ONE of the first things that impresses the visitor to Paris is its admirable situation. When the city is viewed from any. commanding height, as the Arc de Triomphe, the Pantheon, or the cemetery of Père La Chaise, it presents a beautiful and complete panorama. Every building and monument stands out in the clear air, as clean cut as a cameo, and as you trace the avenues, the boulevards and the river, with the foliage of the parks and gardens interspersed, the scene is most lovely.
A markedly noticeable feature of Paris is its architecture. The visitor is not haunted with that unsatisfactory feeling which he experiences in most cities he visits, produced by the evident lack of intelligent design, for here, in the laying out of the streets, squares and parks, and especially in the construction of the buildings, both publie and private, monuments and government works, brain and taste and skill are eminently conspicuous. More than is true of any other great city we have ever visited, it’ seems to be the harmonious product of some single master brain, which has not only conceived the general plan upon which it has been constructed, but has inspired every detail during the whole process, controlling the genius as well as the hands that have been instrumental in producing the completed result.
These dominant features of the city have, beyond a doubt, done much toward promoting that sense of harmony and that appreciation of the beautiful which so eminently characterize the Parisians, and to this influence we may trace the fact that all strangers fall in love with Paris, and that so many remain and make permanent homes here.
The City of Paris, as it stands to-day, is the work of centuries of steady and patient effort (though greatly modernized under Louis Philippe and Napoleon III.), the most valuable result of which is the effect it has had in inspiring the people with a love of the beautiful and the harmonious, not only in architecture but in art. This gradual education of ” the masses” of Paris may be easily traced in the present population, who, while they are in many ways ignorant and uncultivated, nevertheless possess that keen sense of beauty, harmony and fitness, which has made them unconscious art critics, as it were. Indeed, a building, a monument, or a work of art that succeeds in securing the approval of its people, is sure to possess merits that will stand the criticism of those who assume to be special judges in such matters.
The effect of this kind of culture, upon the true Parisian, is shown in the fact that all classes are always present in great numbers where a new monument is unveiled, a new building or bridge is disclosed to the view, a public work inaugurated, or a new painting or statue submitted to public inspection. The comments of the crowd, many of whom cannot even read or write, are most instructive, on such occasions, and show an appreciation rarely, if ever, found in the commonalty of other great cities of the world.
It is exceedingly interesting to trace to their sources, in the past history of Paris, the influences from which have resulted many of the admirable institutions now existing here, and to study the working of those influences down through the centuries to the conditions of to-day.
The earliest account we have of Paris represents it as a small collection of mud huts, and, for many centuries of its earlier history, very little advance was made in its condition. In the middle ages it showed marked and individualized signs of progress. During the latter portion of this long period of darkness and gloom, which embraced more than a thousand years, covering the centuries between the de-cline of the first Roman Empire and the time of the Reformation, great progress was made in laying the foundation of institutions which were brought to their fruition through the efforts of the reigning monarchs of the succeeding periods.
During the period of the Revolution many monuments of the middle ages were mutilated or destroyed, the fine arts were neglected, the material growth was checked, and the population was diminished. But the basis for many of the improvements of to-day was laid during this very period of upheaval. Numbers of the institutions of which the Parisians are to-day so proud, date from the reigns of Louis XI. and Louis XIV. An enormous sum of money was expended upon public works under Napoleon I., and many edifices commenced by him were finished by his successors.
The great progress made in the development of improvements under Louis Philippe was suddenly arrested by the Revolution of 1848, but only to be resumed again and pushed with great vigor by Napoleon III. after he became emperor. Old Paris, so crowded with historical associations, with its narrow, crooked streets, infested with disease, and swarming with a revolutionary population, now gave way to the changes which transformed it into the magnificent city that we to day behold. All the grand adornments projected by Louis XIV. and Napoleon I. were carried forward to completion with surprising vigor by Napoleon III.
The Louvre was completed, and joined with the Tuileries ; the Bois de Boulogne was laid out ; the wonderful sewers were constructed ; thousands of old houses were demolished and miles of broad avenues or boulevards were laid out and lined with magnificent blocks of buildings, while at the same time a series of public works was inaugurated and perfected not equalled by those of any other city of modern times.
The physical change wrought in the aspect of Paris by the genius and energy of Napoleon III. is the most worthy monument he has left behind, and will serve to perpetuate what is commendable in his character, not only with his own countrymen but with all who visit the city he so elaborately transformed and lavishly beautified.
We give herewith a brief description of some or the most important structures of Paris, including public buildings, churches and monuments.
The palace of the Tuileries was commenced in 1564, and was originally designed as a residence for Catherine de Médicis. It was completed by Louis XIV. During its history it has been the seat of many most extraordinary scenes of mob violence. This was the scene of the massacre of the Swiss guards in 1792, whose bravery has been so admirably commemorated by the great Swedish sculptor Thorwaldsen, in his “Lion of Lucerne.” It was subsequently the official residence of Napoleon I., Louis Philippe, and Napoleon III., until its destruction by the Commune in 1871. It was rebuilt in 1885-1888.
Existing records of the spot occupied by the Louvre date back many centuries. As early as 1200 it was occupied by a stronghold and a prison. At this time it was outside the walls of the city. The present building was begun in 1528 by Francis I. A great deal of labor and treasure was expended upon the structure, from time to time, through a period of nearly three centuries. In the very beginning of the present century, when the whole pile seemed destined to become a dilapidated ruin, Napoleon I. came to the rescue and finished the work. The Louvre now contains one of the grandest collections of works of art in the world.
While the galleries of Rome and Florence and other European cities are richer in the works of some of the old masters, none present so good an opportunity as the Louvre and the galleries of Paris, to the student and the connoisseur, to gain a knowledge of the best works of both ancient and modern artists. Every facility is offered for the admission of all classes of visitors or students, the principal galleries being open for five or six days in the week, and they are always thronged on Sundays and holidays. The education in art thus obtained by the people shows itself in various ways, in their dress and furniture and house-hold decorations, while, on a broader scale, it is seen in the laying out of private grounds, the decorations of theatres and public buildings.
The Palais Royal was originally built by Cardinal Richelieu, who presented it to King Louis XIII., when it took its present name. It was subsequently the abode of royalty for many years, and meantime passed through many vicissitudes. It was devastated by the mob in February 1848, and finally the Commune set it on fire in 1871. It has been since repaired.
The Palace of the Luxembourg was originally built after the style of the celebrated Pitti Palace at Florence. It was planned and erected upon a scale of great magnificence, and a wealth of art was lavished upon its halls and corridors. It is specially rich in sculptures and frescos, and is now appropriately used as a receptacle for the works of the most celebrated artists.
The Hôtel des Invalides, organized under Louis XIV., is a most admirable institution. It is under the control of the War Department, and is a great boon to the old soldiers, as it has accommodations for five thousand pensioners and always contains a large number who are clothed and supported and cared for. The main central building is surmounted by a gilded dome, which is a conspicuous object in any view one obtains of Paris. Immediately under the dome is the tomb of Napoleon, to which his remains were transferred in 1861. The tomb is an exceedingly massive structure, and is probably the most impressive monument of this character ever constructed. The main building has a frontage of over six hundred feet and the property owned by the institution is worth a vast sum.
The squares and promenades or open plazas of Paris, with their monuments and artistic embellishments, are also worthy of note, and especially as with many of them are associated some of the most important and exciting events connected with the history of the city. In the immediate vicinity of some of the most celebrated and imposing historical structures is the Place de la Concorde. Until the reign of Louis XV. this site was a wild waste. That monarch inaugurated the movement which has resulted in the scene which the square now presents, and commenced adorning it with statues and fountains, the works of the most celebrated artists of the period. Here stands the magnificent obelisk of Luxor, which was presented to the French people by the Viceroy of Egypt. It was erected in front of the Temple of Thebes 1550 years before Christ. It required three years to remove it to its present position and involved an expense of 2,000,000 francs.
In the Place de la Concorde was first set up the guillotine, on which many historical personages lost their lives during those terrible times which have been well designated as the “Reign of Terror.” At this spot have been proclaimed many important events involving the peace or war of France.
The Champs Elysées is immediately connected with the Place de la Concorde; in fact they form together one of the grandest promenades in the world, terminating with the renowned Are de Triomphe, which is situated on an elevated spot commanding an admirable view of Paris. Place de l’ etoile occupies an immense space in circular form, on the summit of the elevation, in the centre of which stands the Arcde Triomphe. Twelve grand avenues radiate from this place in all directions.
The Place de la Bastile, occupying a square in the midst of the city, is the site of the historical Bastile, whose gloomy dungeon walls through hundreds of years echoed with the despairing groans of the helpless prisoners whose only crime was a love of liberty, or perchance the expression of the sentiments which such a love inspires in patriotic hearts.
The old Bastile was demolished by the people in July, 1789. The foundation of a monument, which is called The Column of July, was laid by Louis Philippe in July, 1831. This square has been many times one of the chief rallying points of the Communists when bent on their errands of destruction, and is appropriately marked by the impressive monument now standing in its centre.
Adjoining Place du Châtelet, which is one of the famous land-marks of Paris, is the grand old Gothic tower of St. Jacques. It is the only remaining part of the Church of St. Jacques de la Boucherie, which was erected early in the sixteenth century. Some fifty years since the city purchased the tower, and has since maintained it at a cost of over a million francs for repairs.
In the middle of Place Vendôme, where formerly stood a colossal equestrian statue of Louis XIV., now stands the Colonne Vendôme, a magnificent memorial of the past, originally erected by Napoleon, to commemorate his successes in the German war of 1805. It was demolished by the Commune in May, 1871, and subsequently reconstructed from the original fragments. It contains an immense weight of bronze, taken from the guns captured from the enemy.
One of the most imposing church edifices in Paris is Notre Dame. Its massive double towers and magnificent front, with its wealth of art decorations, render it famous among the many fine church buildings of which the city can boast. It is one of the best remaining specimens Of Old Paris, which has not been invaded by the iconoclastic spirit of our modern civilization. It stands in solemn grandeur, a genuine relic of the past, being now more than 800 years old.
The Madeleine was originally partially finished as a church, and was completed by Napoleon as a Temple of Glory, but afterwards was restored to its original use. It is in the form of a Greek temple, is surrounded by porticos sustained by fifty-two lofty marble columns, and is one of the grandest and most imposing edifices in Paris. It is especially rich in statuary and fine artistic embellishments.
The Pantheon, which is the most elevated building in Paris, and hence affords a wide-spread view of the city and surroundings, is one of the most remarkable buildings of the capital. It was commenced in the reign of Louis XV. in 1764. The vaults contain monuments to the memory of Voltaire and Rousseau, and the re-mains of many of the great men of France rest here. It is one of the most thoroughly constructed buildings in the city. Some of the stones in the vaults are more than fifty feet long, and were so completely matched that they were laid without cement, as was the entire foundation of the building. The structure contains some grand compositions in relief, and the most celebrated artists of the day were employed in its decoration.
Few travellers leave Paris without visiting the Pantheon and inspecting the remarkable vaults underneath.
There are, of course, a large number of theatres in the city and all are well patronized, the French being decidedly an amusement-loving people. The Paris Opera House is the grandest and the most expensive theatre building in the world. It cost about 50,000,000 francs.
The edifice is a triumph of architectural skill, and the decorations are exceedingly elaborate and artistic. The main entrance and staircase are unequalled in splendor and effectiveness. A large number of buildings and even whole streets were demolished in order to give this “Palace of Pleasure” an appropriate and effective setting.
Many places in the suburbs of Paris are of exceeding interest, and weeks may be most profitably spent in visiting them. Versailles, with its endless palaces, galleries, and gardens ; Fontainebleau, with its unrivalled old residence of kings and incomparable forest, which is sixty-three miles in circumference; St. Germain, one hour by rail from Paris, replete with the memories of royally; St. Denis, with its noble old Abbey, within whose precincts were interred so many royal personages ; St. Cloud, on the Seine and near the city, one of the residences of Napoleon III., etc., etc.