PARIS: CITY OF AWE-INSPIRING MASTERPIECES

Filed in TOURISM by on August 1, 2010

Paris: City of awe-inspiring masterpieces
By TOYOSI OGUNSEYE
Sunday, 1 Aug 2010

The Louvre in the background; to the left is the Eiffel Tower and other scenes from Paris.

Even though ‘See Paris and die,’ is a cliché, TOYOSI OGUNSEYE writes that though you won‘t die when you visit Paris, your mouth will simply be in awe of the architectural masterpieces that the city has to offer.

PARIS is one of the few cities where you will see an old woman in her late 70s walking on the streets with six-inch heels. You shouldn‘t also be surprised to see a lady in a very short skirt riding a bicycle. When it comes to fashion, everything is possible in Paris, the capital and largest city in France.

Apart from its fashion, which it is famed for, it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. It is considered one of the most beautiful and exciting cities in Europe. True, a walk on the streets will convince you that Paris did not earn its reputation in a day.

Thousands of tourists visit the French capital every year, especially during summer to feast their eyes on the goodies the city has to offer. Top on their list is the Eiffel Tower, which is the symbol of Paris. The tower was constructed between 1887 and 1889 by Gastave Eiffel for the Universal Exhibition celebrating the centenary of the French Revolution.

It is an architectural masterpiece with a metal structure no less than 324m. Not minding the long queue every day, visitors to this tower take a vertical tour for an impressive view over the capital and surrounding countryside. In fact, a visitor’s terrace has taken over the first floor of the tower, offering tourists a moment of relaxation 57 metres above Paris.

A tour guide at the tower, who identified himself as Charles says, ”The tower has three levels for visitors. Tickets can be purchased to ascend by stairs or lift to the first and second levels. The first and second levels have restaurants. The tower has become the most prominent symbol of both Paris and France and is featured in a lot of international films.”

Notre Dame de Paris is another historic centre that should not be missed. Immortalised in the novel by Victor Hugo and his Quasimodo, Notre Dame de Paris cathedral, a jewel of Gothic art, never ceases to amaze anyone. You don‘t need to be a lover of the arts to appreciate this cathedral that took two hundred years to build, from the 11th to the 13th century. Its recently renovated façade reveal all its splendour. A walk into the building gives you the feeling that you are in the movie, Alice in Wonderland.

The good thing about these monuments that are on parade is that most of them are within a walking distance. The Arc de Triomphe, a patriotic focal point in France is another must-see. During its construction from 1806-1836, the Arc de Triomphe endured the ups and downs of political upheaval. Francois Gaulle, who has worked there for years, gives a brief history of the Arc. He says, ”In 1836, for its inauguration, the Arc resumed its primary vocation: to glorify the armies of the Republic and the Empire. The monument then witnessed major national events such as the return of Napoleon I‘s ashes in 1840 and the parade to celebrate the liberation of Paris in 1944.”

Just when you think you‘ve seen it all, the Sacre Coeur Basilica gives you another view of the city – it dominates the Montmarte hill, a district famous for its proliferation of artists: Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec and Picasso in particular lived and worked there. It is the forecourt and its dome offers a unique view over Paris and its principal monuments.

The Louvre is not too far from the Basilica. The various wings of this French splendour have dominated the centre of Paris since the end of the 21st century. It was the residence of the French kings for five centuries and it became a museum after the French Revolution. Nowadays a trip to this magical venue where such famous masterpieces as the ‘Mona Lisa‘ and the ‘Venus de Milo‘ are displayed is obligatory.

After seeing all this, Paris is not through with you yet. A walk around the banks of the Seine is mythical – book vendors, tow paths adorned and shaded by romantic weeping pillows will mesmerise you. The banks of the Seine hold some real surprise and those who love lounging will enjoy Paris-Plage or the swimming pool in the Seine. Absolute relaxation is guaranteed on the banks.

One thing that cannot me missed in Paris is its covered walkways. The ‘passages couverts‘ or covered walkways were constructed in the early 19th century to protect well-off customers from adverse weather. It has a lot of house art galleries and restaurants and the most famous among them are the Passage du Caire and the Galerie Vivienne.

The Latin quarters that ooze of charm and authenticity is undoubtedly one of the most authentic districts in Paris. From the Sorbonne University to the Pantheon, via the church of Saint-Sulpice, generations of students and artists have contributed to this atmosphere. Walking around, between two visits to café terraces – the famous Café de Flore or Les Deux Magots is a real pleasure.

Though Paris is quite modern, it still has some very old districts. One of them is the Marais. With its numerous private mansions built in the 17th century around the majestic Place des Vosges, several of these residences have been transformed into museums: the Hotel Sale (Musee Picasso) and the Musee Carnavalet (dedicated to the history of Paris), can be discovered by turning off its picturesque streets. If you love museums, real museums, Marais is the place to be.

After having a feel of the ancient Paris, it is just natural to want to have a taste of modern day Paris. The Georges Pompidou will not disappoint you in this regard. The national centre of art and culture was opened to the public in 1977. As President Georges Pompidou wished, this unusual building hosts within emblematic 20th century architecture numerous exhibition spaces devoted to all forms of contemporary art.

The only snag is that despite its grandeur, Paris is not a very clean city.

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