size—in the City of Light, may be beautiful and picturesque today, but at one time it witnessed dozens of bloody executions during the French Revolution. In fact, it’s the exact site where King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were made a foot shorter on top via the guillotine. Visitors today, enamored of the square’s gilded fountains, soaring Egyptian obelisk and unfettered views of some of Paris’s most iconic sites, are probably unaware of the area’s decidedly grotesque past. Even the square’s name today—essentially The Place of Harmony—belies its dark history. Continue Reading →

Parking Lot Project Unearths Ancient Artifacts

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In far too many cities, the classic song lyric “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot” is sadly accurate. But in Paris, ironically, it was the building of a parking lot that unearthed a wealth of archaeological treasures, including some that date back to the Gallo-Roman era that began in the year 52 B.C. And even more surprising is that this historical treasure trove literally lies at the feet of every tourist who visits one of Paris’s iconic sites. Continue Reading →

Viewing the Crown of Thorns at Notre Dame

The Crown of Thorns, inside its protective case

Gargoyles. The rose window. Victor Hugo’s hunchback. Flying buttresses. These are just a few of the countless reasons why Parisians and visitors to the City of Light visit and fall in love with Notre Dame de Paris, the stunning gothic cathedral that often is included with the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe as iconic symbols of Paris. But for Catholics, indeed for all Christians, the church also is host to one of the most important relics in all of Christendom—the Crown of Thorns, allegedly worn by Jesus during his crucifixion. And visitors to the cathedral can see this most holy of artifacts all day on Good Friday. Continue Reading →

A (Mostly) Forgotten Louvre-Area Church

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Visitors to Paris are, of course, familiar with most of the vicinity around the Louvre—the gorgeous, massive museum itself, the pristine Tuileries park to the west, the picturesque Seine to the south and the trendy Rue de Rivoli to the north. Note, the use of the word “most,” because even the savviest tourist typically misses the buildings just “behind” (to the east of) the renowned museum, and that’s a shame, because it’s home to one of the most beautiful and historic churches in all of Paris—Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois. Continue Reading →

For Extreme Opulence, Visit the Opera Garnier

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If you want a glimpse of how Louis XVI may have lived, it’s not necessary to trek all the way to Versailles, the massive royal palace on the outskirts of Paris, a trip to which will take up an entire day of your visit to the City of Light. If you’re hoping to save some time and yet also experience over-the-top opulence and more gold leaf than Donald Trump’s infamous golden bathroom, head to Paris’s Palais Garnier. Typically called just the Opera Garnier, this gorgeous Beaux-Arts and Neo-Baroque palace was built on the border of the 2nd and 9th arrondissements in the late 19th century to host the renowned Paris Opera. And it’s perhaps even more spectacular than anything one might see at Louis’s former palace, even the oft-photographed Hall of Mirrors. Continue Reading →

Viaduc des Arts: Shopping Below an Elevated Park

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Many visitors to Paris are familiar with the Coulee Verte Rene-Dumont, more commonly called the Promenade Plantee, a 4.7-kilometer long elevated park built atop a disused elevated railway line that runs roughly from the Place de la Bastille to the Bois de Vincennes on the eastern outskirts of the city. But equally recognizable—and even sometimes confused for the park above it—is the Viaduc des Arts, a rehabilitated arched bridge in the 12th Arrondissement that hoists only a small portion of the park, but is home to many ground-level shops, galleries and restaurants. And the shops—while typically pricey—are unique and well worth a visit. Continue Reading →