instead of taking the elevator and going up in the Eiffel Tower, Becca and I climbed the 284 steps to the top of the Arc de Triomphe.
totally worth it. again.
I first climbed to the top of the Arc de Triomphe at the age of 16, while visiting Paris at the beginning of a three-week tour with classmates from West. following the organized morning activity, Leah and I spent our afternoon at liberty walking from the Place de la Concorde, up the Champs Elysee, to the foot of the Arc de Triomphe, where we met up with the remainder of the group several hours later. a pair of American teenagers (and looking very much the part) meandering along the most famous boulevard in France, window shopping and commenting on the locals. the sun was setting as we reached the top, and I’ve got a fun picture of a group of us with the Tour Eiffel in the background, the sky fading to indigo at the horizon. (but not scanned onto my computer.)
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(really, what did we do before google maps?! my mental map of Paris would be even better than it already is …)
the Arc de Triomphe stands in the center of the Place Charles de Gaulle and is the linchpin of the axis historique, a sequence of monuments and thoroughfares that runs from the heart of the Louvre to the outskirts of the city. it stands 50m high (160ft) and is the second highest triumphal arch in existence. after the victory parade following the end of World War I, a pilot flew his biplane through the center of the arch. it was commissioned in 1806 by Napoleon following his success at Austerlitz. during the Bourbon Restoration, construction on the Arc was halted, and it was not completed until the reign of Louis-Philippe in 1836.
the body of Victor Hugo lay out overnight in 1885 before he was buried in the Panteon. beneath the Arc is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from the First World War, inscribed with the phrase ICI REPOSE UN SOLDAT FRANÇAIS MORT POUR LA PATRIE 1914–1918 (“Here lies a French soldier who died for the fatherland 1914–1918”), which is also the site of the first eternal flame lit in Europe since the Vestal Virgin’s flame was extinguished in 394 CE.
the second time I visited the Arc de Triomphe, Becca and I climbed to the top as night fell. as it was mid-November, it grew dark well before the laser show put on at the Tour Eiffel, but we enjoyed all the lights offered by the City of Light. we climbed the 294 steps to the top and thoroughly enjoyed the panoramic view of nighttime Paris.
more, including information about the art and architecture from Wikipedia
three times to Paris … three times to the Tour Eiffel … but only up in the elevators once. the most recent time, with Becca, was perhaps the most amusing. I don’t have particularly clear memories of the first two visits, apart from the fact that they were both during the day, and the second time we tried to figure out which riverside tunnel was the one in which Princess Diana died.
many Parisians decried the structure when it was completed in 1889 as an “eyesore” and, when asked why he ate lunch at the Tower’s restaurant every day, Guy de Maupassant explained that it was the only place in the city from which one could not see the tower (flimsy claim if you ask me). while it has become the quintessential landmark of the city, and depicted as visible from many an establishing-shot in movies, zoning regulations in Paris mean that very few buildings are actually tall enough to grant a clear view of the tower. initially, the construction contract called for the structure to be dismantled after twenty years, when ownership reverted to the city of Paris, but it proved valuable for communication purposes and remained standing. and now that it’s become part of the popular perception of the City of Light, more than 200 million people have visited the “eyesore”.
tonight, while going through some photo albums for post ideas and realized that I’ve been to Paris on three separate occasions. that’s more than any other single international destination. (and I’m not counting London, though to get technical I came and went more than three times while I was there.)
the most authentically gothic cemetery I’ve ever visited was that of Pere Lachaise in Paris. even thinking of it now conjures up images from The Woman in White (which, I know, I know, is set in London). it was one of the first places that Becca and I visited on our weekend trip to Paris. westayed at this thoroughly budget (but clean, and really not that bad) hotel just a couple of blocks from the cemetery and got there early in the morning. it was autumn when we visited, and wonderfully sunny that day. there were fallen leaves everywhere, giving that wonderful leaf-kicking crunch.
the cemetery has wide boulevards, off of which you can find many of the big-name internments, like Oscar Wilde, Honore de Balzac, Georges Bizet, Chopin, Saint-Cyr, Marcel Marceau, Moliere, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Pissaro, Proust, Seurat, and Richard Wright. but as we didn’t have much of a plan in mind, we wandered around the narrower paths of the cemetery.
established by Napoleon in 1804, Pere Lachaise is the largest cemetery within the city of Paris. it was named for Francios de la Chaise, confessor to Louis XIV. cemeteries had been banned within the city limits in 1786 on the premise that they posed a health hazard. this lead to the creation of the catacombs, as well as cemeteries that fell outside the boundaries of the capital (such as the one in Montmartre). initially, the distance of Pere Lachaise from the city center proved a major disincentive for funerals, so the administrators concocted a marketing campaign that, with great fanfare, transferred the remains of La Fontaine and Moliere to the cemetery. the move worked and, in 1817, they also orchestrated the relocation of the purported remains of Piere Abelard and Heloise to the cemetery. within a few years, internments went from a few dozen to more than 33,000. there are now over 300,000 “permanent residents” buried in the Cemetery, and even more cremated remains housed in the columbarium.
the Cemetery also has special meaning to the political left (apparently). in 1871, some 147 fédérés of the Paris Commune were shot and dumped into an open trench at the foot of a wall in the cemetery. leftist groups often hold parades through the grounds on the anniversary of the massacre (28 May), the largest of which took place in 1936 when some 600,000 people participated. in an ironic twist of fate, the man purportedly responsible for the events of the “Bloody Week” that culminated in the massacre at the Communards’ Wall (Adolphe Thiers) is also buried in Pere Lachaise.
(Pere Lachaise Cemetery on wikipedia and a tourist site)
one of my favorite things from our visit to Pere Lachaise, was this black cat. we actually saw several cats — surprise, surprise in a city full of feral cats — one of which disappeared into the tangle around a gated family tomb.