The Right BankFrom Place de la Concorde to the Ritz
“Food,Fashion and Luxury”
By James M'Kenzie-Hall
Point of Departure : Metro Concorde Lines 1, 8 and 12 Buses: 24,42,52,72,73,84 and 94
We start our walk at the gates of the Tuileries Gardens facing the Obelisk and the beginning of the Champs Elysées with the Arc de Triomphe in the distance.
The Place de la Concorde is one of the world’s largest and most impressive squares. It is one of five ‘Royal’ squares in Paris. (The other Royal Squares are : 1.Place des Vosges 2. Place Dauphine 3. Place des Victoires 4. Place Vendome) .A Royal Square was an entirely French idea combining for the first time two features of Italian city design : namely placing a statue out of doors in a public place and enhancing the value of the statue by laying out buildings around it. In this case the Place de la Concorde was built in the eighteenth century for Louis XV and was called Place Louis XV. In the centre of the Square where the Obelisk now stands was an Equestrian statue of Louis XV by the sculptor Bouchardon. It was inspired by the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius in Rome and by the statue of Louis XIV by Girardon in the Place Vendome. Louis XV was dressed in roman costume holding a baton in his right hand and the reins of his horse in the left. The pedestal by Pigalle had bronze figures representing the four virtues of peace,prudence,force and justice. When the statue was unveiled in 1763 somebody anonymously tied a sign round the horse’s neck commenting ‘What a beautiful statue ,Virtues go on foot and Vice on the horse !’. The Statue was destroyed during the Revolution in 1792. A fragment of Louis’ right hand is all that remains and can be seen in the Carnavalet Museum. At the beginning of the eighteenth century the site of the Place de la Concorde was no more than a muddy crossroads on the edge of the city of Paris. Louis XV decided to turn this empty space into a Royal Square. A competition was held and after considering a large number of projects Louis XV appointed the Royal architect Jacques Ange Gabriel to re-unite the different advantages of the plans already submitted. To his critics it seemed that Louis XV was about to build a square in the middle of a field and that his particular wishes made it almost impossible to build except on the north side of the proposed square. Work began in 1757 and the Square was finished in 1772.
The Place de la Concorde is an open square with two large buildings on the north side separated by a road, the rue Royale, and facing the River Seine. Gabriel based the design of the two facades flanking the rue Royale on the Colonnade of the Louvre built for Louis XIV in the seventeenth century and restored by Gabriel and Soufflot in the eighteenth century. Gabriel also borrowed the idea of the ground floor or arched pedestal storey from Jules Hardouin Mansart – Louis XIV’s principal architect who had used this design on the garden façade at Versailles and in the two Royal Squares dedicated to Louis XIV in Paris – the Place des Victoires and the Place Vendome. The building on the right is today the French Admiralty although in the eighteenth century it was used as the Garde-Meuble or Royal Furniture Warehouse. The building on the left of the rue Royale was divided into four residences. Today part of it is the Hotel Crillon, named after the Duc de Crillon whose descendants lived at number ten until 1904. Another part is the Automobile Club of France. During the Liberation of Paris as the allied tanks roared into the Place de la Concorde on 25 August 1944 it is said that they were told to ‘watch out for fifth column infiltrators’ and one gunner took this literally and shot out the fifth column from the right of the Hotel Crillon. It is a nice story with some truth to it as photographs of the time show the fifth column blown out and a car crushed under the pieces of column. Certainly members of the German High Command were staying in the Hotel at the time.
In order that the statue of Louis XV would not appear lost in the vast open space in front of these two buildings, Gabriel designed an octagonal square bordered by ditches and at the eight angles of the octagon he constructed stone pavilions that looked like sentry boxes but were in fact steps leading down to the ditches which were laid out as gardens. In May 1770 a catastrophe happened during a Firework display to celebrate the marriage of the Dauphin, the future Louis XVI to Marie-Antoinette the youngest daughter of the Austrian Empress. One of the fireworks set fire to the others and in the ensuing panic some of the temporary seating collapsed and fell into the ditches killing over 130 people. Not a good beginning to their marriage and a portent of disasters to come. In the nineteenth century the ditches were filled in –they were said to be a popular rendez-vous point for prostitutes and their clients. Today the sentry boxes support statues personifying eight Provincial Towns including Lille and Strasbourg sculpted by Pradier. The model for Strasbourg was Victor Hugo’s mistress Juliette Drouet. After the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 Alsace and Lorraine were annexed by the Germans and as Strasbourg was the capital of Alsace the statue was hung with wreaths as a sign of mourning until Strasbourg was restored to France at the end of the First World War.
In 1790 a bridge built by Perronet was opened linking the Square to the Palais Boubon- the building across the River with its triangular pediment and columns which is today the National Assembly, the equivalent of the House of Commons in Great Britain , where the lower house the Chamber of Deputies meet. Some of the stonework for the bridge came from the Bastille demolished after 14th July 1789. In 1792 the Place de la Concorde became the Place de la Révolution . During the Revolution this was where the Guillotine stood and over 1200 people were executed here including the King of France , Louis XVI on 21st January1793 and his wife, Marie-Antoinette, on 16th October 1793. Among other victims of the guillotine were Charlotte Corday who murdered Marat in his bath, Danton, Madame du Barry the mistress of Louis XV and finally on 28th July 1794 Robespierre himself was guillotined. In 1795 at the end of the reign of Terror the name of the Square was changed to the Place de la Concorde. During the Revolution a Statue of Liberty replaced the Equestrian statue of Louis XV destroyed in 1792. It was whilst going past this statue on her way to the guillotine that Madame Roland cried out ‘Liberty, Liberty what crimes are committed in your name’.
The Obelisk in the centre of the Place de la Concorde was placed there in 1836. It was a gift from the Pasha of Egypt, Mehemet Ali, to the King of France . It is France’s oldest monument dating back to the thirteenth century BC and comes from the Temple of Luxor in ancient Thebes. It is 75 feet high and weighs nearly 230 tons. The hieroglyphics commemorate the Pharaoh Rameses II. The golden lettering on the pedestal recounts how the Obelisk was transported and raised . Mehemet Ali also presented the British with a similar Obelisk, Cleopatra’s Needle, which stands on the Thames Embankment in London. On either side of the Obelisk are two fountains representing River and Maritime Navigation . They are similar to the fountains at St Peter’s Square Rome . Both the Fountains and the rostral lamp standards around the square were designed by the architect Hittorff who also built the twelve mansions around the Arc de Triomphe and whose major work was the Gare du Nord railway station. The elliptical design of the central part of the square with its obelisk and two fountains also resembles the Piazza Navona in Rome with Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers surmounted by Domitian’s obelisk. Behind the Square are the Tuileries Gardens laid out in the seventeenth century by Le Notre who later went on to create the gardens at Versailles for Louis XIV. In the right hand corner is the Orangerie Museum re-opened after refurbishment in 2006 and containing the Water Lily or Nymphéa paintings of Claude Monet which Monet worked on right up to his death in 1926 at his house and gardens at Giverny. It also contains the Walter-Guillaume collection of paintings including works by Cézanne, Renoir,Picasso, Douanier Rousseau,Matisse, Derain, Modigliani , Soutine, Utrillo and Laurencin. The Museum is open for groups with reservations in the morning and for Individual visitors from 12H30-19H00, late night till 21H00 on Fridays. It is closed on Tuesdays and 1st May and 25th December.
On the opposite side of the gardens , on the left as you face them is the Jeu de Paume which, until 1986, once housed a fine collection of Impressionist paintings now to be seen on the other side of the River Seine in the Orsay Museum. Today the Jeu de Paume holds temporary exhibitions on photography. With your back to the Tuileries gardens go right towards the French Admiralty building. On the corner is a Metro exit and the end of the busy Rue de Rivoli. Set into the wall are memorials to those who died in the fighting in August 1944. The rue de Rivoli was where the German Commander of Paris, General von Choltitz had his headquarters in the Hotel Meurice. There was also a machine gun post on top of the Admiralty building . During the Liberation of Paris the Place de la Concorde was the scene of furious fighting as depicted in the film ‘Is Paris Burning ?’. As you cross the road at the traffic lights the building opposite you on the corner of the rue St Florentin was the American Consulate. There is a plaque in both English and French honouring the Marshall plan and the post-war reconstruction of Europe. The American Consulate was the former residence of the wily diplomat Talleyrand who started out as a Bishop then quit and joined in the Revolution, survived and served Napoleon ,fell out with him over foreign policy and played a prominent role in the negotiations before and after Napoleon’s downfall and went on to represent France at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 where France was portrayed as a victim of the Revolution and of Napoleon. He died here in 1838.
A fascinating Play by Jean-Claude Brisville called ‘Le Souper’ later turned into a film with Claude Brasseur and Claude Rich imagines Talleyrand dining with Napoleon’s chief of Police Fouché and discussing what to do after Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Louis XVIII, the brother of the executed Louis XVI was eventually restored and reluctantly accepted both Talleyrand and Fouché as Ministers. The writer Chateaubriand disapprovingly described the entrance of the two ministers being ushered into the presence of Louis XVIII as “vice leaning on the arm of crime”.Famously Napoleon once referred to the devious Talleyrand as “shit in a silk stocking”. Continue past the French Admiralty and cross the rue Royale .As you look right you will see the façade of the Madeleine Church looking like a Roman Temple and at number 3 the celebrated Restaurant Maxim’s which was at the height of its fame before and after the First World War. Continue past the Automobile Club of France and the Hotel Crillon. The Hotel Crillon is one of the top luxury Hotels of Paris until 2006 it was owned by the Taittinger family best known for their Champagne . Now it is owned by an American group. Next to the Hotel Crillon across the rue Boissy d’Anglas is the American Embassy slightly set back from the rest of the Square. It looks old but was built in 1931-33.Notice the Eagles on the gate post.
Now make your way to the beginning of the Champs Elysées by crossing the Avenue Gabriel and going through the trees. Originally the Champs Elysées or Elysian Fields were laid out in the seventeenth century by Louis XIV’s gardener Le Notre as an extension of the vista from the Tuileries gardens. In the nineteenth century , with the development of the western part of Paris, the Champs Elysées became fashionable both as a meeting place and as an Avenue for carriage rides. Before you begin walking up the Champs Elysées,stop by the green Wallace fountain, you’ll notice two statues on either side of the Avenue – they are called the Marly Horses after Louis XIV’s country house at Marly not far from Versailles. They were brought here during the Revolution on the instigation of the painter David in 1795. They represent wild Numidian horses being tamed by Africans and were sculpted by Guillaume Coustou.The originals are now in the Louvre and these casts were placed here in 1984. The lower part of the Champs Elysées has retained its parklike setting whereas after the Rond-Point of halfway point of the Champs Elysées the whole nature of the avenue is transformed with cinemas, car showrooms, banks,restaurants, cafés and cabarets making it the most prestigious of the 12 avenues leading to the Arc de Triomphe.
Turn right and stick to the right side of the Champs Elysées passing on your left the yellow painted façade of the restaurant Le Doyen until you come to the Place Georges Clemenceau. There is a set of traffic lights and the massive glass domed canopy of the Grand Palais on your left.There is also a statue of Clemenceau on your left hidden under the trees. He was nicknamed the ‘Tiger’ and was Prime Minister during the First World War. Opposite is a statue of General de Gaulle in a typical pose as he strolled down the Champs Elysées at the Liberation of Paris in 1944. Underneath is his famous phrase about the sufferings of Paris : ‘Paris ! Paris outragé! Paris brisé! Paris martyrisé! Mais Paris Libéré!’.The statue was placed here in 2000. The two large imposing buildings facing each other are the Grand and Petit Palais built as Exhibition Halls for the 1900 World Exhibition. The Grand Palais is used for temporary Exhibitions and the Petit Palais has been the City of Paris Fine Arts Museum since 1902. They have both recently undergone extensive renovation and the Petit Palais reopened in 2006 with 40 rooms ranging from ancient art to the early twentieth century. It is open from 10H00-18H00 everyday except Mondays and public holidays. It is free of charge except for special exhibitions.
At the back of the Grand Palais is the Palais de la Découverte , a Museum of Scientific Discoveries with a Planeterium attached. It is open from 09H30-18H00 except for Mondays, and is closed on 25th December and 1st January.On Sundays and other public holidays it opens at 10H00 and shuts at 7pm. The road running between the Grand and Petit Palais is called Avenue Winston Churchill . There is a statue of Churchill on the riverside of the Petit Palais . It captures Churchill in his wartime role which is very generous of the French, even more so when one realizes it was put here in 1998 a full two years before De Gaulle’s statue on the Champs Elysées side of the Grand Palais. Churchill once said of his relationship with De Gaulle : ‘Of all the Crosses I have had to bear, the heaviest was the Cross of Lorraine’.
Both statues are by the sculptor Cardot. Cardot’s latest statue (July 2006) is of Thomas Jefferson ,who before becoming US President was the US Ambassador in Paris from 1785-89 . Jefferson lived on the corner of the Champs Elysées and 92 rue de Berri, but curiously the statue of Jefferson has been placed on the left bank end of the footbridge leading to the Musée d’Orsay from the Tuileries Gardens .Perhaps it was placed here as the nearby Legion of Honour Museum was the model for the White House in Washington. Go to the Avenue Marigny and look left.Left of the Grand and Petit Palais is the Alexander III Bridge built in 1900 again for the World Fair and sumptuously decorated with ornate crystal lanterns and gilded statutary and crosses the Seine in one single span. It is one of 37 bridges which cross the Seine in central Paris. Paris has more River Bridges than any other city in the world. This can be partly explained in the fact that unlike other cities such as London, Rome or Budapest which privilege one river bank over the other, Paris has expanded equally on both the Left and the Right banks.
As Paris expands eastwards at the beginning of the twentyfirst century the latest bridge to be built crosses one of the widest parts of the Seine between Bercy and Tolbiac near the new French Mitterand National Library. It is called the Simone de Beauvoir Footbridge and was designed by the 45 year old Austrian architect Dietmar Feichtinger and opened on 13 July 2006.
The Alexander III bridge leads towards the Esplanade of the Invalides and the military hospital of the Invalides built in the seventeenth century for Louis XIV’s invalided soldiers. The main façade is by Libéral Bruant and behind it rises the golden dome of the Church of the Invalides by Jules Hardouin Mansart intendedas a chapel for the King and later transformed into Napoleon’s tomb. When Mansart was building this Church in the 1670s his contemporary Sir Christopher Wren was building St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Part of the Invalides is now the Army Museum. Returning to the Place Georges Clemenceau one gains not only a perspective of the Hotel des Invalides but a more grandiose perspective up the Champs Elysées towards the Arc de Triomphe. The best view, at the risk of getting run over, is from the middle of the Champs Elysées !
The Arc de Triomphe was built as a triumphal arch for Napoleon and his victorious armies. It is the largest triumphal arch in the world and was designed by Chalgrin in 1806 but not finished until 1836 long after the death of Napoleon in exile on the island of St Helena in 1821. It makes the Marble Arch and the Wellington Arch in London look very humble by comparison. Originally Napoleon intended the arch to have no more significance than any other monument he erected in Paris- but over the years the arch has become a symbol of French glory and patriotism. On 14 July 1919 the victorious allied armies marched underneath the arch. In 1921 the tomb of the Unknown Soldier was placed beneath the arch. Each evening there is a small ceremony as the flame of remembrance is rekindled. There is a special ceremony every 11th November to remember the end of the First World War.At the Liberation of Paris, after four years of German occupation, on 26th August 1944 General De Gaulle came to the Arc de Triomphe before descending the Champs Elysées on foot followed by the Sherman tanks from General Leclerc’s 2nd Division which had first liberated Paris. Today the Square around the Arc de Triomphe is officially called Charles de Gaulle-Etoile. ‘Etoile’ meaning a star as from the top of the Arch one can see 12 Avenues radiating off like the points of a star. A quarter of a million cars go round the Arch every working day. Every 14th July sees the Bastille Day Parade down the Champs Elysées when the President of France takes the salute from a march past of the armed forces. The highpoint of the parade is when the alphajets of the ‘Patrol of France’ fly past at precisely 10H30 in a jetstream of red, white and blue. The Arc de Triomphe is open everyday from 10H-22H00 except 25 December, 1 January and 1 May and the morning of 14 July. Entrance to the top of the Arch are by stairs.There is also a small Museum underneath the viewing platform.
From the Champs Elysées and the Place Georges Clemenceau turn right into the Avenue Marigny. Marigny was the superintendant of royal buildings and brother of Madame de Pompadour who was the Mistress of Louis XV. On the left of the Avenue Marigny is the Théatre Marigny where Offenbach put on his light operas in the 1850s. Just opposite the Theatre is the Avenue Gabriel and from the corner of the avenue you can just see the magnificent entrance gates to the Elysée Palace, the official residence of the President of the French Republic. The gates are surmounted by the letters RF for Republique Francaise and they are topped by a Gallic Cock which is one of the symbols of France. It is a play on words from the Latin ‘Gallus’ meaning either Gaul or Cock and represents the people of France, often one is let loose on the pitch at sporting events such as football or rugby matches. In the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles Louis XIV invented another order of architecture for his columns instead of the usual Doric, Ionic and Corinthian the capitals are surmounted by a Gallic Cock. On the Arc de Triomphe a Cock surmounts the standard of the female figure rallying the troops to war known as the ‘Marseillaise’ by the sculptor Rude . Many French Churches have a cock as a weathervane on top of the steeple but in this case the cock is more the ‘Chantecler’ type whose song makes the sun rise. As a symbol the Cock can unfortunately be open to a great deal of allegory and ridicule.The Gates are very rarely opened. In the eighteenth century Madame de Pompadour bought the Elysée. When she died at Versailles in 1764 her body was brought back to the Elysée before burial. As Louis XV watched the coffin of his mistress leave Versailles in the pouring rain the King was heard to remark ‘Oh poor Marquise what terrible weather for her last journey’. The Pompadour whose family name had been Poisson or Fish was later buried in the crypt of the convent of the Capucines – today the site of the rue de la Paix and the Place Vendome . At the time of her burial someone rather cruelly remarked that the bones of the aristocracy would be somewhat astonished to smell the presence of fish bones in the same crypt.
In 1805 Napoleon’s sister, Caroline Bonaparte lived at the Elysée and gave a series of sumptuous receptions. When her husband Murat was named King of Naples Napoleon acquired the Elysée as his Paris retreat and later in 1809 he gave the house to Josephine but, after their divorce ,he preferred her to stay at Malmaison. On 22 June 1815 Napoleon abdicated for the second time at the Elysée. During the nineteenth century it was used to accommodate visiting heads of state including Queen Victoria who stayed here in 1855. Napoleon III continued using the Tuileries Palace as his official residence until his disastrous defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. In 1873 the Elyséé became the official residence of the Presidents of the Republic.In 1899 President Felix Faure died of a heart attack here in his office whilst making passionate love to his mistress.You can find his tomb in Père Lachaise cemetery where his prostrate body is shown stiffly grasping the flagpole of the tricolour flag.
Cross back to the Theatre Marigny side of the road and continue down the Avenue Marigny on the left hand pavement. Opposite is blocked off and guarded by the police as it is the wall of the gardens of the presidential palace .At number 23 Avenue Marigny is the former Hotel Rothschild now used to put up distinguished guests of the French Republic. After the Second World War the Rothschilds returned to Paris and enquired of their butler what had gone on in their absence. He replied much the same as before – lots of receptions. ‘Receptions - but did anyone come ?’ asked the startled Rothschild . ‘Oh Yes, the usual people’ . This is in sharp contrast to the building at the end of avenue Marigny in the Place Beauvau. Facing you are the elegant wrought iron gates to the Hotel Beauvau which since 1861 has been the Ministère de l’Intérieur or Home Office. Part of the ministry extends into the rue de Saussaies on your right– where at number 11 during the Second World War the Gestapo had their headquarters. Many poor wretches were imprisoned, interrogated and tortured here.Before becoming President in 2007 Nicholas Sarkozy was the former Minister of the Interior.
Go towards the gates and turn right into the rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré. Keep to the left hand pavement.This street is one of the most elegant and luxurious shopping streets in Paris and can be compared to Bond Street in London. It is called Faubourg as it is a continuation of the rue Saint Honoré which, from the middle ages, was one of the principal streets on the right bank. Most of the houses date back to the eighteenth century when it became fashionable to live in this area close to the Place de la Concorde and the Palace of the Louvre and the Tuileries. We pass on the right firstly the entrance to the Presidential Palace where you see the sentries posted. Further down on the right at number 41 is the American Ambassador’s Residence. Just look for the Stars and Stripes Flag. At number 35 is the Hotel de Charost which since 1825 has been the British Embassy. It was bought in 1803 by Pauline Bonaparte , second sister of Napoleon. As Pauline Borghese and living in Rome she caused quite a scandal by posing topless for the sculptor Canova. Napoleon, no doubt with an eye to his own reputation , was shocked at her behaviour and asked how could she pose nude for Canova ? Pauline neatly turned his criticism and replied ‘Don’t worry, the room was heated ‘. The reclining statue can still be seen in the Borghese Museum in Rome. The house was sold with its contents to the Duke of Wellington in 1814.Next to the British Embassy at number 33 rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré is the Cercle de L’Union Interallié which is an exclusive Club whose last president was Monsieur Taittinger of the Champagne dynasty. Most of these buildings on this side of the street have magnificent gardens stretching down to the Champs Elysées.
Among the many luxury shops lining the rue Saint Honoré you’ll find Pierre Cardin, Yves Saint Laurent ,Hermès, Valentino, Chloé, Giorgio Armani , Chanel, Gianfranco Ferré and Lanvin.In the early 19th century the Palais Royal area was the centre of Fashion and luxury goods but by the mid 19th century the luxury goods trade had moved to the Place Vendome –Rue de la Paix and rue Saint Honoré area. In 1858 Charles Frederick Worth founded the first Couture House, maison Worth, at 7 rue de la Paix. The clothes were presented on live models. Maison de Haute Couture means Fashion House . A Couturier is a dressmaker, seamstress or needlewomen. ‘Haute Couture’ is a legally protected definition and a ‘House’ needs to employ at least 20 people and present collections in Paris each season in January for Spring and Summer and in July for Autumn and Winter with at least 50 designs for day and evening wear. Some of the great names are : Balenciaga founded in 1937, Balmain founded 1945, Chanel founded 1909, Christian Dior founded 1946, Christian Lacroix founded 1987, Givenchy founded 1952, Valentino founded 1959, Yves Saint Laurent founded 1961 and Lanvin which opened in 1909 at 22 rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré. By the early 1900s Paris was the fashion centre of the world.In 1904 Paul Poiret liberated women by designing dresses that could be worn without tight laced corsets. Hermès has been around since the early 19th century as saddlers but opened a luxury shop at 24 rue Faubourg Saint Honoré in 1880 and created the celebrated carré scarf in 1937. Hermès is still a family run business. Look for the man on a white horse on the top of the building.A silk tie from Hermès costs 120 Euros although you won’t find a price tag on it – no doubt this follows the old ada ge - ‘if you have to ask the price you can’t afford it’ .
Other names in the luxury goods business are LVMH which stands for Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy which own Champagnes - Moet et Chandon,Dom Pérignon,Krug,Pommery, Veuve Clicquot, Ruinart and Mercier ; Cognacs - Hennessy and Hine; some wines including 64% of the most prestigious Sauterne – Chateau d’Yquem; luxury goods and fashion labels such as Louis Vuitton, Loewe, Berluti, Givenchy, Christian Lacroix,Kenzo,Céline,part shares in Gucci,Fendi,Tod’s. The best of French Luxury Goods are represented in an association of 72 members representing most trades including Silver (Christofle), Fashion (Chanel,Christian Dior,Givenchy,Guy Laroche,Jean Patou,Jean-Louis Scherrer,Jeanne Lanvin,Lacoste,Nina Ricci,Pierre Balmain,Revillon,Yves Saint Laurent) Crystal (Baccarat,Lalique,Saint-Louis) Porcelain (Haviland), Leather (Hermès,Louis Vuitton) , Hotels and Gastronomy (Ritz, Crillon, Plaza Athénée, Bristol Hotels and Restaurants like Taillevent) Jewellers (Boucheron) , Perfumes (Chanel,Christian Dior,Givenchy,Guerlain,Hermès,Jean Patou,Lancome,Lanvin,Nina Ricci,Rochas) and theWine and Spirits Trade (Rémy Martin, Ruinart,Veuve Clicquot,Louis Roederer,Laurent Perrier,Bollinger,Krug,Chateau d’Yquem,Cheval Blanc,Lafite-Rothschild). It is called the Comité Colbert with the aim of promoting these goods worldwide.Colbert was Louis XIV’s minister. It is rumoured that the rue Faubourg Saint Honoré is in the process of losing its fashion crown. People have become fed up with the congestion, lack of parking and endless building developments and there are new areas opening up around Paris. For Luxury Fashion Labels the new place to be is the Avenue Montaigne, a very pleasant street with wide pavements that looks and feels luxurious and is located just off the Champs Elysées (metro Franklin D. Roosevelt) in what the Estate Agents call ‘The Golden Triangle’. As the Champs Elysées has become cheapened by the big brand consumer stores the Avenue Montaigne exudes luxury and wealth. The Theatre of the Champs Elysées – a milestone in modern architecture- built by Perret in reinforced concrete in 1911 and decorated by Bourdelle is at number 15 where Stravinsky’s ‘Rites of Spring’ was performed for the first time , as well as the Plaza Athénée Hotel, Marlene Dietrich spent the last years of her life in an apartment on this street, in 1947 Christian Dior opened up at number 30. Recently new shops like Jimmy Choo, Chrome Hearts, Giorgio Armani and Fendi have opened. Other ‘Fashion’ areas include the Left Bank Quarters around the churches of St Sulpice and St Germain des Prés for the individual dress shops (Metros Sèvres-Babylone, St Germain des Prés or St Sulpice). Also around Place des Victoires at the back of the Palais Royal Gardens and close to the Sentier district ,the traditional garment trade district with its sweat shops and grossistes (wholesalers). Finally the Marais district around the Place des Vosges and rue des Francs Bourgeois is gaining a reputation for small fashion boutiques selling clothes and jewellery. Cross the rue d’Anjou, passing on your right at number 31, the Japanese Embassy, and go to the secong set of traffic lights. Turn left into the rue Royale. On the corner is Gucci and opposite is Ladurée a celebrated Salon du Thé and Patisserie known for its delicious flavoured cream ‘macarons’ – small,round crunchy,soft-centred macaroons made from crushed almonds,sugar and egg whites in an array of bright colours : light pink is rose flavoured, a deeper pink is raspberry, purple is blackcurrant, green is pistachio, yellow is lemon, other flavours include chocolate, liquorice,coffee and praline. They package the macaroons in a handsome light green box with a ribbon – an excellent souvenir or gift. Cross from Gucci to Ladurée and walk up towards the Madeleine Church.
Food is very much the theme of this area because directly in front of you is the Madeleine Church looking like a Greek or Roman temple. In gastronomic terms a ‘Madeleine’ is a small sweet cake and is widely sold throughout France in even the most humble of food shops and supermarkets. It was immortalized by Marcel Proust in ‘Remembrance of Things Past’ (A la recherche du temps perdu 1913-27) – a book everyone has heard of but practically no one has read - where the taste of a Madeleine dipped in tea set off a whole series of memories and sensations. The French have a habit of naming their pastries and cakes after religious orders : a ‘Jesuit’ is a triangular flaky pastry filled with marzipan and topped with icing – it was so named because the Jesuits wore triangular hats ; a ‘Religieuse’ ,literally a nun , is like an éclair but consists of two superimposed pastry puffs with cream inside and topped by coffee or chocolate icing; a ‘Chanoinesse’ (canoness) is a ginger cake ; a ‘Mendiant’ is a dry cake on a chocolate base topped with nuts,raisins,and candied fruit named after the colours of the habits of the mendicant friars . The Church of the Madeleine was built not as a church but as a Temple of Military Glory . It was begun by the architect Vignon in 1806 in Napoleon’s reign but completed long afterwards in 1842. The exterior is an imitation of a Classical Temple surrounded by 52 Corinthian columns and surmounted by a pediment. The only indication that it is a church is the inscription on the freize and the high relief on the pediment depicting the Last Judgement. The façade of the Madeleine dominates the rue Royale and leads into the Place de la Concorde. Facing the Madeleine on the far side of the Square and in perfect symmetry with the Madeleine is the façade of the Palais Bourbon on the left bank of the Seine. The Palais Bourbon or National Assembly building was added in 1806 to complement the Temple of Glory and counter-balance the main North-South axis of the Place de la Concorde.
During the First World War a shell from the German long range gun ‘Big Bertha’ decapitated one of the statues at the back of the Church. The head has never been replaced. The shell was fired from a distance of 75 miles away and took 6 minutes to arrive. On the East side of the Place de la Madeleine and to the right of the façade is a Flower Market housed in small green booths. This is one of the three main flower markets in central Paris – the others are the Cité Flower Market on the island near Notre-Dame and the Place des Ternes Flower market near the Arc de Triomphe. The market is closed on a Monday. To the north of the Square and behind the Church are two exclusive grocery shops Hédiard and Fauchon , you’ll also find shops specializing in Caviar, Cheese, Chocolates and Truffles. A cut price theatre ticket booth is located on the left side of the Church.On your left at the end of the Avenue Malesherbes is the domed Church of Saint Augustin designed by the architect Baltard. With the rue Royale behind you and the Madeleine church to your left continue along the Boulevard de la Madeleine. This Boulevard is the first of eleven Boulevards leading from the west of Paris to the Place de la Bastille in the east. They are known as the Grands Boulevards and were laid out in the seventeenth century during the reign of Louis XIV replacing the old city walls of King Charles V built in 1356-60. The word boulevard originally comes from the Dutch military term ‘bolwerck’ meaning bulwark or rampart.Those that frequent the boulevards are known as ‘Boulevardiers’ or ‘Theatregoers’.Have you noticed that the lampposts in Paris have the street numbers marked on them for easy reference ? Between number 15 and 17 boulevard de la Madeleine was where Alphonsine Plessis ( or Marie Duplessis as she called herself) died in 1847 at the age of 23 from tuberculosis. One of her lovers was Alexander Dumas the younger and although the affair didn’t last long he made her the heroine of his novel ‘The Lady of the Camelias’ which he wrote in 1848 to pay off his debts. Verdi later used the plot for his 1853 Opera ‘La Traviata’. It is said that at her death her apartment was seized by creditors and her belongings auctioned off to a large crowd of curious onlookers. She was buried in the cemetery of Montmartre where Alexander Dumas himself was later buried.
There is a Museum dedicated to the Lady of the Camelias at Gacé in Lower Normandy. She was born at Nonant le-Pin ,worked at Gacé selling umbrellas and went to Paris aged 14. It is located in one of the towers of the Castle which is also the Town Hall.Open July and August everyday except Monday 14H-18H00 and June from Tuesday to Friday 15H-17H00. Boulevard de la Madeleine becomes Boulevard des Capucines .On the right is rue Cambon where the kitchen entrance of the Ritz Hotel is located.It was from the kitchen entrance of the Ritz that Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed got into the Mercedes on their last fateful journey.At number 28 Boulevard des Capucines,on your left, is a music hall called Olympia. The name Boulevard des Capucines is interesting . It was from the colour of the habit of the Capuchin Friars that the Italians named Cappuccino Coffee with its white frothy top served with fresh cream and flakes of chocolate. Number 35 Boulevard des Capucines is today a Bally shoeshop but it was at number 35 Boulevard des Capucines in the studio of the photographer Nadar that the first ever Impressionist Exhibition was held in 1874 at which 30 artists including Pisarro, Sisley,Renoir, Degas and Monet exhibited. The word Impressionist was coined after a picture by Monet entitled ‘Impression : Sun Rising’ was criticized by a journalist. Today the picture that caused the furore can be seen at the Marmottan Museum, 2 rue Louis-Boilly in the 16th district of Paris, along with many other impressionist pictures which once belonged to Monet and were left in a bequest in the 1960s to the museum by his son Michel Monet.
The Marmottan Museum is located near Métro Muette and is open everyday except Monday from 10H-18H00 and closed May 1,January 1 and December 25. It is a small museum located in a fine mansion in a residential district slightly out of the way of the other Paris museums and contains an eclectic collection ranging from medieval manuscripts to Empire Furniture of the Napoleonic period. There are often special exhibitions on 19th century artists. The main Museum for impressionist works is the Musée d’Orsay (Metro Solférino or RER Musée d’Orsay) open everyday except Mondays, 1 January,1 May and 25 december from 9H30 -18H00 and late on Thursdays till 21H45. But one can also visit Monet’s House and Gardens at Giverny together with the Water Lily Pond and Japanese Bridge which are one hour outside Paris in the direction of Rouen by taking the A13 Motorway and exiting at Bonnières . The House and Gardens are open from 1 April to 31 October from Monday to Sunday 9H30-18H00. It is also possible to take the train just as Monet did from the Gare Saint Lazare in Paris and go to the town of Vernon and then by bus or taxi to Giverny.
At the end of the Boulevard des Capucines is the Place de l’Opéra with the Grand Hotel and Café de la Paix on the corner on your left. From here one sees the newly cleaned façade of the Opera House looming massively up rising to just under 74 metres ,about 12 storeys compared to the 6 storey buildings around it.It was built in the Second Empire style by Charles Garnier (1825-1898). Garnier’s other works include the Casino at Monte Carlo and the Observatory at Nice. A competition was held in 1860 and the Opera was opened on 5 January 1875 after 15 years work. It was too late for Napoleon III who was defeated in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Yet the Opera so typifies the rebuilding of Paris between the years 1850 -1870 under Napoleon III’s Prefect of the City of Paris Baron Haussmann. The Opera was intended as the jewel in the Imperial Crown however it was inaugurated instead by the newly created French Republic. Garnier was not officially invited to the opening ceremony , he was probably too closely associated with the old regime but came anyway with a bought ticket. This was to be the 13th Opera in Paris since Louis XIV founded the Opera in 1669. Garnier was one of the 171 competition entries which was whittled down to 5 finalists. Garnier came from modest origins ,born off the popular market street ,rue Mouffetard like Auguste Rodin , they both went to the free drawing school called ‘la Petite Ecole’ .He was an outsider ,aged only 35, but it is said that one of the reasons that Garnier’s design was accepted by the Emperor was that on the left of the façade he incorporated a gigantic ramp enabling the Emperor’s carriage to drive as close to the Imperial box as possible . This followed an unsuccessful assassination attempt by Orsini on the Emperor as he was on his way to the old Opera in rue Le Peletier in 1858. To the left of the façade Garnier’s gilded statue can be seen at the foot of the ramp.There is a tradition that when the Empress Eugenie asked Garnier what style the Opera was ,he replied “The Napoleon III style”. The façade with its busts, statues and medallions of composers has sometimes been rather rudely described as looking like an overladen sideboard.The restoration of the façade in the year 2000 has again revealed the rich colours and golden statues . Steps lead up to a basement line with seven archways allowing access to the building. Large Corinthian columns inspired by the Louvre Colonnade and the Place de la Concorde punctuate the front and are surmounted by a broad green dome above the auditorium in the shape of an imperial crown behind which is topped in turn by a triangular pediment with at the apex the statue of Apollo holding a Lyre to show the building’s function and at each corner a genius curbing in a Pegasus. Circular recesses in the entablature over small violet and white tinted marble from Serravezza in Italy have gilt busts of great musicians. A broad frieze has a series of large golden N’s and E’s for Napoleon III and his wife Eugénie. Greek historionic masks alternate tragic and comic masks cast in bronze. Pedestals at each end have allegorical groups representing the winged genius of Poetry and Music.To the right of the main façade at ground level is Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux’s sculpture representing the Dance. When the statue was unveiled to the public in 1869 it was seen as outrageous. At the centre is a naked man with a tambourine surrounded by naked ladies dancing in the round, their nudity and the look of joy on their faces was probably what shocked the public at the time. In 1964 the statue was removed, not because of the subject matter but because of pollution. The original is in the Musée d’Orsay , the one here is a copy by Paul Belmondo, father of the actor Jean-Paul Belmondo.
Whether you stand in front of the façade of the Opera or view it from the top of the hill of Montmartre or look at it through the clock-face of the Musée d’Orsay the Opera stands out magnificently from the buildings surrounding it. One of the problems Garnier faced was to insert his Opera into an already existing Haussmannien urban landscape. His solution was to place a highly decorated and exuberant building among the relatively plain and rectilinear facades of the surrounding buildings. A hundred years later Sir Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano would do the same with the Pompidou Centre. The design is roughly a long rectangle within a diamond shaped plot of land and Garnier chose to underline the various functions of the building rather than disguise them under one roof. Hence one can clearly distinguish the façade, the foyer, the main auditorium ,the stage ,offices and other services in a longitudinal slice through the building with its varying roof heights and shapes. One technical problem facing the architect was underneath the Opera. There was a lot of water and even though they pumped it out 24 hours a day for a year it still remained so they installed a water tank below the building to prevent the water from rising. This meant that the laying of the first stone was delayed until July 1862. Consequently a legend grew up about an underground lake . In 1910 Gaston Leroux’s novel “Phantom of the Opera” became a bestseller.
The interior of the Opera is sumptuous,the Grand Staircase was designed to let the fashionable society ladies show off their dresses, the foyers are richly decorated and the Grand Foyer or Ball Room has echoes of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. The 2100 seat Auditorium in red and gold has a horse shoe shape, maybe not the best for looking at the stage but then again the audience were looking at each other. It was designed for people to look and be looked at.Indeed the Chandelier remained on during performances until the 1930s. Evening dress was worn until the 1970s. In 1964 Marc Chagall painted a new ceiling replacing Lenepveu’s ‘Hours of the Day and Night’. Chagall was inspired by nine Operas or Ballets including the Magic Flute, Tristan and Isolde, Romeo and Juliet, the Firebird, Swan Lake and Giselle. The Opera can be visited everyday from 10am but is closed on 1 January, 1 May and when there is a matinee or special event, sometimes it is not possible to visit the auditorium owing to rehearsals. Guided tours are available at selected times. Since the opening of a new opera in 1989 at the Bastille with 2700 seats the old Opera , now known as the Palais Garnier , puts on a mixture of ballet and opera. The acoustics may be better at the Opera-Bastille but the exterior has none of the swashbuckling romance of the Palais Garnier and resembles a rather drab office block . The only indication that it is an opera are the signs outside advertising the latest performances. Behind the Opera is the busy shopping street the Boulevard Haussmann. Baron Haussmann was the Prefect of the City of Paris at the time of Napoleon III and was responsible for the transformation of Paris from a medieval to a modern city. Between 1850 and 1870 he created the wide Avenues and perspectives so typical of Paris. The best known department stores in the Boulevard Haussmann are Galeries Lafayette and Printemps. The Place de l’Opéra is a popular meeting place for both Parisians and Tourists alike. Not only are the department stores within easy reach but also the shops, restaurants and cinemas of the Grands Boulevards.
From the corner of the Boulevard des Capucines turn right into the rue de la Paix. The rue de la Paix is sometimes nick-named the Street of Jewels as many of the world’s leading Jewellers have shops here including Cartier. You’ll pass Cartier on the right just after the Hotel Westminster at numbers 11 to 13. Note the decorations on the pilasters representing the coats of arms of some of the Royal Families who patronize the establishment.At night you can’t see the window displays as it is protected by black metal shutters to prevent theft. When it was first built in 1806 the rue de la Paix was called rue Napoleon and leads to the Place Vendome. The road replaces the site of the Convent of the Capucines where Madame de Pompadour was buried. Continue towards the column in the centre of the Place Vendome.Stop in front of the Ritz Hotel at number 15 on your right. The Place Vendome dates from the seventeenth century and was designed by Jules Hardouin Mansart. Mansart also built the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles and the Domed Church at Les Invalides. Indeed his name is associated with the ornate dormer windows at the top of buildings and we call this a Mansard roof. Just like the Place de la Concorde it is a royal square dedicated to a King, in this case Louis XIV. In actual fact it is not a square at all but an octagon or a rectangle with the corners cut off. There is a clue that it was dedicated to Louis XIV – as you look around the square you’ll notice the balconies on the first floors have an emblem in the centre in gold – it is the emblem of the Sun and Louis XIV was known as the Sun King. On the right of the Square as you enter it from the rue de la Paix is the Ritz Hotel at number 15. It was named after César Ritz who opened his Hotel in 1898. There are over 106 rooms and 56 suites, the Hemingway bar and in the basement the Ritz-Escoffier cooking school as well as a swimming pool. The Imperial Suite on the first floor costs 10,000 Euros a night. The Hotel is owned by Mohamed Fayed. It was in August 1997 that Princess Diana left on her last fateful journey that was to end in her tragic death. Nine years later Lord Stevens published an 872 page Report in December 2006 on what happened. That Summer Princess Diana had accepted an invitation to holiday with Mohamed Fayed and his son Dodi in the south of France. In late August she was in Paris but the paparazzi tabloid press dogged her every step. The couple had intended to go to a restaurant for dinner but were forced to divert to the Ritz Hotel by the unwelcome press attention.At 10.20pm Dodi Fayed changed his travel plans again and asked for a different car to be ready to take the couple back to his apartment. Two hours later in the early hours of the 31 August 1997 the couple left the Ritz, not from the front where the Paparazzi were waiting, but slipped out from the kitchen entrance at the back. A security officer, Henri Paul, not a regular chauffeur,was asked by Dodi to drive very fast to avoid the journalists who were following them. When the Mercedes reached the Alma underpass the car was travelling at over 60mph trying to outspeed the journalists on motorcylcles and in cars chasing them.The Mercedes hit a curb and then the 13th pillar in the tunnel. Both Dodi aged 42 and Diana aged 36 were killed as well as their driver. A post mortem revealed that Henri Paul had been drinking and was over the limit. The report concluded he was drunk and driving too fast and that it was a simple traffic accident. However the report is unlikely to stop popular conspiracy theories.
In the centre of the Place Vendome there is a column in bronze with a man on the top. Before the Revolution there had been a statue of Louis XIV on a horse. The Statue was destroyed in 1792 during the Revolution as were all the statues of the Kings of France. The Carnavalet Museum has a large bronze foot in a roman sandal – all that remains of the original statue. Smaller copies of this statue can be seen at Windsor Castle and at the Chateau of Vaux le Vicomte. Today the Square is dominated by the Vendome Column celebrating Napoleon’s victory against Russia and Austria at the Battle of Austerlitz on the second of December 1805. The Battle was called the Battle of the three Emperors. It is interesting to note that Napoleon crowned himself Emperor at Notre Dame Cathedral precisely a year earlier on the second of December 1804. The column was inspired by Trajan’s column in Rome and is made from the bronze of the captured cannon captured at Austerlitz. The low reliefs show incidents from his campaign of 1805. On the top of the column is a statue of Napoleon rather pompously dressed as a Roman Emperor. On this walk you have seen how much inspiration Napoleon derived from the Romans, imitating their architecture in a number of monuments such as the Arch of Triumph and the Temple like Church of the Madeleine. Indeed his very title ‘Emperor’ is derived from the Roman ideal. Notice also the imperial eagles at the corners of the plinth. In the celebrated ‘Coronation ‘ painting in the Louvre, Napoleon is shown wearing a laurel wreath of victory on his head. Even his tomb under the Dome at Les Invalides is like a massive roman sarcophagus in red porphyry. Across the Square on the opposite side to the Ritz Hotel at number 12, above the jewelers Chaumet is a small plaque marking the spot where the composer Chopin died in 1849. Chopin is buried in Père Lachaise cemetery. But not all of him, for his heart was returned to his homeland Poland ,and is in a column of the Holy Cross Church in Warsaw. We leave the Square keeping to the right hand side and go past numbers 1 to 5 the property of the Sultan of Brunei, at number one is the Hotel Vendome, if you look up towards the hanging baskets on the balcony you will spot a small plaque indicating that in the early nineteenth century this was the Texas Embassy , when France briefly recognized Texas as an independent country from 1836-45. Cross over the rue Saint Honoré with the chocolate shop Godiva on the corner. You are now in the rue Castiglione heading towards the Tuileries Gardens.Follow the arcade of luxury shop,galleries and Hotels until the end. You are now at the busy rue de Rivoli with the Tuileries Gardens in front of you. Cross the rue de Rivoli at the crossing on your left. Be careful of the cycle track – those new vel’libre bicyclists might run you down as they have priority !To the left of the traffic lights at number 228 rue de Rivoli is the Hotel Meurice.It was already a luxury Hotel for British visitors in the 19th century.During World War Two this was the Headquarters of General von Choltitz, the military commander of Nazi forces in occupied Paris.It was here during the Liberation of Paris that von Choltitz surrendered in August 1944, having refused to obey Hitler’s orders to destroy Paris. Both a book and a film recall the final days of nazi occupied Paris with the title ‘Is Paris Burning?’.
Once you have crossed the rue de Rivoli ,turn right and enter the Tuileries Gardens by the gate.Once inside the Gardens turn right and stroll back to the Place de la Concorde at the end of the Gardens where we began our tour.