The Palace of Versailles was originally the hunting lodge of France’s King Louis XIII, but was transformed into a magnificent residence by his son and successor, Louis XIV.
The ostentatious monarch built the Grand Apartment of the King and Queen which included the magnificent Hall of Mirrors before moving both his court and the government of France to Versailles in 1682. And so it remained until the French Revolution in 1789.
In the 19th Century King Louis-Philippe turned it into the Museum of the History of France. The gardens of the Palace of Versailles, designed by André Le Nôtre at the instruction of Louis XIV, are equally spectacular and took forty years to complete.
There are numerous places to visit at the Palace of Versailles and a range of tour options. Audio headsets are available as are guided tours. When visiting the Palace of Versailles, you can also see Marie Antoinette’s estate and The Grande Trianon …
Les Invalides was originally built by the order of Louis XIV as a hospital and home for ailing soldiers. This order was given on 24 November 1670, the building designed by architect Liberal Bruant and Les Invalides was completed in 1676. In fact Les Invalides still operates as an institution for war veterans, under the name Institution Nationale des Invalides.
Following its initial construction, several further additions were made to Les Invalids, including a chapel in 1679 and the striking Dome Church or ‘Église du Dôme’, which incorporates the royal chapel built by Louis XIV and completed in 1706.
One of the most significant dates in the history of Les Invalides was when the body of the Emperor Napoleon I (Napoleon Bonaparte) was brought there on December 15th 1840. His tomb, which was completed in 1861, remains there today and is housed in the Dome Church.
Les Invalides is made up of several buildings and now stands as the largest complex of monuments in Paris, including its comprehensive military museum, Musée de l’Armée.
Les Invalides operates numerous types of tours, including those specifically dealing with historical, cultural or artistic issues. There is even a tour dedicated entirely to Napoleon. The multimedia presentation on the life of Charles de Gaulle is also worth seeing …
Notre Dame Cathedral (Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Paris) is a gothic cathedral in Paris’s fourth arrondissement.
Original construction began in 1163, with the first stone supposedly laid in the presence of Pope Alexander III. At this time, it was the project of the bishop of Paris, Maurice de Sully who built it as a religious focal point in the city dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the original “Lady of Paris” or “Notre Dame de Paris”.
Notre Dame Cathedral has since undergone numerous building and refurbishment campaigns, with several religious, political and royal leaders determined to leave their mark on this impressive building. It was also necessary to rebuild parts of it following the French Revolution, when much of Notre Dame and its religious artifacts were destroyed.
Notre Dame Cathedral is still an operating church, but visitors are also welcome to tour the building and appreciate both its beauty and sheer size. Some of the highlights at Notre Dame include its stained glass windows, gothic architecture and many sculptures.
Free tours are conducted throughout the year, Monday to Friday at 2 and 3pm (except the first Friday of the month and every Friday during Lent) as well as Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30pm.
The nearby tower outside the cathedral is also worth a visit. Dating back to the 13th century, it houses the 17th Century Emmanuel Bell as well as Viollet-le-Duc’s 19th century chimera and gargoyles. Those feeling particularly fit can climb its 387 steps for magnificent views.
Also recommended is the archeological crypt just to the west of Notre Dame Cathedral and located under the Parvis. This underground crypt was built to protect ancient ruins found in 1965 and can be accessed via a staircase opposite Notre Dame Cathedral, near the Police Headquarters.
Finally, Notre Dame’s Treasury houses some of the relics of the Passion of Christ including the famous Crown of Thorns …
Sainte Chapelle or the “Holy Chapel” is a gothic church built by Saint Louis in Ile de la Cité in the centre of Paris.
The construction of Sainte Chapelle began in 1246 under the orders of King Louis IX, and was carried out with the specific purpose of housing the relics of the Passion of Christ, including the Crown of Thorns and a fragment of the true cross. In fact, even by the time Sainte Chapelle was consecrated on 26 April 1248, at a cost of 40,000 livres, this expense paled in comparison to the 135,000 livres which these relics cost when bought from the Byzantine emperor Baldwin II.
The relics are now housed in the Treasury at the Notre Dame Cathedral, but there are still many attractions in Sainte Chapelle. With its two impressive upper and lower chapels and imposing gothic architecture, Sainte Chapelle a top tourist attraction.
Audio tours are available guiding visitors through and explaining the significance of its colourful stained glass windows and statues. In particular, the windows at Sainte Chapelle depict over a thousand images relating to the Old Testament and the Passion of Christ …
Pere Lachaise Cemetery (Cimetière du Père-Lachaise) was established by Napoleon I in 1804. Originally considered to be too far from the main city, Pere Lachaise Cemetery initially attracted few funerals, but following a marketing campaign and the transfer of the remains of French philosopher Pierre Abélard in 1817, its popularity grew and it soon gained over 33,000 residents.
From singer Edith Piaf, novelist Marcel Proust and impressionist painter Camille Pissarro to playwright Oscar Wilde, an array of famous figures are buried there today. One of the most popular graves at Pere Lachaise Cemetery is that of The Doors’ front man Jim Morrison, probably attracting the largest number of visitors, but all of the graves are fascinating, including those of the regular citizens.
Pere Lachaise Cemetery is also the home of the Mur des Fédérés or ‘Communards Wall’ where 147 of the working class defenders of Belleville or ‘Communards’ were shot on 28 May 1871 as part of the ‘Bloody Week’. This is also surrounded by monuments to concentration camp victims from the Holocaust.
Maps are available to buy at the entrance, but you can also use the directories on the grounds. Overall, Pere Lachaise Cemetery is a peaceful and interesting way to spend an afternoon …
The Catacombs of Paris (Les Catacombes de Paris) came into use as a burial place for Parisian bones in the eighteenth century following the overpopulation of Parisian cemeteries and the closure of the Cemetery of Innocents (Les Innocents).
The Catacombs are underground quarries encompassing a portion of Paris’ old mines near Place Denfert-Rochereau and, at the time, were outside the city gates. The official decision to use the quarries was made on 9 November 1785 and they were blessed on 7 April 1786, following which bones from the Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs cemetery were moved there. Further remains were amassed at the Catacombs of Paris over the years, including those who died in several riots during the French Revolution. Overall, approximately six million human skeletons lie within the Catacombs of Paris.
A fascinating, unusual and somewhat haunting tourist attraction, The Catacombs of Paris are well worth a visit for those who are not claustrophobic or easily spooked. A tour of the Catacombs takes approximately an hour and involves climbing 83 steps …
The Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel) is an imposing iron monument on Paris’ Champ de Mars by the river Seine.
The Eiffel Tower was built between 1887 and 1889 based on the design of engineer Gustave Eiffel, after whom the tower was named. In fact Eiffel’s design was chosen out of 107 other proposals as part of a competition to create an iron structure as the entrance way to Paris’ Universal Exhibition World Fair or ‘Exposition Universelle’. The intention was to mark the centennial of the French Revolution.
Work on the 15 metre foundations began on 26 January 1887 and the Eiffel Tower was inaugurated on 31 March 1889 when Eiffel himself climbed the Tower’s 1,710 steps and planted the French flag at its peak.
At that time, the Eiffel Tower’s 312 metres in height made it the tallest building in the world, only eclipsed in 1929 with the construction of New York’s Chrysler Building. Today the Eiffel Tower is 324 metres tall due to the later addition of antennas, making it the tallest building in Paris and the fifth tallest in the world.
The Eiffel Tower is a tourist hotspot and visitors can climb or use the lifts to reach the first or second floors, the latter of which is 115 metres high. The most expansive views can be found on the Eiffel Tower’s third level at 276 metres, which has its own separate lift from the second floor. A backstage tour is available, which details the workings of the Eiffel Tower and its history …
The Pantheon in Paris (Le Pantheon), was built as a result of King Louis XV’s determination to create an edifice to the glory of St-Genèvieve, the patron saint of Paris.
“The Pantheon” means “Every God” and construction began in 1758 with the intention that the building be a church. However, it was completed just before the French Revolution in 1789 and the revolutionary government converted The Pantheon into a mausoleum for the interment of great Frenchmen.
The Pantheon’s crypt is now the burial place of many French icons and bears the inscription ‘Aux Grands Hommes La Patrie Reconnaissante’, meaning “To the great men, the grateful homeland”.
Those buried there include Rousseau, Émile Zola, Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Jean Moulin, Marie SkÅ‚odowska-Curie, and the architect of the Pantheon Jacques-Germain Soufflot. In fact, Soufflot died before the Pantheon was completed, meaning that his vision of a semi-gothic building with elements of basic principals was somewhat compromised.
Guided tours of the Pantheon are available and last approximately 45 minutes …
The Arc de Triomphe in Paris is a 162 foot monumental arch in the centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle. It was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806, shortly following his victory at Austerlitz, with the aim of commemorating French soldiers, particularly those who fought in the Napoleonic Wars …
Historial de la Grande Guerre (the Museum of the Great War) in Peronne, France is dedicated to exploring the social and cultural effects of the First World War. Based near the site of the Battle of the Somme, Historial de la Grande Guerre offers an in-depth insight into World War I from the perspective of the soldiers who fought in it and the civilians whom it affected …