Today was one of the days where everything fell nicely into place. We planned our day around spending the morning on the Isle de la Citie and the afternoon at the Louvre. It all worked very well.
We were welcomed warmly at breakfast by the restaurant manager who remembered us from yesterday and had the same round table ready for the five of us. I was rather hungry after a light dinner on the previous night and I enjoyed much of the whole range of food on offer.
To get to the Isle de la Citie, (an island in the middle off the Seine that has traditionally been the centre of government for Paris) we had to change trains at one station but the notices on the train we caught from our hotel were showing that it was closed for renovations. We didn’t know what other route we could follow, but fortunately it turned out that the trains were running and our plans were OK. When we reached Citie Station we found ourselves pretty much in the middle of the island. The station was marked by one of the beautiful old fashioned signs that have largely disappeared over time.
It was only a short walk around to our first destination – the chapel of St Chappelle that is located in the grounds of the Palais de Justice (Paris Central Court). Right across the road from the entrance is the police headquarters and it happened that a few hundred recruits were graduating as police officers. There were convoys of senior officers arriving with motor cycle escorts and then the street was full of young officers heading back home by bus. It was a bit exciting but it made the traffic very busy. I made two observations about these young officers. Most of the men had well trimmed beards and they were all short statured people. The women were consistent with all having their hair done up in tight buns. (They didn’t have beards though!)
The Sainte-Chapelle (or Holy Chapel) is a royal chapel in a Gothic style, within the medieval Palais de la Cité, the residence of the Kings of France until the 14th century.
Construction began some time after 1238 and the chapel was consecrated on 26 April 1248. It is considered among the highest achievements of the Rayonnant period of Gothic architecture. It was commissioned by King Louis IX of France to house his collection of Passion relics, including Christ’s Crown of Thorns—one of the most important relics in medieval Christendom, now hosted in Notre-Dame Cathedral.
There must have been a lot of con-men who travelled the world selling religious relics at the end of the middle ages. This place is reported to have the crown of thorns from Jesus’ crucifixion, Turin is reputed to have the shroud and a shrine in Istanbul, that we once visited, has Moses’ shtick. These floggers of artefacts were either very good talkers, or the church at that time wee very gullible. I am a bit more cynical as to the origin of objects such as these.
The royal chapel is a prime example of the phase of Gothic architectural style called “Rayonnant” that is marked by its sense of weightlessness and strong vertical emphasis. It stands squarely upon a lower chapel, which served as parish church for all the inhabitants of the palace, and is now the entry area and ticket office.
The most famous features of the chapel, among the finest of their type in the world, are the great stained glass windows. These stand out because the stone walls are reduced to little more than a delicate framework. Fifteen huge mid-13th-century windows fill the nave and apse, while a large rose window dominates the western wall.
A short walk took us to our second destination, Notre-Dame Cathedral. It is one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture with its design incorporating rib vaults and flying buttress that I remember learning about in school. It has some enormous and colourful rose windows.
Construction began in 1160 and was largely completed by 1260, though it was modified frequently in the following centuries. In the 1790s, Notre-Dame suffered desecration during the French Revolution when much of its religious imagery was damaged or destroyed. Soon after the publication of Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1831, popular interest in the building revived. A major restoration project began in 1845 and continued for twenty-five years. Beginning in 1963, the facade of the Cathedral was cleaned of centuries of soot and grime, returning it to its original color. Another campaign of cleaning and restoration was carried out from 1991-2000.
In a way, it’s a good time of year to visit here. Whilst it’s cool (but not freezing) the crowds are light and the queues are short. We haven’t had a wait for entry to any of the places we have visited so far. The interior of this cathedral is enormous but it is quite dark and imposing. There are some Christmas decorations and a very elaborate model of the Nativity although we couldn’t see the baby Jesus anywhere! He’s either been nicked or perhaps just fallen off Mary’s knee.
I searched for a memorial that I seen once before ands finally found it on a pillar on the right hand side of the cathedral. It recognises the contribution of the British Empire (of which Australia was then a part) in WW1.
Just near the Cathedral is the Hotel Dieu (French for the ‘Hospice of God’). It is a leading hospital in Paris with a very active emergency department. The current building was built in the 1800’s but the original hospice on this site was established in 660. It has an impressive medial history with lots of famous French doctors having practiced here.
By now, it was about 2.30 in the afternoon and time to head on to our final place for the day – The Louvre. Jill and I caught a taxi while.Cathy and the girls went on the train via the Hotel de Ville and a little Christmas market.
I had once visited the Louvre and one of the party that I was then with had a guide to seeing the outstanding art pieces in just a couple of hours. After a bit of searching, I found a similar guide on the internet and it was a very valuable guide to follow. It was in the form of ‘walk this way, take the second door on the right, look out the window and stand in front of this or that’.
We followed the guide seeing, amongst other things, the Sphinx, Winged Victory, Venus de Milo and of course the Mona Lisa. The tour ended in a giant hall filled with enormous paintings by French artists. Looking at enormity of this building, a previous royal palace, with all its excesses of design and wealth, its is not at all hard to understand why the Fresh Revolution took place.
There is a bistro right next our hotel and it was a good place for us all to have dinner together. It was creatively done in a tropical theme. We ate quickly to avoid little Violet falling asleep at the table.