Planning a visit to the City of Light? From the Mona Lisa to the Eiffel Tower, we’re counting down the top 5 things to do in Paris.
Hotel des Invalides
The “invalides” for whom this imposing Hotel was built were wounded soldiers of the late 17th century. Louis XIV had the building constructed between 1671 and 1678, and veterans are still housed here, although only a dozen or so compared to the original 6,000. They share their home with the greatest French soldier of them all, Napoleon Bonaparte, whose body rests in a crypt directly below the golden dome of the Dome Church. Other buildings accommodate military offices, the Musee de l’Armee and smaller military museums.
Must-See at Hotel des Invalides: Visit Napoleon’s Tomb, where his body was brought from St. Helena in 1840, some 19 years after he died. He rests in splendid grandeur in a cocoon of six coffins, almost situated “on the banks of the Seine” as was his personal wish.
This Gothic masterpiece, built by Louis IX (1214-70) as a shrine for his holy relics of the passion and completed in 1248, is considered the most beautiful church in Paris, not least for its 15 stained-glass windows soaring 15 metres to a star-covered vaulted roof. The church was damaged during the Revolution but restored in the mid-19th century.
Must-See Site: In the late 14th century Louis XI added an oratory where he could attend Mass unobserved, watching through a small grille in the wall. The chapel originally adjoined the Conciergerie, the former royal palace on the lle de la Cite.
Today the city’s beautiful Pantheon building is a fitting final resting place for the nation’s great figures. However, it was originally built as a church on the instigation of Louis XV to celebrate his recovery from a serious bout of gout in 1744. Dedicated to Sainte Genevieve, the structure was finished in 1790 and was intended to look like the Pantheon in Rome, hence the name; in fact it more closely resembles St.Paul’s Cathedral in London. During the Revolution it was turned into a mausoleum, but Napoleon gave it back to the church in 1806. It was later deconsecrated, handed back to the church once more, before finally becoming a public building in 1885.
Must-See at the Pantheon: In 1851 French physicist Jean Foucault followed up an earlier experiment to prove the earth’s rotation by hanging a pendulum from the dome of the Pantheon. The plane of the pendulum’s swing rotated 11º clockwise each hour in relation to the floor, thereby proving Foucault’s theory.
Centre Georges Pompidou
Today one of the world’s most famous pieces of modern architecture, the Pompidou Centre opened in 1977, when architects Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano startled everyone by turning the building “inside out”, with brightly coloured pipes displayed on the facade. Designed as a cross-cultural arts complex, it houses the excellent Musee National d’Art Moderne (Modern Art Museum) as well as a cinema, library, shops and performance space. The outside forecourt is a popular gathering-spot for tourists and locals alike.
Must-See at Centre Georges Pompidou: The colourful Stravinsky Fountain in Place Igor Stravinsky was designed by Niki de Saint-Phalle and Jean Tinguely as part of the Pompidou Centre development. Inspired by composer Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird (1910), the bird spins and sprays water!
Arc de Triomphe
The best day to visit the world’s most familiar arch is 2 December, the date that marks Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805, when the sun, setting behind the Champs-Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe, creates a spectacular halo around the building. Work began on the 50 metre arch in 1806 but was never completed until 1836, due, in part, to Napoleon’s fall from power. Four years later, Napoleon’s funeral procession passed beneath it, on its way to his burial in Les Invalides. Today the arch is a focal point for numerous public events.
Must-See at Arc de Triomphe: Taking the elevator or climbing the 284 steps to the top of the Arc de Triomphe gives visitors a sublime view of Paris. To the east is the magnificent Champs Elysees and to the west is the Grande Arche of La Defense.