There are so many attractions in Paris that I split the original post into two posts. These are still large posts so hopefully you will see things that you want to visit. You can see the Part One post here.
1 Rue de la Légion d'Honneur, 75007 Paris, France
When you look at the Musée D’Orsay from the Seine, you might think of it as a train station. It was originally built as a train station to bring visitors to the 1900 World’s Fair. Architect Victor Laloux built the Gare d’Orsay with modern features and his design included the 400-room adjacent Hotel d’Orsay.
Over time, the station’s platforms could no longer accommodate larger electric trains, subsequently causing the station to close in 1939. It fell into disrepair until the 1970s when a movement began to restore and preserve the magnificent building, designating it a historic monument in 1978. In 1986, President Valery Giscard authorized renovations to turn it into the Musée D’Orsay.
The Musée d’Orsay has one of the most unforgettable collections of art, ranging from the late 19th century to the early 20th century. The museum brough collections of art from three different museums–the Louvre, Musée du Jeu de Paume, and the former National Museum of Modern Art. The museum has a wide variety of art including Photography, Sculpture, Painting, Decorative Arts, Graphic Arts, and Architecture.
Madeline took the above picture of a giant clock inside the museum on the ground floor. It looks like it belonged in a grand railway station. However, this is not the largest clock in the museum.
The larger D’Orsay Museum clock is part of the great hall and is located on the fifth floor of the building. As you enter the museum, take the lift up to the clock floor. You’ll see signboards indicating where you need to go. One of the main reasons people stop by the Orsay Museum clock is for the stunning views of the Seine River and its surroundings. From the window, you can see the Seine, the Louvre, the Tuileries Garden, and the Sacre Coeur.
There are 37 bridges that go across the Seine which flows for almost 8 miles through Paris. The Parisii tribe who inhabited Ile de la Cite built the first bridges in Paris including the Petit Pont and the Grand Pont. This was done in 52 BC, so a lot has changed.
The Seine riverbanks – from Pont de Sully to Pont de Bir-Hakeim via Pont Alexandre III – are a UNESCO world heritage site. I won’t cover all of the bridges in this post. Some of the best-known include one of the oldest - Pont Neuf. This bridge began construction in 1578. The Pont Alexandre III was built for the 1900 Universal Exhibition. The Pont de l'Alma, is now a magnet for tourists, as it is the place where Princess Diana met her tragic death in 1997.
75001 Paris, France
Since I speak a little French, I wondered why the bridge was called Pont Neuf. In French, the word “Neuf” means nine and new. So, which was it? The 9th bridge or the new bridge. Well, it was new in 1578. Pont-Neuf is a stone bridge built in different stages between 1578 and 1607.
Not only was it new, but it was also different. Instead of supporting houses like any other bridges in Paris, the new bridge was the first to be ‘houses free. At completion, the Pont-Neuf was the only bridge to span the whole width of River Seine. It was the only bridge and the first causeway to feature pavements, thus protecting pedestrians from horses and mud. This arched stone bridge, opened in 1607, with 2 spans & a bronze, equine statue of King Henri IV.
The first bouquinistes settled on Pont Neuf in the middle of the 17th century. A bouquiniste is essentially a used book seller, trying to make a living. The neighborhood booksellers were not happy because they were not purchasing their new books. The booksellers managed to ban the bouquinistes, thanks to a royal decree published in 1742. It took two centuries for the bouquinistes to be able to settle again near the Seine, along the quays where we can still see them.
There is a large statue of King Henri IV who was instrumental in getting the bridge built. This was the first equestrian statue erected in Paris and also the first statue free-standing, not related to any building.
The statue itself was erected in 1614 and was later torn down in 1792 during the French Revolution but was later rebuilt by 1818.
The bridge moldings are decorated with a total of 385 mascarons (grimacing stone faces). Interestingly enough, they are all different. There’s a fun urban legend about King Henri IV and the Pont Neuf’s mascarons.
King Henri IV was nicknamed Le Vert Galant. My French abilities translated that into a brave green man. That didn’t make any sense to me, but the expression came from the 16th century. At that time, a Vert-Galant was used for a man of advanced age who still had success with the ladies. The legend says that the mascarons are the faces of the cheated husbands, more than 300! And there’s even the face of a woman!
The mascarons you see on the Pont Neuf are replicas. You can find some originals at the Musée Carnevalet. Each face weighs more than 220 pounds. So, it’s not the newest bridge over the Seine, it is the oldest bridge with a lot of interesting history.
Pont Alexandre III
Pont Alexandre III, 75008 Paris, France
One of your first questions might be who is Alexandre III? The bridge was named after Tsar Alexander III (the Emperor of Russia from 1881 until 1894). So why is a Russian Emperor on a Parisian bridge? It was Tsar Alexander III, who finalized a Russian alliance with the Third Republic of France in 1892. The bridge celebrated and commemorated a new diplomatic relationship between France and Russia.
It is the most ornate and extravagant bridge in Paris. It connects the Champs-Élysées quarter with those of the Invalides and Eiffel Tower. It has been classified as an historic French monument since 1975.
The bridge has something for everyone with nymphs, cherubs, lanterns, animals, and winged horses at both ends.
On each of the four 55-foot-tall pillars is a gilded bronze statue representing the fame of the war that fought Pegasus. They are known as “Fames” which came from the Greek name Pheme. She was the personification of fame and renown.
In the center of the bridge, there are the Nymphs of the Seine with the coat of arms of France on one side and the Nymphs of the Neva with the coat of arms of the Russian Empire on the other side, both in bronze.
Even if you didn’t know about fames or nymphs, you will be amazed by the grandeur of the sculptures.
Pont de l'Alma
Pont de l'Alma, 75008 Paris, France
As you approach this bridge, from the north side, you will see the Flame of Liberty. To celebrate the United States’ bicentenary, the International Herald Tribune gave France and the French people a symbol. It is an exact replica of the flame held by the Statue of Liberty which was a gift from France to the United States. The flame sculpture is located at Place de l’Alma.
Since the untimely death of Princess Diana in 1997, this sculpture has become a de facto memorial to her death. She was tragically killed in a 1997 car accident in the tunnel underneath the Flame of Liberty. It became a focal point for mourning citizens.
The flame officially commemorates not only the paper’s hundredth year of business, as well as acting as a token of thanks to France itself for some restorative metalwork which the country had provided to the actual Statue of Liberty.
On July 4, 1884, the Statue of Liberty was formally given to commemorate the friendship between France and the USA and also to acknowledge the centenary. Work on the statue, formally called “Liberty Enlightening the World,” began in France in 1875. A year later, the completed torch and left forearm went on display in Philadelphia and New York to help with U.S. fundraising for the building of the statue’s giant pedestal. Another connection to the “Lady of Liberty” was Gustave Eiffel who joined the project in 1879.
Most people visit the bridge because of Princess Diana these days. The name of the bridge was commemorating a French victory in battle over Russia.
77 Rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris, France
You might not have heard of this museum. Rodin was primarily known as a sculptor and his most famous work is The Thinker.
The Rodin Museum is located in a classic 18th-century mansion called Hotel Biron. It is behind Les Invalides in the 7th Arrondissement. If you have visited the Eiffel Tower, it is only a twenty-minute walk. The museum has over seven acres of lawns, gardens, and rows of perfectly pruned trees along with sculptures by Rodin. That’s just on the outside.
The inside has some of Rodin's restored sculptures, his antiques, and the paintings from his personal collection. I was surprised to see the variety of paintings he acquired during his lifetime. There were paintings by Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Edvard Munch, François Lemoyne, Vincent Van Gogh, John Singer Sargent, Eugene Carriere and Alexandre Falguiere.
One of the ones we liked the best was in the picture above. Van Gogh painted Pere Tanguy three times. He met the man because he ran a paint supplies shop and often accepted paintings in exchange for supplies. Madeline and I liked the background of the painting as well because it was an homage to Japanese art. Both Vincent and his brother Theo collected Japanese art. You can see Mt. Fuji in the background above Pere Tanguy’s chapeau.
Madeline and I spent a couple of hours at the museum and loved it. It wasn’t crowded at all when we visited, probably because it’s not well known to tourists.
Opera National de Paris
Pl. de l'Opéra, 75009 Paris, France
This is a massive building, and it shows how much important opera was to the French. It is also called Palace Garnier, named after the architect, Charles Garnier. It was built for the Paris Opera from 1861 to 1875 at the request of Emperor Napoleon III
It was the primary theatre of the Paris Opera and its associated Paris Opera Ballet until 1989, when a new opera house, the Opéra Bastille, opened at the Place de la Bastille. Palais Garnier is now mainly used for ballet. It’s been an historic monument of France since 1923.
It might be the most famous opera house in the world, partly because of the 1910 novel, The Phantom of the Opera which was set within Palace Garnier. Most of us have not read the book but we’ve enjoyed Andrew Lloyd Weber’s production on Broadway and stages all over the world.
The Opera National de Paris offers both guided and self-guided tours, neither of which are free. You might want to consider a tour company. We’ve had very good luck with Viator and they offer a Seine river cruise in conjunction with the 2 hour tour of the Opera. There are more expensive tours that take you behind the scenes with a guide.
The most impressive way to approach the Opera is along the Avenue de l'Opera from the Louvre. You can see the facade of the Opera building from all along this avenue. If you take a Big Bus tour, you’ll go past it more than once.
Madeline and I walked all around the building. There is a wide variety of architectural styles from Ancient Greek to Baroque and Renaissance. There are statues and plaques all over celebrating both famous composers as well as sculptures which portray deities of Greek mythology. You can spend hours just soaking it in and taking photographs. If you do go inside, prepare to be awed. The inside of the Paris Opera was always designed to be a vast and glittering space, and it does just that.
Almost every interior surface is of marble or other impressive stonework, gilded and frescoed. There are magnificent and opulent staircases along with more statues, candelabras, chandeliers, etc.
If you want to see a show, remember that it’s primarily used for ballet now. You’ll enjoy a wonderful ballet and imagine what it would have been like to see an original work by Wagner, Puccini, Britten, Handel, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Handel, Berlioz, etc.
Pl. du Panthéon, 75005 Paris, France
For Madeline and me, this was simply a photo opportunity. It’s a majestic building with quite a lot of history. It is sometimes called the temple of the French nation. It came about from Louis XV who wanted a church dedicated to Saint Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris. The Revolution in 1789 changed the church into a monument. As regimes changed, it alternated in its role as a religious and patriotic monument. Since 1885, the year of Victor Hugo’s death and burial in the Pantheon, it has been the last resting place for the great writers, scientists, generals, and leaders within the history of France. The crypt houses the tombs of more than 70 illustrious figures including Marie Curie, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile Zola, Alexandre Dumas and others. From the outside, the dome reminded us of the US capital.
We’ve seen the Pantheon in Rome and went inside. The Pantheon in Rome was originally built as a temple to the Olympian gods and was completed between 125 and 128 AD. Inside, there wasn’t a lot to look at, but it was interesting. Inside the Paris Pantheon, there is plenty to see, and they charge for entrance.
Inside artwork includes marble sculptures and paintings. Some of them are religious and many are not. It reflects the building’s dual purpose throughout history. One of the paintings shows Saint Genevieve herself, the patron saint of Paris. There is a giant Foucault pendulum which, interestingly enough, was invented by a Frenchman in the mid-1800s. He wanted to prove that the Earth rotated when most everyone else thought the sun and planets revolved around the Earth.
I mentioned the famous people buried in the mausoleum. That’s worth a visit. Afterwards, you can go to the balcony and have one of the best views of Paris.
The oldest tree in Paris
Rue Saint-Julien le Pauvre, 75005 Paris, France
OK, this might seem a little unusual for a Paris attraction. We found it interesting because the tree actually came to France from what would become the United States. The tree was first planted in 1601. Jean Robin, a well-known botanist, and doctor brought many exotic plants back to Europe from his travels in the French American colonies. He was the official gardener of the king of France.
He planted the tree in front of the 13th century Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre Church which is conveniently just across the Seine from Notre Dame. It’s also close to Shakespeare and Company which I’ll cover in a bit. So, it’s easy to find if you know where to look.
It was an acacia tree and even Jean Robin would be surprised how well it thrived. Also known by its Latin name, Robinia, the tree loves city life. They grow quickly and are resistant to pollution and other urban hazards.
In the picture, you can see what appears to be legs for the tree. When the tree threatened to collapse from the weight of its own trunk, a large V-shaped cement support was installed beneath it. Along with another iron beam that’s been poorly disguised as a tree trunk, this is the only thing that keeps the tree standing.
It might be a little unattractive, but it works. Most While most Robinia trees only grow to 30 feet tall, this one is more than 50 feet in height. Since it is so old, it became known as the ‘lucky tree of Paris’. The legend went that rubbing your hand along the tree’s ancient trunk would bring you good luck.
Touching the tree was highly discouraged by the city elders so there is now a barrier around the tree that was erected in 2010, after our photo. You can’t touch the tree, but you can still get a good picture.
But not just any fence would do for the oldest tree in Paris. The bottom half is made of chestnut branches woven according to medieval techniques, and the bench above it is oak. A commemorative plaque is also installed just in front of the tree.
From here, it’s time to go to Shakespeare and Company.
Shakespeare and Company
37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 Paris, France
This might be one of the most famous bookstores in the world. It has a very interesting story and is of great interest to those of us that love to read. Sylvia Beach was an American who lived in Paris. She opened Shakespeare and Company in 1919.
It was a bookstore and also a lending library for those who could not afford a purchase. She attracted lots of now famous authors including Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. If you’ve ever read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, you’ll remember this bookstore.
Sylvia Beach would frequently sell books by authors she loved, even if they were banned elsewhere. She published Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence and Ulysses by James Joyce. She kept the bookstore running until the beginning of World War II in 1941.
George Whitman opened his bookstore in 1951 and named it after Sylvia Beach’s bookstore. The Whitman ownership has continued to this day.
Many of Sylvia Beach’s traditions continue. The current shop houses both writers and artists as long as they help out around the store. The shop's motto, "Be Not Inhospitable to Strangers Lest They Be Angels in Disguise", is written above the entrance to the reading library.
Inside the store, it feels like you are walking back through time. You might see a cat or two roaming around. There are books everywhere. George’s only daughter, Sylvia, now is the owner. She cared for her father in his declining days and never dreamed of staying to operate the store. In 2006, Sylvia was made the official owner of the store. George’s story ended in 2011 when he passed away at the age of 98.