Fourthplinth.com
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Posts Tagged ‘visit paris’

Paris – Versailles

Posted in Europe, Modern & Historical Art  by admin on November 23rd, 2009

As you approach the gates of Versailles you inescapably have the feeling of entering not a palace but an entire city. The impression is justified given the massive scale of the building and the even larger grounds.

Beginning as a modest château of stone and slate to serve as a hunting lodge for Louis XIII (13th), Versailles blossomed – figuratively and literally – during the reign of his son. By 1682, after 20 years of work, the ‘Sun King’ took up residence… and then building really began.

At its height the grounds covered 1,800 acres and housed over 1,500 fountains besides the enormous palace. Around 300 remain today. Around the grounds are several distinct gardens. Watered by a system only part of which were 150km (90mi) of canals, the gardens and fountains are themselves a show on Sundays.

Covering 250 acres, the gardens were designed mostly between 1661 and 1700 and continue to amaze visitors. Be sure not to miss the large Fountain of Apollo, with the sun god driving a chariot of horses out of the surface.

Also on the grounds are huge stables. Closed to the public for almost 200 years, they were originally home to 600 horses owned by Louis XIV (14th). Now home to 20 Portuguese Lusitanian horses, the indoor arena is decorated with a sculpture and drawings of which the Sun King himself would have been proud.

Visitors can enjoy a directed tour of the stables and watch a morning dressage with costumed riders. (‘Dressage’, French for ‘training’, is a standard equestrian term. It means, roughly: training horses to move in complex patterns similar to a dance.)

But, of course, it is the château itself that forms the (literal and symbolic) center of the place. With 700 rooms no single visit could encompass more than a small percentage of the total.

Thousands of nobles and their servants lived here in the late 17th century, as Louis managed his government with tight reins within the palace gates. Which were always left open, interestingly, in order to give a sense that the palace was ‘owned by the people of France’.

Throughout the château are paintings, sculptures, wall hangings and structural elements drawn from all over Europe.

One of the main attractions, justly so, is the 73m (239ft) long La Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors). Bearing no resemblance to a fun-house, the high mirrors line the walls on one side with seventy windows open to the gardens on the other. Still impressive, the mirrors were the latest technology of the time and awed even jaded visitors. Set off by Corinthian pillars of green marble, the room (which once hosted many a formal dance) still dazzles.

Viewed by thousands of visitors daily, the château can be quite hot and stuffy in the summer, even outdoors. Dress appropriately. The grounds and palace are open year round and can be reached via the RER line C: Versailles – Rive Gauche.

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Paris – Sacré Coeur

Posted in Europe  by admin on October 19th, 2009

The site of Sacré Coeur has long been an attraction for religious figures and groups. Though dedicated to peace and brotherhood, the building owes its birth on the site to the misfortunes of war and violence.

In the 3rd century, the first bishop of Paris, St Denys, was beheaded here. A Benedictine Abbey occupied the entire hill until rioters of the French Revolution burned it down.

During the Prussian War of 1870, the two Catholic businessmen who initiated the Sacré Coeur project wanted to build an offering should France survive the conflict.

The construction was approved and the site selected in 1872 by the then-archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Guibert. Financed predominantly by modest donations, work began in 1875 and was finished in 1914. Due to the outbreak of WWI, the consecration was delayed to 1919.

Despite its late-19th century origins, the architecture is a much older style. A mixture of Romanesque and Byzantine, the white, Oriental-style domes house a 19-ton bell (Savoyarde) and elaborate reliefs. Note: ‘Oriental’ does not mean ‘Asian’. The architecture of the Middle East is commonly known as ‘Oriental’.

Apart from its unusual (for the time and place) architectural style, the building has another unusual feature. The walls themselves actually get whiter with age. Made of travertine, a type of stone which leeches calcite, any accumulated soot and weathering gradually erode leaving the exterior a dazzling white.

The art work accompanying the building is alone worth the trip. The sculptures atop the entrance are bronze equestrian statues of Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) and King Louis. There are numerous mosaics and paintings covering the interior, including a large figure of the Virgin and Child. And, the ‘Christ in Majesty’ mosaic in the apse is one of the largest in the world.

The church is located in the north of Paris and rises 129 meters above-sea level. It is the second highest location after the Eiffel Tower. Sited next to the basilica is the still-standing 6th century St. Pierre de Montmartre church.

The building is a series of stepped-back rectangular walls pierced by several arches and capped by domes of varying sizes. Around the structure are complementary gardens and fountains, providing a peaceful site. That is, during those times when the grounds and building aren’t overcrowded, such as during the off-seasons or early in the morning.

From every angle without and many within the basilica is much more impressive than it generally receives credit for. Though a traditional style, the carvings and additions all form a harmonious whole. The golden mosaics give a glow to the interior that supports the site’s purpose as an area for contemplation.

From the grounds, high atop Paris, one can look out over the entire city and from within the dome there are equally impressive views. In the distance is the Eiffel Tower, and at dusk the combination of the onset of lights and the setting sun is spectacular.

Access to the site is challenging. There’s a metro (subway) station nearby at Abbesses. But, there are a great many steps leading up the hill to the basilica. The walk is eased somewhat by the funiculaire.

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Paris – Champs-Elysées

Posted in Europe  by admin on September 22nd, 2009

Not merely a boulevard, the Champs-Elysées has justly earned its name. In Greek mythology, the Elysian Fields was the resting place of heroes who dwelt in perfect happiness. Fortunately, visitors don’t have to die to reach it. Though you may think so after making your way through the French airports and into Paris.

This tree-lined avenue begins at the Arc de Triomphe and ends 2km (1.2mi) east at the Egyptian Obelisk, through the 8th arrondissement. An ‘arrondissement’ is a district. Paris is divided into twenty with the first at the center and the others winding clockwise around it.

Along this avenue, one of a handful known by name the world over, is arrayed a cornucopia of cinemas and theaters, cafes and restaurants, and shops and hotels that rival those of Fifth Avenue in New York.

Originally parkland, by the late 1700s the Champs-Elysées had become the street to see and on which to be seen. Beginning in 1916 Louis Vuitton formed an association to transform it into a commercial shopping area. The mixture of commerce and fashion survives to the present.

The character of the road changes along its length with one part forming the commercial area (Place Charles de Gaulle) and the other a walking area lined with chestnut trees and flower beds (Place de la Concorde). After Unirii Blvd in Bucharest it is the widest avenue in Europe.

Above the greenery rise two large buildings, the Petit Palais (which is anything but small) and the Grand Palais. Both house several rotating exhibits. Overflowing with neo-classical carvings and statuary they both deserve a look.

Food and drink along the avenue runs the spectrum from the Fouquet, an upscale bar and restaurant, to MacDonald’s. But there is also the opportunity to sit at one of the many outdoor cafes and simply watch the parade of people while sipping excellent coffee.

There are dozens of shops – everything from the Gap, Lacoste or the Disney Store to specialty boutiques. Through them the Champs-Elysées maintains the reputation for fashion it has enjoyed since the mid-1800s.

Along with the designer stores there are several first class hotels. Whether interested in the Hotel Napoleon, termed ‘the place’ by Errol Flynn, or the Frontenac, or one of the dozen others all have been excellently maintained over the years. Even for those who can’t afford to stay, the lobbies make for a delightful (if discreet), visit.

Not only the hotels, but the avenue itself has enjoyed several upgrades over the years. The latest, completed in 1993, widened the sidewalks to allow for greater foot traffic. Even the streetlamps have been refurbished. The results help to maintain the avenue’s reputation as “la plus belle avenue du monde” (“the most beautiful avenue in the world”).

It may be pointless to describe how to reach the Champs-Elysées, since to be here is to be in Paris. But to be concrete, one can take the metro (subway) to Charles-de-Gaulle-Etoile, George V or Champs-Elysées Clemenceau.

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Paris: Eiffel Tower

Posted in Europe, Sculptures & Monuments, Worldwide Travel Destinations  by admin on April 30th, 2008

The Eiffel Tower in Paris is one of the most remarkable symbols of Paris. The history that surrounds the creation of this monstrous and impressive tower is both full of conflicts and controversies, which makes it colorful in the whole sense.

Ultimately, the purpose of building the Eiffel Tower was for the Paris Exposition of 1889. A design competition was initiated for the purpose of choosing the most appropriate design for the soon-to-be erected tower. There have been 700 design entries. However, the entry submitted by a French structural engineer named Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923) was unanimously selected. Engineers Mauriche Koechlin and Emile Nouguier and Architect Stephen Sauvestre assisted in finishing this design.

One of the arguments raised regarding the creation of Eiffel Tower was a petition submitted to the city government by well-known personalities during that era including Maupassant, Emile Zola, Charles Garnier and Dumas the Younger. In their petition they regarded the Eiffel Tower as a useless and monstrous tower. Another group that questioned the construction of Eiffel tower was the nature lovers who deliberate that the tower will disturb the flight of birds in Paris. Read the rest of this entry »

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