I am by no means an expert or even amateur when the topic is architecture. Just as Paris is filled with art, it is chock-full of wonderful buildings and architecture. We enjoyed walking around, taking a boat tour, and even riding the bus because there’s always something interesting, historic, and beautiful to see.
Notre Dame de Paris
Starting off with one of the iconic Paris landmarks, Notre Dame. The cathedral is temporarily closed for repairs due to the fire in 2019. They hope to have it reopened in 2025. Original construction started in the 12th century with modifications in the 18th century and a major restoration project in the 19th century. There’s a detailed write-up of the history and architecture on their website here.
Under the plaza in front of the cathedral is La Crypte archéologique de l’île de la Cité which displays the archeological remains from Roman times, 27 BC to 14 AD. In addition, they have a special exhibition about the cathedral and Victor Hugo. They credit Hugo’s 1831 novel, Notre Dame de Paris (better known in English as The Hunchback of Notre Dame), with drawing attention to the disrepair of the cathedral and spurring a movement to preserve it. The exhibition also has many early photographs as well as Hugo artifacts that I found very interesting.
In a city full of magnificent buildings, the Panthéon ranks at the top. The building was conceived as a monument of gratitude by King Louis XV to Saint Geneviève for his miraculous recovery from an illness. Started in 1764, it wasn’t completed until 1790 and was originally called the Sainte-Geneviève church. After the revolution, it was renamed the Panthéon, though it went back and forth between being a church and secular monument several times over the years.
The Panthéon honors “Great Men” people, such as Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Marie Curie, and Josephine Baker. Not all “Great Men” are men, so far only five of the 77 are women. Some are buried there, some are honored with plaques. Find the list of the honorees and discussion of the criteria of selecting them here.
We didn’t get to go inside, as the line was long and we had other places to see. We would have liked to see Foucault’s pendulum (“You are invited to come and see the Earth spin!”). Maybe next time.
The buildings surrounding the Panthéon are also quite grand, and nearby you’ll find many of the buildings housing the Sorbonne as well as the Musee de Cluny.
As I noted in my post on Art, we decided not to visit the collection of the Louvre, but I did want to see the building and particularly I.M. Pei’s pyramid. The first thing to know is that this place is massive; the complex covers more than 650,000 square feet! We walked over from Ile de la Cite and when we “arrived” according to Google maps, we were still several blocks from the entrance. We saw the South facade later from our boat tour. The official website with all the details on history and the collection is here.
Sainte-Chapelle – Art and Architecture
With Sainte-Chapelle you can’t really separate the art from the architecture. The stained glass is stunning and the design of the building that enabled the 13th century craftsmen to display those windows is a feat itself. When you find that they completed it in seven years, it’s even more impressive.
The stained glass panels are 49 feet tall (15m) and roughly two-thirds are the originals from the 13th century.
King Louis IX (Saint Louis, yeah, like St. Louis, MO) built the chapel to house religious relics he obtained. Supposedly, he had parts of the crown of thorns and a fragment of the “true cross” and needed an appropriate place to keep them.
If you go, be sure to get a timed ticket. You can just walk-up, but the wait can be lengthy. We saw that the line was more than an hour, bought tickets for the afternoon online then wandered off in search of the Louvre.
More Random Buildings, Bridges, and the Eiffel Tour
We really enjoyed our boat trip on the Seine with Bateaux Mouches. The tour had commentary in both French and English, so that helped. Get your tickets ahead of time and bypass the long line.
Next up, Paying Respects.