The most obvious tourist destinations in Paris are, naturally, the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. However, after reading about the Panthéon situated in Paris’ Latin Quarter, I just had to visit. I hope to visit Greece someday and see the real deal, but I was intrigued by this church-turned-secular mausoleum.
Before going inside, I happened to notice another building, the Faculty of Law for the University of Montréal, which is engraved with France’s motto:
On to the Panthéon itself. Instead of paying homage to Greek gods, the French Panthéon was built as a church dedicated to St. Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris.
The city of Paris was founded by a tribe called the Parisii in the 3rd century BCE. In the late 400s to early 500s BCE, during the reign of the Franks’ king, Clovis the First, it became the Frankish seat of power. King Clovis decided to build an abbey, which was later dedicated to Saint Genevieve, who had helped him defend Paris from an attack from the Huns. More than a thousand years later, King Louis XV of France fell gravely ill and promised Saint Genevieve, that he would refurbish the then-decrepit abbey. He recovered, thankfully, and fulfilled his promise. However, this act had as much a political motive as a religious one: Louis XV had many dissidents who believed he lived a far too extravagant life and did not contribute anything toward the well-being of France. By transforming the abbey into the massive, magnificent structure it is today, the king was trying to send a message that he was fit to rule France and could strengthen it in the same way he revamped the Panthéon.
Inside the Panthéon, there are many frescos lining the walls that tell the tale of St. Genevieve’s life. The ceiling is held up by massive Corinthian columns, which, if you ask me, are a very pretty touch of Greek architecture. Reaching down from the towering dome (which holds itself up by magic and hidden support beams) is a Foucault pendulum. The pendulum is an experiment devised to prove that the Earth rotates; it hangs from a fixed, motionless point in space and swings back and forth. If the Earth did not rotate, the pendulum would swing back and forth at the same angle perpetually; however, it appears to move (which can be proven by setting up small objects at different points on the circumference of the pendulum’s reach, and watching them get knocked over). This proves that the Earth does indeed rotate.
The whole experience was very rewarding, and frescoes were beautiful. After lunch, I saw some natural beauty: the Jardins (Gardens) de Luxembourg, one of the most famous gardens in Paris. They were first created by Marie de Medici, wife of King Louis IV of France, who was born and raised in Florence, Italy. The gardens are meant to resemble the Florentine style.
The gardens also have a small pond on which people can float tiny sailboats (available for rent).
Apparently, green chairs are a hallmark of any Parisian park. The view more than makes up for the slight discomfort of sitting in one. You can’t say you’ve been in Paris until you’ve spent an hour in these chairs reading or simply enjoying the view!
Up next: A trip to the town of Bayeux and the Normandy beaches.
In France, breakfast is taken from around 9 to 11, and brunch is common. All of the shops and restaurants open a little later than Americans are used to! Luckily, being early meant the wait for a table at Angelina—Paris’ most well-known tea room—was fairly short.
After that, it was on to the Louvre Museum.
The Louvre’s glass pyramid entrance is just as impressive in real life as it is in photos. Once inside, I found myself on the ground floor/lobby, through which can access any of the three wings—Richelieu, Sully, or Denon. Naturally, I headed straight for the Mona Lisa exhibit; however, many people had the same idea as me. The line began on the ground floor and snaked up a few escalators. The total: a 45-minute wait for the chance to rest my eyes on la Gioconda for a brief while before being ushered out of the room. Here’s a fun fact: the Mona Lisa’s usual exhibits places her on the wall opposite a painting called The Wedding Feast at Cana. The painting depicts Jesus performing the miracle of transmuting water into wine. Ironically, it’s the largest painting in the Louvre, but probably still overshadowed by the Mona Lisa, which is tiny in comparison. For any hopeful Louvre visitors, here’s a hot tip: visit the Mona Lisa in the morning. The wait is even longer in the afternoon, meaning you’ll have even less time to see the painting while in the room. Before trying to take pictures, do take her in with your eyes. I had to go back a second time to see the exhibit because I was too busy taking photos to test out whether her eyes really do follow you (they do).
The name of the woman in the painting isn’t actually Mona Lisa. Her name is Lisa Gherardini, and she was the wife of a minor nobleman named Giocondo who successfully commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to paint her. Hence her Italian name, La Gioconda (the female version of Giocondo, which i), and the French derivative name, La Joconde.
After the Mona Lisa, I focused on some famous statues. Firstly, the Venus de Milo. It’s widely agreed upon that the armless statues represents Aphrodite, as the name literally translates to “Venus [the Roman name for Aphrodite] of Milos [which is an island in the Aegean Sea]”. However, some believe that the statue actually depicts Amphitrite, a Nereid (beautiful sea nymph) and wife of Poseidon, who was apparently worshipped widely on Milos (kinda like how Delos is a sacred island to Artemis and Apollo). Slightly lesser known but also depicting a Greek goddess is the statue Winged Victory at Samothrace, which sounds a lot like a war scene painting. However, Victory is actually the name of the goddess—the statue depicts Nike, the winged Greek goddess of (you guessed it) victory. Why Samothrace? Apparently the statue was found in Caesar’s palace located in the island of Samothrace. What impresses me is that art historians who study this statue can actually tell it’s a statue of Nike, because the statue doesn’t have arms (like I mentioned before) but also has lost its head.
The Winged Victory, according to historians, was carved with the intention of being attached as decoration to a building. The statue was intended to be mounted at a three-quarters angle showing the left side; it apparently was never intended for the viewer to be able to see the right side, as the sculptor carved the right side much more roughly. The left side of the statue, in contrast, is very detailed; all of the folds of the dress and the feathers of the wing are outlined painstakingly, as you can see below.
I was dismayed to learn upon arriving that the Apollo Gallery, which usually holds the crown jewels of King Louis XV, was closed. However, by some stroke of luck, I happened upon them while browsing the Romanian-Byzantine art exhibit. The jewels on his crown, below, look so glossy and perfect it’s hard to believe they are real.
Here are some more pictures of the crown jewels: a few scepters and one more crown.
At this point, I decided I had had enough of European art and decided instead to explore the statues of Mesopotamia. The Cour Khorsabad are a group of statues from Ancient Mesopotamia that depict winged, human-headed bulls. They each have five legs—from the side view, the statue has four legs and is walking; from the front view, the statue is standing still, with its two front legs primly together. The statues guarded the gate to the palace of Sargon of Akkad (not the YouTuber, but the man who lived roughly 4,000 years ago). In around 2334 BCE, Sargon united all of the Sumerian city-states in Mesopotamia for the first time to create the first-ever empire: the Akkadian empire.
And a while after the Akkadian empire fell, another empire came to power: the Babylonian empire. The sixth king of the First Babylonian Dynasty, Hammurabi, is famous for one thing that still endures today: his code of law. The stela (stone slab) on which Hammurabi carved his laws in cuneiform is housed in the Louvre right next to the Cour Khorsabad. At the top of the stela is a carving which shows Hammurabi receiving a scroll (his code of law) from a divine figure or god. The stela was displayed for all the Babylonians to see. Some of his laws are controversial today, such as the concept of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”.
Lastly, I saw some of the more famous paintings in the Louvre, such as Liberty Leading the People by Eugene Delacroix. The painting depicts the brutal French Revolution. The tired, dirty rebels look up to and follow a woman, who is an allegory and represents liberty. The painting is huge, and conveys both the bloodiness and glimmering hope of the rebels, and of France in general during that time period.
Another famous painting is called The Raft of the Medusa. From the name, I was expecting a picture of Medusa surrounded by statues of the people she had petrified. However, the painting was apparently inspired by a true-life incident involving a ship called The Medusa. Sadly, the passenger ship sank before reaching its destination, and only 15 of the 150 people onboard survived. The painting, by Théodore Géricault, depicts the scene of the fifteen survivors stranded on a raft in the middle of the ocean, struggling to find their way home.
That was my day at the Louvre. Next up: a relaxing day of sightseeing and reading. Stay tuned!
This page promises some photography and food—and my favorite, photography of food. And using some sketchy logic, I figure there’s no better place to find some really pretty (and tasty) food than Paris, France! My family recently traveled there for a week, and this post will detail my travels. Don’t worry, it’s not just about food. Paris also has some great historical sights, and, of course, beautiful architecture!
Day 1 – Arrival
We arrived in Paris around midday, and I was eager to see some of the more famous sights of the city. We walked along the Seine river and saw a glimpse of Notre Dame, which celebrated its 850th birthday in 2013. The church was originally built in the 1163. Its full name is Notre Dame de Paris, which is French for “Our Lady of Paris”. Sadly, it suffered from a fire in April this past year, and from the street I could see some scaffolding over the parts of the building lost to the fire.
To make up for all those calories burnt by walking, I treated myself to some Berthillon sorbet. Berthillon is a famous glacé (literally, “ice”, but meaning “ice cream”) shop famous for its naturally derived flavors (i.e., lavender, chestnut, and myrtle—a far cry from Baskin Robbins). I ordered a scoop of peach sorbet. Yum!
Stay tuned. I’ll post the details about each day in a separate post.