I Love Touring Paris - The First Arrondissement
The first arrondissement lies in the heart of Paris on the Seine River's right bank. It includes the western part of Ile de La Cité, one of the two Parisian islands. This district was once the heart of the Roman city of Lutetia. It occupies less than a square mile (less than two square kilometers) with a declining population of under seventeen thousand. But it employs more than sixty thousand people and attracts lots and lots of tourists. Here are some of the reasons why.
Les Halles was the city's central market, covered in 1183. Read Zola's 1873 novel Le Ventre de Paris (The Belly of Paris) for a timeless picture of this unique setting demolished in 1971 and replaced by a huge underground modern shopping center, the Forum des Halles. The world's largest underground transportation station Châtelet-Les-Halles serves a half million train passengers and a quarter million subway passengers daily. Make sure to see the historic Gothic Church of Saint-Eustache where young Louis XIV received communion. This church is home to several Rubens paintings and holds organ concerts in the summer.
The Musée du Louvre (Louvre Museum) greets more than eight million tourists a year, more than any other art museum in the word. It was called the Musée Napoléon in honor of all his war booty; which was eventually returned to the rightful owners. The initial "Castle of the Louvre" was founded in 1190 at the western edge of Paris to defend the city. The oldest standing building was begun in 1535. The Louvre contains almost four hundred thousand objects including twelve thousand paintings. Two of its most famous items are the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. Plan to spend a lot of time in this fabulous museum.
The Sixteenth Century Tuileries Palace was built for Catherine de' Medicis, the widow of Henry II. Louis XIV lived there while waiting for the Palace of Versailles to be built. The Tuileries Palace was later used as a theatre but its gardens remained popular among the local upper crust. Louis XVI and family stayed there under house arrest and the building was stormed during the French Revolution. Subsequently both the revolutionaries and Napoleon used the buildings. Both Joséphine and Marie-Louise had magnificent bedrooms. Unlike Paris City Hall and parts of the Louvre, the Tuileries Palace was not rebuilt after its destruction in 1871. The Tuileries Garden covers about 63 acres (25 hectares) and includes the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, a contemporary art museum. There is a lot of talk about rebuilding the Palace. The original plans and many photographs are archived, and the Palace furniture and paintings were safely stored prior to its destruction. The cost of rebuilding is estimated at about $400 million (300 million euros) supposedly financed by subscription and not by taxes.
In the meantime why not visit the Palais Royal, former home of Cardinal Richelieu in spite of his vow of poverty. Many other bigwigs lived there over the years. During the French Revolution a guy nicknamed Philippe-Egalité (Equality Phil) became popular for opening the Palais-Royal gardens to all Parisians. His oldest son Louis-Philippe was King of France from 1830 to 1848. An Abbé wrote a little poem about the garden "Dans ce jardin on ne rencontre ni champs, ni prés, ni bois, ni fleurs. Et si l'on y dérègle ses moeurs, au moins on y règle sa montre." ("In this garden one encounters neither fields nor woods nor flowers. And, if one upsets one's morality, at least one may re-set one's watch.") A nearby café was the rallying point for the taking of the Bastille. Today's Palais Royale is the center of many government offices and some building of the Bibliothèque Nationale (Nationale Library) most of which have been relocated to less interesting parts of town.
The Comédie-Française or Théâtre Français is France's only state theater and one of the few with a permanent troupe. It is often considered the home of Molière but in fact he died before it was built. During the French Revolution it was closed and the actors were imprisoned. The Comédie-Française is the current resting place of the heart of Francois-Marie Arouet, more commonly known as Voltaire.
For a break from all this history you may want to visit Paris's second-oldest department store La Samaritaine on the banks of the Seine River. By the way, its name comes from a hydraulic pump with a guilded sculpture of the Good Samaritan located near the Pont Neuf (New Bridge), Paris's oldest bridge. The store was closed for safety reasons in 2005 and may not yet have reopened. The plans are to make it more upscale upon reopening.
If you feel like splurging consider the Hôtel Ritz, which was originally built as a private home in the early Eighteenth Century. The word ritzy comes from this hotel and similar lodgings in London and Madrid. A part owner was the world-famous chef Auguste Escoffier who revolutionized French cuisine and once trained Ho Chi Minh as a pastry chef. Famous guests include Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Marcel Proust, Charlie Chaplin, and Coco Chanel, who lived there for over thirty years. This hotel was the last stop for Dodi Al-Fayed, son of its owner, and Diana, Princess of Wales before their tragic demise in August, 1997.
Of course you don't want to be in Paris without sampling fine French wine and food. In my article I Love French Wine and Food – A White Beaujolais I reviewed such a wine and suggested a sample menu: Start with Cuisses de Grenouilles (Frogs Legs). For your second course savor Quenelles de Brochet (Poached Fish Dumplings). And as dessert indulge yourself with Galettes de Pérouges (Pérouges Pancakes). Your Parisian sommelier (wine steward) will be happy to suggest appropriate wines to accompany each course.
Levi Reiss has authored alone
or with a co-author ten computer and Internet books, but to tell the truth,
he would really rather just drink fine French, German, or other wine, accompanied
by the right foods. He knows what dieting is, and is glad that for the
time being he can eat and drink what he wants, in moderation. He teaches
classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. Visit
his new wine, diet, health, and nutrition website www.wineinyourdiet.com
and his global wine website www.theworldwidewine.com.
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Latest update: May 10, 2010