The 1998/1999 academic year was spent by myself and four companions in Paris. This period of my life still evokes nostalgic memories and as a result the city will forever remain as one of my favourite destinations. When faced with the task of composing an essay about a factor of Paris that affected me, I was first tempted to describe one of the negative aspects of the city (it has more than its fare share) such as the ugly face of racism or the seemingly common practise of nepotism and corruption in politics; however such a critique would in no way be a just reflection on my true sentiments concerning the place! It is for this reason that I have chosen as my subject matter the thing that enchanted me when I exited the Eurostar terminal for the first time and continued to do so for the remainder of my stay: The Parisian architecture. Unfortunately, I have no in dept knowledge of architectural intricacies or terminology therefore this will be the view of a novice which is perhaps apt as one does not need to be an expert to appreciate the beauty of Paris which is amenable to all. For this reason it would perhaps be more exact to describe the chosen subject matter as a brief glimpse of the charm and appeal of the city s buildings and monuments. During my stay, I had a flat situated in the 17th arrondissement on the Right Bank, close to many impressive monuments and urban artefacts however one can be absolutely anywhere in the city and there will undoubtedly be a beautiful sight to behold (in comparison on my return to London I found my home town to be drab and uninspiring in many places).
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In fact when on a mission to explore the city, I would often scrap the guidebooks and simply get on the metro and randomly disembark at one of the many beautifully named stations such as Portes des Lilas and plaisance who themselves evoke beautiful imageries, and then wander the streets. In doing so I would more often than not encounter the interesting or the unusual (as my photo scrapbook can bear witness) whether it be in the form of a building in the Art Deco style, a sumptuous monument reminiscent of Napoleonic grandeur or a mere road on the isle de France that carelessly allows the water from Seine to invade its pavement.
One of the chief reasons that most areas in Paris fail to disappoint even the most sceptical and determined critics boils down to the design of the apartment houses that are often awe inspiring. Apartments are the predominant mode of accommodation in a city twice as small as London but which contains a similar population size. Many examples of early renaissance Parisian architecture still survives today intact however the city dwellers were either very rich or very poor and subsequently resided in either splendid Italianesque houses or slums. It is mainly the seventeenth century therefore that witnesses the birth of the apartment flat that today houses the vast majority of its inhabitants. Some early examples in the rue Francois Miron that were inspired by the Places Royales (instigated by Henry IV) have stood the test of time. Similarly there are still remainders of 18th century apartments however the vast majority of Paris urban expansion dates from the 19th century to accommodate the huge population influx. Some of the best and most celebrated apartment houses of this period were designed by Charles Garnier which include the first modern luxury flats that are apparently a worthy reflection of the French social trends of that era.
The format is often the apartment house round an inner court or well with a central entrance and porter s lodge giving access to the stairs ; I admired many of these examples during my stay but only now do I understand their provenance. Differing styles are in abundance such as in the rue de Douai were the interestingly named Viollet-le-Duc built a block in an entirely gothic style preferred by the more reserved and secular inhabitants of the neighbourhood. Listing the interesting apartments contained in the city would be an endless task however one especially worthy of note is situated in the Place de la Madelaine where a house may be admired with a Neo-Gothic lower half, a Classic upper half, and a Mansard roof with dormer windows
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It is widely acknowledged that Paris has no centre in the way that Westminster would be to London and Manhattan to New York. The river Seine creating a Right Bank divides it into two however and a left bank of equal importance with the Isle de la Cite situated in between. Symbolically at least this little islet can act as a centre with its imposing cathedral Notre Dame acting as the centre of the compass. Notre Dame stands on a location that has been a place of Prayer for approximately the last 2000 years (perhaps explaining the reputed poignancy of the Millennium prayers conducted at the cathedral).
A Gallow-Roman temple was succeeded by an Early Christian Basilica, then a Romanesque church, and finally by the present cathedral which was founded by Bishop Maurice de Sully in 1163. Many great celebrations have taken place in this superlative example of gothic art including the mass taken by Pope Jean Paul the II in 1980. In 1831 due to a revived interest in the decaying cathedral generated by Victor Hugo s Notre Dame, the building was renovated and controversially altered in some areas by Viollet-le-Duc creating what we see today.
Thre remains many exponents of the 1937 exposition , one of which is the Palais de Chaillot whose two wings extend on either side of an immense terrace at the feet of the Eiffel Tower. It stands on the site of an old Moorish style trocadero. The Palais de Challot s Surrounding fountains complement the neo-classical formms of the museum.
It would be impossible to discuss Parisian architecture without referring to the monument that is most associated with the city: the Eiffel Tower. In the light of its status today it is interesting to note that at its inauguration of 1889, Parisians greeted the tower with disdain. Perhaps what they did not realise that Eiffel did not want his work to be perceived as a work of architecture but as a technical feat and anyhow it was meant to be demolished after the exposition. Today who could imagine the city without its giant erection?
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Paris could have been a very different place had it not been for a number of chance decisions: Napoleon had originally wished the Arc de Triomphe to be situated not at its present spot at l Etoile but to stand at the top of the hill at Montmartre, a near miss which is undoubtedly beneficial to the overall Parisian layout. The Arc de Triomphe was commissioned by Napoleon as a symbol of honour for the rench armies, and for this he commissioned the architect Jean- Francois Chalgrin. Work began in 1806. The monument exceeded all financial budget constraints however and after the fall of Napoleon the work had to stop as the money had more pressing beneficiaries. The grandeur of the monument appealed to Louis Phillipe vanity and therefore on his accession to the throne, works recommenced. The Arc would not have been out of place in ancient Rome and standing at 50m high is a reflection of Napoleon s never quite achieved aspirations of creating an all-powerful French power. A number of artists were responsible for the adorning sculptures which explains the inconsistency in the quality; Rude s The Departure of the Volunteers is universally acknowledged as a masterpiece even though it was originally rejected by the Academie.The Arc sits in the centre of the Place de L etoile which was given its distinctive star formation (as its name suggests) by Baron Haussman who as well as creating the seven now world famous avenues also designed a uniform circle of houses. Had Napoleon s original plans for the Arc gone ahead, a Champs et Lysse going nowhere would not have been the only Consequence since the very beautifull Sacre Coeur would undoubtedly not exist either.
Situated at the top of the hill known as Montmatre, the Sacre Coeur in its Neo-Byzantine Style is somewhat inconsistent with the rest of the Parisian architecture, however it is in keeping with its Montmartre location , historically the residence of many of the cities most illustrious artists. Both the Sacre Coeur and Monmatrtre itself exude a romantic feelingwwhich is peerhaps only hampered today by the constant infllux of tourists.