Paris: Splendors of the City of Lights and Amour
By: Ellis Nassour
Paris – City of Lights: it’s called this because Paris was one of the first cities to become fully electrified. It’s called City of Amour because, well, simply put, the French know something about amour. Any visitor leaves forever remembering the sites – and the sites in the night lights.
The Place de Concorde is the gateway to Les Tulieries and, nestled at the very front, are huge Rodins and the Musee de l’Orangerie [home of Monet’s “Water Lilies], which houses hundreds of works by Impressionist masters.
Lighting enhances the stunning beauty of the world’s most famous/visited museums, the Louvre, the former palace where art lovers view such objets d’art as the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, and Venus de Milo. You might also call Paris the City of Museums. In addition to l’Orangerie and the Louvre, there’s the huge post-Modern high-tech steel and concrete Centre George Pompidou, with the largest collection of modern art in Europe; the D’Orsay; the Picasso; and prized private collections at the Jacquemart-André, Marmottan-Monet, Nissim de Camondo, and Louis Vuitton Foundation Musees to name but a few.
Passing the palatial Grand Palais and its Palais de la Découvérte science museum, and adjoining Petit Palais is a marvelous sight by night, but leaving Paris without a visit would be a huge mistake. You mighgt even consider lunch at the reasonably-priced bistro overlooking the Palais gardens.
You will feel the majesty of Napoleon and the history of France at L’Arc de Triomphe. From there sail the well-heeled shopper’s paradise along the Champs Elysees, with a detour to the famed George V Hotel [soon to unveil its multi-billion Euro renovation]; then, pass tributes to Presidents Washington, Roosevelt, and Eisenhower, and statue of Churchill.
While only the super, super rich can afford the magnificence of the Hotel de Crillon [upward of $1,300 a night, continental or full breakfast included; where Who among the world’s Who’s Who hasn’t stayed], which has just reopened after its first major/total facelift in nearly 100 years, you can freely admire the lighted facade, even make a pit stop to admire the grandeur of its 18th Century lobbies, dine at the patio restaurant, and, by day, visit the garden.
In the center of it all is the stately Palais Opera Garnier. Purchase tour/guided tour tickets to be swept away by the sweeping 1800s architecture, which includes the grand staircase, and galleries and salons which redefine the definition of regal grandeur. It’s home to the eight-ton bronze and crystal chandelier with 340 lights. Don’t miss having a photo taken in front of the box reserved for the phantom! Nearby is the ultra-modern Opéra Bastille.
At the pinnacle of the Latin Quarter is the stunningly lit by night and worthy of a visit by day Panthéon.
After viewing the fountains of the Gardens du Trocadéro Gardens with a magnificent view of the dazzling light show on the Eiffel Tower, cross the Pont d’Léna to the Left Bank, where you can marvel up close at Alexandre Gustave Eiffel’s 1889 Tower of steel — even elevator up to the top for dinner and a dazzling city view. Not far away is the Musee D’Orsay, the breathtaking home for more breathtaking Impressionist masterpieces.
Across the Pont Neuf or Pont Notre Dame on its very own lle da la Cité in the Seine is lofty, medieval Notre Dame Cathedral, where kings and emperors were crowned, with its flying buttresses, gargoyles, towering bell towers [with 10 named bells of various sizes that can do notes from A to G], stained glass masterpieces that include the renowned Gothic-Rayonnant Rose Window, magnificent organ with 8.000 pipes, gigantic doors, and French Gothic interior — one of the world’s most visited tourist sites.
Even gaudy, seedy Pigalle, in Paris’ 18th arrondissement, offers standout lighting: of the famed windmill atop the Moulin Rouge, on its present site at 82 Boulevard de Clichy since 1915. Head northeast to Montmartre and one of the city’s highest points to the famed “stairway to heaven” stairway leading to the monumental Sacré-Coeur basilica [if you happen to be touring by car, your driver will know how to get you on the much closer upper roadway]. Day or night, it’s a great spot for taking photos.
Only a few miles outside the city, stay to experience the twilight radiance on Versailles, including the Petit Trianon, Grand Trianon, and gardens.
Paris is a walking city, and then some – with steep hills and stairways to climb; and labyrinth Metro stations. So, wear very comfortable shoes.
In July, 2017, one Euro equaled $1.15, which bodes well, especially when eating out [an advantage over the Pound].
If you have travel plans for summer and can wait until the “Magic Airfare Days” of the dog days of August, when air fares begin segueing to lower Fall prices, you’ll save upwards of $100 booking August 21 on domestic air; booking August 22 international air, over $600.
It’s Charles Garnier’s monument to a bygone era. We will never see the likes of buildings like this one again. You enter into the rotunda and can’t help being astounded by the jawdropping beauty of the 98.5-foot-high tri-color marble vault and the famed Grand Staircase, where you’re greeted by two female allegories holding torches, that leads to the foyers, grand salon, theatre tiers, and private boxes [where one is permanently reserved for the phantom, a legend actually based on the deformed architect, who while helping Garnier secretly built “an underground lair” for himself adjacent to the lake.]
The view from the Grand Staircase, with light from outside and mirrors, is spectacular-plus. The Belle Époque galleries feature classic paintings of “dancing bacchantes and fauna, along with tapestries illustrating different refreshments as well as fishing and hunting.” The magnificent-beyond-description ceiling is by Clairin. The foyer vault, with a ceiling painted by Baudry and a copy of a bust of Garnier by the sculptor Carpeaux, features themes from the history of music. It’s covered with mosaics of shimmering colors on a gold background.
In the tradition of Italian theatres, the horseshoe-shaped seating is designed for audience to see and to be seen. The majestic ceiling, painted by Chagall, hides the steel structure supporting the eight-ton bronze and crystal chandelier. The curtain, which has been duplicated twice, was created by theatrical painters Auguste Rube (1817-1899) and Philippe Chaperon (1823-1906), following Garnier’s instructions. The backstage areas are vast and flies soar up to the gods.
Once a sort of “secret place to court” and for well-heeled subscribers celebrities to mingle during intervals with Champagne and caviar, the Foyer de la Danse, adjacent to the stage which served as inspiration to painters and writers, including Degas and Balzac, is now a salon used by artists, musicians, and the corps de ballet for warm-ups.
Throughout the house, the lyre decorates the capitals of the foyers and salons, even heating grids and doorknobs. The Grand Vestibule, “watched over by the statues of Rameau, Lully, Gluck, and Handel,” leads to the exit.
For more information on the Opera Garnier, 8 rue Scribe, schedules, tour/guided tour tickets, and reservations for the very expensive Opéra Restaurant under one of the vaults, visit www.operadeparis.fr.
This magnificent and vast Sixth Century colonnaded orthodox cross-shaped edifice high up in the Latin Quarter, across from the Sorbonne, dates to 1744. Built in the neo-Classical style, it’s filled with huge, still vividly-colorful murals of French history. It was the brainchild of Louis XV, who when he became seriously ill and made a vow to build a monument for Saint Genevieve, patron/protector of Parisians against invasions and hunger, should he be cured. He chose the architect Soufflot [and, following his death, his colleague Rondelet] and paid for the tons of marble, soaring Corinthian columns, mosaics, and the columned porch inspired by Rome’s Pantheon of Agrippa, with a royal lottery.
At the time of the French Revolution, the church hadn’t been consecrated. In 1791, the Assembly decided to make it a Panthéon, “a lay temple destined to harbor the labors, struggles and tombs of France’s great men.”
For more information, on the Panthéon, Rue du Panthéon at Rue Clotilde, visit www.paris-pantheon.fr. Small admission charge.