I just found out that a friend is leaving for her first visit to Paris – tomorrow! Work is the main reason for her trip, but she will have some free time and she has asked for a top 10 list for things to do for a first timer in Paris.
Did you check out pariswithscott.com? Of course, she said. But, there isn’t a top 10 list to choose from for first-time visitors. Okay, she has me on that. I guess I think everyone is going for days and days on end. It is so sad we can’t all go indefinitely!
Get your satchel ready for being out all day and here are the top 10 to pick from.
Before even getting to number one on the list, beware of pickpockets – everywhere. Keep your money, identification, passport in a secure place on your body. Like your front pocket or in a money wallet around your neck. You will be in high tourist areas and thieves will take your money and your passport. If that happens, you will spend the rest of your time in Paris trying to get your credentials to get out of Paris.
First, there are 3 firsts.
Take a ride on one of the open top buses. Multiple companies offer several routes, but take the route that goes by the major sights – up the Champs-Elysees, around the Arc de Triomphe, by the Opera, Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Seine, Les Invalides, Place de la Concorde, etc…. Ask at your hotel which company is closest to your location so you can walk to the bus stop. About 2 1/2 hours without getting off.
Even in winter, the open top tour is a must. Bundle up, wrap your neck with a scarf, and go to the top deck. It doesn’t go fast. And, you can really get a feel for the city and this will help you decide what is really interesting to you.
If it is really raining, and the forecast is for rain all day, go to the Louvre. (More on the Louvre in a minute.)
If you want to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, reserve your time now , while you are reading this. Seriously, check the website now and reserve your ticket, and check for special notices. This is many people’s top thing to do – so it is crowded. Also, maintenance can result in closures of certain areas – including the top – and the website posts current information. (PWS Note: There is no doubt that the Eiffel Tower is incredible! It is breathtaking to walk around it, look at it from all over the city and see it each day while in Paris. I prefer to admire from underneath, from across at Palais de Chaillot, or from the Champs de Mars. The view from the top is so high up that it is far removed from the city of Paris. I think the views are much better from Arc de Triomphe or the Centre Pompidou. Or, visit Galleries Lafayette for the terrace – and you can always get a snack or meal down below. Even Printemps the food halls have amazing views across the rooftops – including a view of the Eiffel Tower.)
Sainte-Chapelle is a block and a half away from Notre-Dame de Paris, on Boulevard du Palais. Big red vertical signs mark the entrance. After going through security, you wind your way around to the 13th century royal chapel built in 7 years. First, you visit the lower chapel that is dark and dim with gilded Gothic arches. Then, you walk up a narrow stone staircase and enter the soaring upper chapel with monumental walls of stained glass. This is where the kings of France worshipped for a time. And… it is majestic.
Plan to spend at least an hour at Sainte-Chapelle.
Notre-Dame de Paris would take this spot on any top 10, but the inside is closed. It is unfortunate, but you still must visit Notre-Dame de Paris before or after Sainte-Chapelle. Walk over to Île Saint-Louis to view the flying buttresses and marvel at the magnificent Gothic masterpiece.
3. The Louvre
The most extensive art museum in the world is a must visit. From the glass pyramid by I.M. Pei to the ancient foundations, the building is a work of art in itself. And, the ability for the French to move people into the most visited museum in the world is inspiring, even if it may be a little frustrating. Get yourself up early and be there when the Louvre opens, or go when it is open late to have the easiest access. Or, just be prepared to be in a mob trying to get in. It can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Go with a plan. And one of the best plans is to take the self-guided tour of masterpieces. You will travel through the building seeing the best of the best in the former palace of the monarchs of France.
Plus, there are places to have coffee, a snack, a baguette sandwich, and multiple bookstores with excellent souvenirs, including vast numbers of postcards!
Combine visiting the Louvre with seeing the sublime beauty of the Palais Royal (built in the 1630s) and taking a stroll through the gardens. Break for some coffee or a Badoit before or after at one of the cafés between the Louvre and Palais Royal. You will see them around the Avenue de l’Opéra. Then walk back out to the Rue de Rivoli and into the Jardin des Tuileries (created in 1564) and up to Place de la Concorde. During the French Revolution, a guillotine was on this square.
About 3 hours not including time at a café.
4. Crepe From a Crepe Stand
Choose savory or sweet, maybe the one right outside the Tuileries Garden on the Place de la Concorde? Or, at night near the Pont Neuf watching the boats motor past? This may rank as number 1 in the top 10 experiences.
5. Baguette Sandwich
Choose the traditional – jambon gruyere – ham, swiss cheese and butter on a baguette. Don’t go for the new ones with lettuce, tomato, mozzarella and who knows what else. You can find them everywhere, even at convenience stores, but walk into a boulangerie for some of the best. A real boulangerie makes its own bread on the premises from yeast, flour, water and salt, with no preservatives. Grab a croissant while you are at it. You will want it as a snack later or a post baguette dessert!
6. Place des Vosges
The red brick and stone buildings of the Place des Vosges were built by Henri IV in the early 1600s. Walking under the archways and into the garden really give a feel for a microcosm within Paris. Beautiful buildings, perfect scale, relaxed atmosphere, planned gardens that are meticulously maintained…a sensory delight.
To get to Place des Vosges look for Rue de Birague off the Rue de Rivoli. See the July Column at Place de la Bastille before. Plus, a Monoprix is across the street from Rue de Birague. Duck in for water, reasonably priced souvenirs, crackers and snacks.
From the Place des Vosges, walk a few blocks over to Rue des Rosiers in the Jewish Quarter for delicious falafel at Florence Kahn or L’As du Fallafel. Continue on to the Hôtel de Ville and take a photo like Doisneau.
7. Centre Pompidou
The iconic marvel of 1970s is a definite top 10 to visit with its different colors for different circulations: blue for air, green for water, yellow for electricity and red for people. Centre Pompidou is about 6 blocks from Notre-Dame de Paris and about 3 1/2 blocks from Hôtel de Ville. Go to the top for some of the best views of Paris. Next, go over to Église Saint-Eustache.
Allow 3.5 hours from Place de la Bastille, brief shopping at Monoprix, visiting Place des Vosges, stopping to eat, visiting Centre Pompidou and walking to Église Saint-Eustache. This is without seeing an exhibition Centre Pompidou,
8. Time in a Café
Sit across the Seine from Notre-Dame de Paris, or visit Café de Flore or Les Deux Magots, or whatever café may be near your hotel. Order even the least expensive coffee or lemonade and you will buy yourself time to soak up the atmosphere, enjoy the view, get comfortable in your surroundings, or just rest for a bit. If you have a full day, visit a café after dinner. In the morning, any open café is a great place to stand at the bar for a quick coffee and croissant for breakfast. Make this top 10 one of your most repeated.
Time estimate – up to you.
Yes, Virginia, there is a vineyard in Paris up on Montmartre.
Have you seen Moulin Rouge, the movie? Montmartre is where it all took place. Satine’s elephant sat high above Paris with views of the entire city. And, that is what you will have on the steps of the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur. Go a few blocks over and you will walk in Toulouse-Lautrec’s footsteps. As well as many other famous and infamous personages of Paris. Unlike the days from long ago, at the square you will be surrounded by caricature artists, plus accordion music, lots of berets, and restaurants where you should probably not eat. Keep walking and you can find a vineyard! Go to Montmartre for the view, the exterior of Basilica of Sacré-Cœur and the square.
It is a steep walk up or take the funiculaire. At the top, about 1.5 hours.
10. Arc de Triomphe
At the top of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, this National Monument is worth a visit and the climb up the stairs to the top. Paris is laid out before you in all directions. I think the views from l’Arc de Triomphe are the best of all views. And, now you can book your time and ticket in advance without waiting in line.
About an hour.
If you have seen as much of Paris as you want, and you have half a day to dedicate to one destination, go on a tour of Versailles. Multiple tour operators have easy-to-get-to locations, or will even collect you from your hotel. There are not enough superlatives to describe the palace and the gardens. This is where my mother said, “No wonder they had a revolution.” I know it is beyond the top 10, but the first ones were truly in Paris.
At least 1/2 day.
Keep your wallet/passport/identification safe – at all times. Places on the map are farther away than they look. Spend money wisely on Métro passes and/or taxis. If you are short on time, it may be worth a cab ride or taking the Métro to speed you to your destination.
Do you have your own list of the top 10 things to do in Paris? I would love to hear from you. Send them to me!
Paris is chock-a-block with awe-inspiring churches. Many of the grandest are newer replacements built on ancient Christian sites. But “newer” is a relative term. Like many other buildings in Paris, some of these churches are many hundreds of years old with long and interesting histories.
France is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic – whether in name only, or more. The churches listed here began, and most remain, Roman Catholic. Only those that have been deconsecrated are no longer under the Pope of Rome.
The awe-inspiring churches listed here are in no particular order. Of course you know some, but others are definitely worth the effort to visit. Also, the names of the churches are listed in French. English may seem easier for now, but in Paris, only French will be written on signs, maps and plans of the quarter at Métro exits.
If you plan on visiting the awe-inspiring churches that are still maintained as active Roman Catholic institutions, please be respectful of the religion. Some churches have been known to deny entry to those without long pants or covered shoulders.
So, here they are, 13 awe-inspiring churches in Paris:
1. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris is the most well known of the awe-inspiring churches in Paris. It is amazing to behold and it is an incredibly beautiful feat of engineering. The plaza out in front provides plenty of space to admire this marvelous creation.
Inside is a working Medieval masterpiece. Mass is said regularly. Step inside for a view to the Middle Ages. Smell the incense, hear the homily (over loudspeakers now) and enjoy the soft light coming in through the stained glass.
Make sure to walk around the entire cathedral. The shady side close to the river is a sweet little park. On the opposite side, stand close to the sides and look up to see the gargoyles overhead. Beware the gargoyles during a rain storm. They deliver the water out and away from the church – onto the sidewalk. Also, take a look in the back. Inside the fence surrounding the church, little storage areas protect stone pieces and parts from the cathedral.
Notre-Dame de Paris is the perfection of French Gothic architecture. Some may declare cathedrals in other cities to be the best example, but … seemingly everything is perfection. From the arches above the doors, the towers, and the ornate flying buttresses. And that is not even considering the spectacular interior.
During the Revolution, Notre-Dame de Paris was used as a warehouse.
Notre-Dame de Paris celebrated 850 years in 2013. It has witnessed 80 kings, two emperors and five republics.
Address: 6 Parvis Notre-Dame, on the Place Jean-Paul II, 75004 Nearest Métro and RER: Saint-Michel – Notre-Dame Official website: http://www.notredamedeparis.fr/en/ Admission fee: No, but, there is a charge to enter the treasury, the crypt and to climb the towers.
From a distance, Sacré-Cœur could compete for the best of the awe-inspiring churches. Its gleaming white stone sitting atop the city like a jewel makes it one of the most recognizable places in Paris.
The complete name is Basilique du Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre (Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Montmartre), but generally the name is shortened to only, “Sacré-Cœur.”
Besides the church itself, one of the strongest draws to visit Sacré-Cœur is the view from the steps overlooking Paris. Beautiful at day or night, morning or evening, blazing hot or rainy. The expansive vistas are adored by many Parisians and visitors.
Sacré-Cœur’s architectural style is Romano-Byzantine. It was consecrated in 1919. And, at nearly 100, this is the youngest of the awe-inspiring churches.
The ceiling above the alter is covered by one of the largest mosaics in the world. Beautiful blue and gold tiles create a lovely canopy drawing you all the way into the basilica to see the powerful mosaic.
Address: 35, rue du Chevalier de la Barre, 75018 Nearest Métro: Anvers or Abbesses, then walk to the funiculaire. If you are looking up to Sacré-Cœur, the funiculaire is to the left at the bottom of the hill. Taking the funiculaire will take one regular Metro ticket. Official website: http://www.sacre-coeur-montmartre.com/english/ Admission fee: No, but there is a charge for visiting the crypt and climbing the dome.
3. Église de Saint-Germain-des-Prés
“Prés” is the French word for grassy areas or fields. So the translation of the name from French is, “Church of St. Germain of the Fields.” Of course, it doesn’t look like it now, but when Paris was beginning as a village, this area was only fields.
In the early Middle Ages, the Merovingian King, Childebert I commanded the creation of an abbey (which includes a church) in these fields. And in 558, St. Germain, the bishop of Paris, consecrated the first church on this site.
As time moved on, a large, wealthy and important royal abbey grew on the fields. So large that it encompassed much of the area that is now referred to as the St. Germain neighborhood. And, so important that royalty was buried here until Dagobert I was buried at Basilique Cathédrale de Saint-Denis in 639.
That original church is long gone, but the existing building it is the oldest of the big churches in Paris with parts dating from the 1000s and before.
The architectural style of Église de Saint-Germain-des-Prés is described on its website as “primitive Gothic.” However, after many years and reconstructions, elements and details of other styles can be found.
Inside, the painted interior from the 1800s may be a little surprising. The walls and columns are covered with interesting designs and beautiful scenes painted in many colors. Up above, the ceiling is dotted with thousands of gold stars on a deep blue background. Around back you can see the flying buttresses. Compared to the ornate flying buttresses on the Gothic churches that would be built in the future, these may seem rather utilitarian.
In 1650, the philosopher, mathematician and scientist René Descartes died. After his body was moved a few times, finally in 1819 his cremated remains were interred in Église de Saint-Germain-des-Prés. But, his head is preserved in the Musée de l’Homme.
Pretty much everything that Louis XIV commissioned is over-the-top. And, his chapel at Versailles is no exception. From the multi-colored marble floor to the exuberant ceiling paintings, everything is magnificent.
It is the fifth royal chapel at Versailles. And, this last one, is one of the awe-inspiring churches in Paris (or, very close to Paris).
According to its official website, “Every day the Court attended the King’s mass, which were usually held in the morning at 10. The sovereign sat in the royal tribune surrounded by his family. The ladies of the Court occupied the lateral tribunes, while the Officers and members of the public were seated in the nave.”
The Chapelle Royale (or Royal Chapel) is considered a masterpiece of the architect, Jules Hardouin-Mansart. He designed it in the French Baroque architectural style and it was completed in 1710, two years after his death.
Intertwined script Ls adorn the chapel. These represent Saint Louis and Louis XIV. Louis XIV commanded the chapel to be built. The chapel is dedicated to Saint Louis.
One of the best things about this awe-inspiring church is that you can enjoy it with practically no one else in sight. Even though it is right in the middle of the busy 4th Arrondissement, it does not seem to be visited by many tourists. Take advantage of the solitude to really enjoy its beauty.
Of course, like many other awe-inspiring churches, the grand organ is mesmerizing when played. It is also one of the oldest in Paris. Concerts are not common events, so attending mass may be the best time to experience the organ.
Église Saint-Gervais-et-Saint-Protais is the first church with a French Baroque facade. Most of the interior is Late Gothic with fine examples of Gothic stained glass and some from modern times as well.
Don’t miss the choir stalls and the incredible wood carvings from the time of Francois I and Henri II (1500s and 1600s). Although beautifully carved, some of the reliefs can be quite disturbing.
During the Revolution, it was the Temple of Reason and Youth.
Around the year 250, St. Denis was beheaded on Montmartre (the hill of martyrs). St. Denis did not die there. He picked up his head and walked North and eventually collapsed on the spot where the current cathedral is located. The way to find St. Denis in any line up of saints is to look for the one carrying his head, that is St. Denis.
Since St. Denis’ death, some type of shrine or memorial for the dead has been occupying the site. Because of its long history as a burial ground, many archeological excavations have taken place over the years. Around the church, many sarcophagi have been excavated with some dating from as early as the 300s and 400s.
Inside the cathedral, tombs are arranged throughout the main chapel. A map illustrates who is where. Along with containing the remains of the French royalty, the collection of funerary sculpture from the 12th to the 16th centuries is the largest of its kind. Life-like effigies adorn the tombs. On some, symbolic animal sculptures sit at their feet.
This church is held out as the first truly Gothic cathedral. In 1144, the apse was consecrated with King Louis VII and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine leading the procession.
Along with Louis XIV, the remains of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette are in the crypt.
Louis IX (later Saint Louis) commanded the construction of this chapel to house holy Christian relics, including Christ’s crown of thorns. In 1248, Sainte-Chapelle was consecrated as a Roman Catholic church. Eventually, in 1842, the French government designated it a National Monument.
Sainte-Chapelle is truly one of the most awe-inspiring churches in Paris. The upper chapel is mind blowing. Walls of stained glass soar toward the ceiling. Every inch of surface is painted. It is kind of like being inside a jewel box. This magnificent chapel was reserved for worship exclusively by the king and his family. (The photo at the beginning is of the stained glass in Sainte-Chapelle. Fit for a king, no?)
Staff and others would worship in the lower chapel. It is fascinating to visit and also extremely beautiful. Also, the oldest fresco in France is within the lower chapel.
Looking at the Île de la Cité, there is a spire that seems to stick up out of nowhere. It seems to be kind of near Notre-Dame de Paris, but then if you are walking, it kind of disappears. It reappears while looking into the courtyard of the Palais de Justice – and – looking up. That spire belongs to Sainte-Chapelle. The front of Sainte-Chapelle is hidden behind the walls of the Palais de Justice, fronting the street. If there is no line, you can walk right by and miss it.
Sainte-Chapelle is definitely in the Gothic style. More particularly, it is in the Rayonnant Gothic style. Rayonnant comes from the French word for radiating, as in the famous rose windows.
Sainte-Chapelle was built in ONLY 7 YEARS!!! Incredible.
Le Panthéon is one of the most awe-inspiring churches that is no longer a church, but a temple to many of the worthies of France.
In 1744, Louis XV was suffering an illness so horrible, that he vowed, should he recover, he would direct a church be built to Ste. Geneviève. After he recovered, he kept his word and the church of Ste. Genevieve was built.
However, once the structure was completed in 1791, the French revolutionaries changed the use of the building to a mausoleum for French dignitaries. A pantheon, or temple to all gods. During its history, it served as a Christian temple again. But, when Victor Hugo died in 1885, Le Panthéon was once and for all converted to a temple honoring French men and women who provided France with great service.
The crypt is a fascinating trip through history. Tombs and crypts fill the lower floor. Look for the names of Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Marie Curie, and Alexandre Dumas.
According to its publications, Le Panthéon is a mix of Classical and Gothic styles. Its design by the architect Soufflot was based on St. Paul’s in London and St. Peter’s in Rome and includes a tremendous dome. That dome is easy to see from many parts of Paris.
In 2018, Simone Veil was the most recent addition to Le Panthéon. Veil was a holocaust survivor and politician who broke barriers for women in French politics.
Climb to the top for beautiful views. Also, Foucault’s pendulum is suspended from the ceiling.
Address: Place du Panthéon, 75005 Nearest Métro: Maubert-Mutualité or Cardinal Lemoine (both are several blocks away) RER: Luxembourg Official website: http://www.paris-pantheon.fr/en Admission fee: Yes No longer a consecrated church
9. Église Saint-Séverin
Detail of Saint-Séverin. Look at the fine stonework and extraordinary gargoyles.
Séverin was a hermit living by the Seine in the 5th and 6th centuries. In 504, he cured King Clovis of a disease for which his doctors had no remedy. Along with that good deed for the royalty, he also performed other healing miracles that brought him enough admiration to dedicate a church to him.
Since the 500s, there has been a St. Severin church on that spot. That’s right, 1,500+ years ago. Parts of the building date back to the end of the 11th century, making it one of the oldest churches in Paris. Most of the current structure is from the 1200s – 1400s. Like other awe-inspiring churches, it has an organ. Much of the works are from the 18th century with even earlier pipes.
If you are in near Place Saint-Michel trying to find some street food, walk down Rue Saint-Séverin to find this church. Take a look at the gargoyles on the exterior, the flying buttresses and go in to see the interior. Some of the stained glass windows are from as long ago as the 14th century! Not as tall, or as big, or as grand as Notre-Dame de Paris, but it is still impressive.
Late Gothic. It is in middle of a busy neighborhood, so maybe it doesn’t get as much attention as it should?
The oldest bell in Paris rings from its tower.
Address: 3, rue des Prêtres Saint-Séverin, 75005 Nearest Métro: Saint-Michel – Notre-Dame Official website: https://saint-severin.com Admission fee: No
10. Église de la Madeleine
Église de la Madeleine ends the straightaway leading from the Place de la Concorde between the massive buildings flanking its north side. It is always startling to merrily trip around the obelisk, look to the side and then see a temple at the end of the street.
Nearly continuously from the 13th century, a Roman Catholic parish has been in charge of the site. And like so many of the sites for other awe-inspiring churches, various buildings have been built and torn down through the centuries. The current structure, however, is definitely unique among them.
Église de la Madeleine has an amazing organ and concerts are held regularly. Check the website when planning your trip for upcoming concert dates.
Down around back are stalls filled with beautiful flowers. And, across the street in the back you can find Fauchon – an incredible purveyor of delicacies. Then across from Église de la Madeleine in other directions, you will find Ralph Lauren, Bulgari, and other posh shops.
It looks like a Roman or Greek temple, and in fact, its architectural style is not surprisingly, Neo-Classical. The symmetrical columns, huge pediment and expansive stairs may make you feel as though you are in an ancient land.
The current building is the result of Napoleon I’s desire for a Temple to the Glory of the Great Army. So, it really was built as a temple. But, as history would have it, Napoleon I was exiled before it could be used as a secular temple. The monarchy was restored (the Restoration), and that is when King Louis XVIII declared the building would be a Roman Catholic church. And, since its consecration in 1842, a Roman Catholic church it remains.
Église Saint-Eustache began as a small chapel in 1213. The first stone of the current awe-inspiring church was laid on August 19, 1532. And, on April 26, 1637, the church was consecrated. (Those Roman Catholic churches keep some meticulous records.)
The open expanse of the former Les Halles markets provides plenty of room to back way up and really see the church. The interior of the church seems vast, maybe because the ceiling is over 100′ high.
Saint-Eustache’s organ has 8,000 pipes. The church regularly holds organ concerts on Sundays at 5:30pm (except for special days). When planning your trip, check the website to confirm concert times.
The current awe-inspiring church is generally in the late Gothic style with Renaissance features.
Here in 1649, Louis XIV received his first communion.
Hector Berlioz’s “Te Deum” premiered here on April 30, 1855.
La Fontaine, the famous fable writer, is interred in Saint-Eustache.
During the Revolution, it was designated the Temple of Agriculture and used as a barn.
Super Cool Extra:
Église Saint-Eustache created a video of the church filmed by a drone – really interesting to watch. See the columns, organ – everything – up close here.
Address: 2 impasse Saint-Eustache, 75001 Nearest Métro: Les Halles RER: Chatelet – Les Halles Official website: http://saint-eustache.org/ Admission fee: No
12. Église Saint-Sulpice
Église Saint-Sulpice is one of the awe-inspiring churches of Paris. One, because it is one of the biggest in Paris. Two, because it looks different from the others. Three, because the South tower remains incomplete due to a stop in construction during the French Revolution – and it never resumed. Four, because the grand organ, well, is pretty grand. And, five, because the square out in front is so relaxing and such a good place to admire the church and listen to the water cascading in the huge fountain in the middle.
Like nearly all of the other awe-inspiring churches, this site has a long history with the Roman Catholic faith. The current church, which was begun in 1646, is built on earlier foundations. It is also home to three murals by Eugène Delacroix. Look for them on the right, in the first side chapel.
Check for organ concerts on the website. Each Sunday the church gives mass at 11:00am and 6:45pm. For 10-15 minutes before the each of those masses, the great organ is played. (There is a choir organ as well.) Also, the great organ is played during mass and for 30 minutes after the 11:00am mass.
Across the square, just off the right corner if you are looking out of the front door of the church, is a great place for a macaroon. Stop in at the famous patisserie, Pierre Hermé, at 72 rue Bonaparte, 75006.
Kind of a combination of Neo-Classical and Baroque with an Italianate facade.
13. Église du Dôme (or Église Royale) at Les Invalides – the Boulanger’s Dozen of the Awe-Inspiring Churches in Paris
Louis XIV commissioned Jules Hardouin Mansart to design and build this royal chapel that qualifies as one of the awe-inspiring churches of Paris. The Église du Dôme was built between 1677 and 1706 and it is a stunner inside and out.
Yet, the monarchy did not survive. During the Revolution, this grand building became the Temple of Mars. Later, while Napoleon I reigned as Emperor, the building was a pantheon to military greats and many military officers are interred here.
Napoleon I was exiled and died on St. Helena. But he would again leave a permanent impression on the Temple of Mars. King Louis-Philippe decided that Napoleon I’s body should be given a place of honor beneath the great dome. After many years of extensive work, the magnificent space was ready to hold its intended imperial remains. When everything was ready, Napoleon I was given a state funeral and placed in his eternal tomb under a golden dome.
Along with Napoleon I, his son, Napoleon II (also known as l’Aiglon), the King of Rome, is interred here – without his heart or intestines. And, Napoleon’s brothers, Joseph Bonaparte and Jérôme Bonaparte can be found as well.
Beyond the royal chapel, you can see the Cathédral of Saint-Louis des Invalides, which is also known as the Veteran’s chapel. Through a glass partition between the two churches, look for flags (or trophies) taken from the vanquished that now hang from the gleaming white stone walls.
The amount of gold on the dome is enough to make this qualify as one of the awe-inspiring churches of Paris. In 1989 it took more than 26 pounds of gold for leafing that glistening dome.
France is lucky to have many World Heritage Sites, but there are several UNESCO World Heritage Sites in/near Paris. You can easily visit some of them on a trip to Paris. Even if you do not know it, you are already familiar with one spectacular World Heritage Sites – the banks of the Seine. Did you know that? For many people, the designation alone is enough reason to make a trip to see the site or to plan a vacation around it. But, what does it mean to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site?
What is UNESCO?
UNESCO is an agency within the United Nations. According to its website: “The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) seeks to encourage the identification, protection, and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. This is embodied in an international treaty called the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted by UNESCO in 1972.”
How Does UNESCO Do All of That?
Nearly 200 countries have agreed to be bound by that Convention and the policies adopted by the organization. These policies affect many different aspects of culture, but a well-known way that is easy to tangibly see are landmarks or areas that are designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
What is a World Heritage Site?
Obtaining the designation is often a years-long process based on a variety of criteria that demonstrate the area or landmark’s significance, uniqueness, and contribution to culture. And, in emergency situations, UNESCO takes into account the potential for loss. Suffice it to say, that the places on the World Heritage Site list are generally awe-inspiring.
Why Do Countries Want Sites on the List?
Along with the prestige of having the designation, financial assistance may be awarded to preserve, conserve and plan for the future. Also, oversight and expert help come from UNESCO. Plus, the designation will bring hordes of tourists (money from another source).
UNESCO, like many other organizations, has had its share of controversies. Although it may be difficult to find agreement on how cultural conservation should be accomplished, no one can argue with attempts to save cultural sites, heighten awareness of them and provide planning assistance for the enjoyment of those sites by future generations. Plus, they are fun to visit!
(By the way, UNESCO headquarters is in Paris on the Place de Fontenoy in the 7th Arrondissement, behind the École Militaire.)
Following are UNESCO World Heritage Sites In/Near Paris.
Links are for the UNESCO entry that describes its cultural importance and the website of the landmark.
Paris, Banks of the Seine
That’s right! You already know this one! And, UNESCO recognizes the entire landscape. Medieval buildings, grand plazas, gardens, monuments, bridges – the whole thing. Most of the designated area can be seen from a river cruise. UNESCO website: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/600
The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier, an Outstanding Contribution to the Modern Movement.
Le Corbusier, born Charles- Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, was a Swiss-born architect working from the 1920s to 1960s. He was responsible for 17 international sites that are together the one World Heritage Site. Two of his works are very near Paris. UNESCO website. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1321
Walk by this modernist apartment building from the 1930s on Rue Nungesser et Coli and faces Stade Jean Bouin. Private residences.
Provins, Town of Medieval Fairs
Counts of Champagne ruled from this town. Provins was home to annual trade fairs where goods were bartered and sold from as far away as northern Europe and the Mediterranean. Still, see the fortified walls and ramparts that surround the old town. Only about 60 miles from Paris and a train can take you there. Then, it is a mile walk to the old town. UNESCO website: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/873
Champagne Hillsides, Houses and Cellars
Besides beauty, creativity and great taste, I don’t know what to write. The World Heritage website describes this entry as the following: “The property is made up of three distinct ensembles: the historic vineyards of Hautvillers, Aÿ and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Saint-Nicaise Hill in Reims, and the Avenue de Champagne and Fort Chabrol in Epernay. These three components – the supply basin formed by the historic hillsides, the production sites (with their underground cellars) and the sales and distribution centres (the Champagne Houses) – illustrate the entire champagne production process. The property bears clear testimony to the development of a very specialized artisan activity that has become an agro-industrial enterprise.” Essentially, I think, the towns and work grew up around the vines. UNESCO website: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1465
Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Former Abbey of Saint-Rémi and Palace of Tau, Reims
While visiting the Champagne countryside, take a look at this marvel and its compound. Not far from the train station, or from Roman ruins, take a look at the Reims Cathedral and other parts of the World Heritage Site. World War I caused great damage to the cathedral towers, but they have been completely restored. The Towers of Reims Cathedral are a French National Monument. Website: http://www.cathedrale-reims.fr/en Ministry of Cultural Affairs website: http://www.reims-cathedral.culture.fr/ UNESCO website: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/601
Another medieval and Gothic masterpiece and really big. The vaulted ceiling is the tallest of any complete cathedral – nearly 140 feet. And, guess what the relic is? St. John the Baptist’s head! About a half mile from the train station. Towers and Treasury are a French National Monument. Website: http://www.cathedrale-amiens.fr/ UNESCO website: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/162
The Loire Valley between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes
Beautiful river, glorious drive, breathtaking castles. Some of the Châteaux included in the designated area are Chambord, Blois, Chenonceau, Amboise, and Azay-le-Rideau. UNESCO website: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/933
Another site, very close to Paris is on UNESCO’s “Tentative List.”
One day it may receive the prestigious designation.
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