James W. Lett, Ph.D.
Science, Reason, & Anthropology
2008 Limousin, Perigord, Lorraine
2007 Puycelci, Laval
2005 Bourgogne, Paris
1999 Paris, Versailles
2006 Hertfordshire, London, Windsor
2003 England, Wales
Paris, Versailles 1999
These photographs are from our summertime trip to Paris. We spent one night at the Hotel Ritz, and stayed the rest of the time in a friend's apartment on the Left Bank in the 5th arrondisement.
The 164-foot tall Arc de Triomphe sits on the Place Charles-de-Gaulle, known to Parisians as L'Étoile (the star) for the 12 streets radiating out from this formidable traffic circle. The arch was planned by Napoléon to commemorate his military victories, but it wasn't completed until 1836. The tomb of France's unknown soldier lies in the ground beneath the central arch. An underground passageway allows pedestrians access to the monument from the northern side of the Champs-Élysées, one of the most famous and most beautiful avenues in the world.
Looking eastward from the top of the Arc de Triomphe, the view down the Champs-Élysées extends to the Place de la Concorde, with the Tuileries Gardens and the Louvre beyond that. The lone skyscraper visible to the southeast is the Tour Montparnasse, the tallest building in Europe (and an unfortunate addition to the Parisian skyline, as far as I'm concerned).
The Pont Neuf, or "New Bridge" (which is actually the oldest bridge in Paris) is visible in the background of this photograph (the view is to the east, looking upriver). The Pont Neuf connects the western tip of the Ile de la Cité with the right and left banks of Paris on either side of the Seine; completed in 1607, it was the first bridge in the city to be built without houses lining either side.
This photograph was taken at the foot of one of several small bridges that connect the left bank to the Ile de la Cité (the view is to the north, with the southern boundary of the Ile de la Cité in the background). A short walk across the bridge leads to the Notre Dame Cathedral, which is visible in the upper right portion of the photograph; the square in front of the Cathedral, known as kilomètre zéro, is the spot from which all distances to and from the city of Paris are officially measured.
The Louvre, the world's largest museum, is the product of many centuries of work. Originally built by Philippe-August in the 13th century as a fortress, it served at various times as a royalresidence--although most French kings preferred to live elsewhere (in 1682, for example, Louis XIV moved the court to Versailles, southwest of Paris). The Louvre was made into a museum by Napoléon, which didn't prevent three 19th century French monarchs from subsequently making the palace their home (they included Louis XVIII [1814-1824], who was the only French monarch to die in the Louvre). The glass pyramid in the largest courtyard was unveiled in 1989--it provides the major entrance to the museum, and allows natural light to penetrate to the cavernous museum shop located underneath.
The Musée d'Orsay, which opened in 1986, is devoted to art (primarily French art) from the period 1848-1914, and thus includes a large Impressionist collection (Renoir, Sisley, Pisarro, and Monet are all well represented) as well as a large Post-Impressionist collection (works by Cézanne, van Gogh, Gaugin, and Toulouse-Lautrec can be found on the upper of the three floors). From 1900 to the 1960's, the building was used as a train station; today it's one of the most popular museums in Paris, and long lines typically form early in the day (especially during the summer tourist season). The huge bronze statues (which include a rhinoceros and an elephant) stand outside the museum's front entrance.
The most impressive dome in Paris towers over the church at Les Invalides, designed in the late 17th century at the behest of Louis XIV to house wounded soldiers. Today Les Invalides includes the Musée de l'Armée, one of the world's foremost military museums with an especially impressive collection of arms and armor from many centuries, and the tomb of Napoléon, which lies in a series of nested coffins beneath the dome.
The elegant Luxembourg Garden is one of the prettiest of Paris's large parks, and features fountains, ponds, carefully trimmed hedges, precisely planted rows of trees, and gravel walks. The garden provides the grounds for the 17th century Palais du Luxembourg, which is where the French Senate meets today (thus the building is not open to the public).
The Chateau de Versailles, built by Louis XIV in the 17th century, is the world's grandest palace; it's located a few miles west of Paris, where Louis XIV's father maintained a relatively small hunting lodge. Among the rooms open to the public is the famous Galerie des Glaces, or Hall of Mirrors, where the controversial Treaty of Versailles, asserting Germany's responsibility for World War I, was signed in 1919.
The 250-acre Parc de Versailles includes numerous fountains; when they're turned on (generally on Sundays in the summertime), they make a fabulous spectacle.
This photograph was taken in the Père Lachaise cemetery, the largest and most prestigious of Paris's cemeteries. Dating from the early 19th century, and located in eastern Paris, it's a necropolis with cobbled avenues, steep slopes, and lush vegetation; the tombs compete with one another for grandiosity and originality. The graves of many famous people can be found here, including those of Chopin, Molière, Honoré de Balzac, Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde, and Edith Piaf, as well as Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, who are buried in the same grave.
This photograph was taken in the Catacombs, which were originally built by the Romans to quarry stone and which tunnel under much of the Left Bank. The public entrance to the catacombs is located located in the Place Denfert-Rochereau, named after French General Denfert-Rochereau who achieved fame during the Prussian invasion of 1870. Prior to being named after the general, however, the square was called Place d'Enfer or Hell Square, and the name still works today as a pun in French (the pronunciations of Denfert and d'Enfer are virtually identical). The catacombs are used to store millions of skeletons that have been disinterred from various Parisian graveyards; when the cemeteries fill up, the bones are removed to make room for new graves, and the unmarked skeletons are deposited in the Catacombs (they're often arranged in neat patterns, with various types of bones--femora and crania, for instance--grouped together). For someone with an interest in forensic anthropology, the Catacombs are especially intriguing. There are guards at the exit who will inspect your bags to make sure that you don't try to remove any skeletal material, but as you stroll through the lengthy underground passageways you are allowed to approach the bones within touching distance, and the details of each person's sex, age, and ancestry can easily be read in their skulls. It's remarkable to contemplate that each of those skulls had a richly detailed biography; each one experienced its share of love and longing as well as its share of triumph and disappointment, and each one contained its own dreams and ambitions--but today each one is part of a silent, anonymous, and enormous army, patiently waiting for us to join them.
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