We made a beeline for the Louvre Palace the next day. Louvre, as is well known, is one of the largest museums in the world. Originally built as a fortress in the late 12th Century, Louis the XIV left it in favour of the Versailles Palace. Louvre was left behind as a place for display of his collections. Since then it has thrived as a museum containing a wide range of prized and famous exhibits from practically all parts of the world. Most of the pieces were from personal collections and later those that were seized during campaigns abroad were also added. The most significant contributions were made to the museum by Napolean III in the 19th Century when more than 10000 artworks, antiquities, etc. were added. Today it is reported to be having for display 380,000 objects and 35000 works of art. Everything from sculptures to paintings, or sundry items that are of best and most valued for a museum are on display. It needs sustained pursuit and several days to cover the whole of the museum – the kind of time that we didn’t have. There is something for everybody, from pre-historic to ancient, Classical, Medieval to Gothic to Renaissance and so on. We saw some of the fabulous paintings of world renowned European artists of Renaissance and of various schools like romanticists, impressionists, realists etc. Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa was there and so was the famous ancient Venus D Milo. The pyramids that one now sees in front of the main entrance were not there when we visited the Louvre. These were completed in 1989 to facilitate entry into the Museum and for proceeding directly to the section one wanted to visit.
The Triumphal Arch – The Arch of Triumph – is another of the monuments of Paris that is visited by thousands of tourists every day. It has inspired many more such arches elsewhere. Our own India Gate at Delhi is considered a reworked version of the Arch of Triumph. The architect Edwin Lutyens was probably more inspired by the design of the Paris Arch. An iconic monument, it stands in the middle of the Charles De Gaulle Place (earlier known as the Place de l’Etoile) at one end of the main thoroughfare of Paris, the tree-lined boulevard Champs Elysees. It is said that that it was the tallest arch until the Mexican one came up in 1938. The Arch was commissioned in 1806 by Napoleon after the victory in Austerlitz. Standing tall at around 50 metres and with a width of about 20 metres it is an imposing structure with beautiful significant sculptures and friezes. As many as 12 avenues radiate from it in different directions. It is to be seen to be believed.
At the other end of the Champs Elysees is the Place de la Concorde is a huge public square from where one can see the Arch of Triumph at the far end. It is where Louis the XVI was guillotined during the French Revolution when it was renamed as Place de la Revolution. Other significant people who were chopped down here were Queen Marie Antionette, the lawyer revolutionary Robespierre, Madame du Barry etc. The Square is acres and acres of land surrounded by beautiful gilded buildings with an obelisk somewhere in the centre. The approach to it is thoroughly interesting – through tree-line boulevard of Champs Elysees with huge shops and cafes which had tables with checked table cloths and chairs waiting for custom. The place has tremendous atmosphere which has to be savoured and cherished.
The other major place of interest is Notre Dame, the Catholic cathedral in Paris, the seat of the city’s Archdicese. I remember when my late brother came back from Frankfurt way back in 1953 and told us he had been to Paris too my father asked him whether he had been to Notre Dame. Since then we have been aware of this famous cathedral. This is perhaps the only Gothic church in Paris and is considered as one of the largest in the world with around 5000 square metres of floor space. It has various architectural features which were innovative used later by architects in other structures, for example the flying buttresses (an arch that supports a wall). Its portals are heavily decorated. Its spire is so pointed it seems as if it is piercing the sky. Its stained glass windows are fabulous and the church is reputed to have fantastic acoustics. Situated close to the River Seine it sort of dominates the River with its presence, particularly so because of its vast plaza which provides stunning views of the façade. Full of statuary, the Cathedral is virtually a work of art – architecture and sculpture mingling together effortlessly.
Paris is perhaps the finest city I have ever visited. Its avenues, broad boulevards and uniform skyline (unlike the confused skyline of ours) and tasteful gilding of most buildings which are more or less of the same height are admirable. It has history and there is so much to see. It is after all a planned city built to the planners’ specifications and most of the buildings are more or less homogeneous in design. One feels that a great amount of thought was paid to the element of perspective while building the city. The River Seine adds to its beauty as it wends its way through the city. Its banks not only are superb and exuding romance they are ideal places for loving couples to snuggle and cuddle. No wonder, it is known as the most romantic of cities. The people are gorgeous – the men and women are instinctively fashionable; Paris being the fashion capital of the world. They dress well love to flaunt their accoutrements and equipage . It is an amazing place and it leaves one wondering as to how it really ticks.