Written at 1:10 PM on 10-22-06 in Paris, France
I awoke in my Paris hostel at around 10:00 and quickly realized I had missed breakfast. It was probably a typical “hostel” breakfast anyway, though. After I showered and gathered my things, I made my way for a bakery on the corner, where I picked up a couple croissants for breakfast and a baguette for later. Then I made my way to the metro station.
I had a few places I wanted to go that day, but no particular schedule. I decided simply to begin on one side of the city and work my way to the other side, checking out the sights along the way. I’d spoken with the Brazilian guy the night before and he informed me that Hotel Invalides was not only a hotel, but a museum and the place that housed Napoleon’s tomb. When I was in Paris last time, Ashley had said it was worth a visit, so I decided to begin there.
The Hotel Invalides is surrounded by a large grassy area. This makes the building dominate the landscape. Most distinct is the gold capped building, which I soon learned was Napoleon’s tomb. At first, I thought (rather foolishly) that it was going to be free. I walked into the hotel’s (palace is probably a more appropriate word) courtyard and down some of the corridors without having to pay for anything. Construction began on the hotel during Napoleon’s era and the building was intended to house soldiers from the army. Consequently, the Hotel had its own extravagant and beautiful cathedral.
I checked out the cathedral. At this point, though, most churches paled in comparison to the sanctuaries in Italy. Still, that did not stop me from appreciating the place’s beauty. After the church, I wandered around to the other side of the Hotel, hoping to find an entrance to the giant domed building that stood behind the church. That was when I learned that I would indeed need a ticket.
With the ticket also came entrance to several other museums that occupied the Hotel. There was a museum of armor and arms. I definitely wanted to check this out—for research purposes, of course. It was quite enormous, though most of the weapons and armor came from more recent centuries, so it lacked some of the historical magnitude that has come with observing other arms museums that housed older items. There were definitely some interesting objects though, on the whole.
The other museum I went through exhibited items and presentations of the wars of France, particularly World War I and II. This was interesting, after seeing several other examples of the war in the other countries. There was a lot about the French resistance, as well as examples of what made France unprepared for the second World War. I always have heard a lot about the United States and Britain’s role in the war, but never much about France. I didn’t spend as much time as I probably could have in the museums, but my feet were hurting and I wanted to get to Napoleon’s tomb.
Napoleon’s Tomb consisted of an enormous domed building, capped in gold, and surrounded by smaller domes. These smaller domes held the sarcophagi of Napoleon II and Napoleon III. The hole building was glamorous and its more recent construction was apparent. The tomb, compared to the buildings in Rome, for example, was pristine. The blocks of marble were unmarred by time. Despite the tens of thousands of tourists that must visit the tomb, there was little to distinguish the building’s age. The tomb was constructed of mostly marble, an impressive feat in itself. Beneath the large, arching dome was a hole, from which one could look down onto the lower level of the tomb. And on the lower level, stood an enormous coffin. At first, it appeared to be some kind of hard wood, but I decided that it must be a dark stone instead—or else perhaps a wood that was heavily varnished. For such a small man, Napoleon received one big coffin.
I went to the lower level and walked around, observing the carved walls that presumably depicted parts of Napoleon’s life. Without the audioguide, though, I was a bit clueless as to what was what. There was also a section of the tomb dedicated to Napoleon’s personal effects. These items comprised weapons, garments, and all manner of miscellaneous stuff. All in all, the tomb and museums were worth the small entry fee (although had I not received the student discount, I may not have been able to make that claim).
From the Hotel Invalides, I headed—actually, I don’t know which way I headed, besides to say it was in the general direction of the Gardin de Luxembourg and the Pantheon. I had read that the Gardin should be visited, but really had not intended to unless it was on my way. I’m glad it was. I had feared that it would be some kind of well-manicured, groomed garden that would require money to get into, but that wasn’t the case at all. Basically, it was the Paris equivalent of Central Park. There were tennis courts, cafes, large open areas for lounging about, fountains, etc. And the park was full of people. People were jogging, reading, writing, taking photographs, letting their kids play, and all manner of other activities. The main difference I noticed from other large parks within cities was just how open everything was. There were trees, but they were arranged into neat patterns that gave an expansive impression. Some of the Gardin was “well-manicured,” but that was only a small percent. I didn’t wander too much, but from what I saw, I liked the Gardin much better than Hyde Park (though certainly not as much as Sydney’s Royal Botanical Gardens).
After the Gardin, I had only about five minutes before I arrived at the Pantheon. I didn’t really know what to expect of this building. I’d read about it, but the description was brief and inadequate. No one had told me to visit the Paris Pantheon, but I’m glad I did. First of all, there was an exhibition from an artist (I don’t recall his name). This was not the kind of exhibition that just sat in the side of a monument and could be ignored. The art consisted of enormous white mesh netting that drooped down from the high ceilings and contained white polystyrene beads. This is perhaps hard to envision, so check out the pictures.
At first, I was a little taken aback. After all, I wanted to see the Pantheon in its unadorned glory. After walking around though, I realized just how lucky I was no happen upon such a unique and cool exhibition. The exhibition was supposed to fuse the classical architecture and art of the Pantheon with a sense of modernity and the organic, from what I recall. I definitely got the feel of the organic. The total effect of the art gave one the impression of being inside or a sponge, or else perhaps being inside the body of some great beast.
The Pantheon also contained Foucault’s Pendulem—a brass-looking sphere that hung from the highest point in the Pantheon and which swung back and forth over the course of the day, eventually forming a circle. The point of the object was that it proved the Earth’s movement. The sphere swayed seamlessly, back and forth, amidst the white netting, and one could almost imagine it to be the uvula in the mouth of that great imagined creature.
The Pantheon also contained a crypt, which housed some of France’s most brilliant minds. I paid my respects to Alexander Dumas (Count of Monte Cristo) and Victor Hugo (Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dam), as well as such greats as Marie and Pierre Curie, and the philosopher, Rousseau. The crypts were actually a work in progress. In a number of places, there were opening for more people to be entombed, and on two separate occasions, I saw people working on the tiling around a new room. Consequently, this was unlike the crypts or catacombs of old and instead were clean and flawless in their design and construction. The crypt even contained a room that displayed the various tools and belongings of the Curie’s. The exhibit told of their work in chemistry and radiation.
After the Pantheon, I emerged and headed toward Notre Dame. On my way, however, I stopped at the Shakespeare and Co. Bookstore. I was hoping to pick up the next in the series of books I was reading. The bookstore was quaint (and grossly over priced), and perhaps fortunately did not contain the book I wanted (otherwise I might have been compelled to buy it). The bookstore was crowded with people—I can only presume it was tourists since it was an English bookstore. Despite the crowds, though, I liked it. The place had a cool location and the narrow, winding corridors lined with books on each side gave the place a definitively Parisian feel.
Pictures and more to come later…
Tags: Europe, France, Paris, Travel