Gadget by The Blog Doctor.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Europe 08 Paris Day 2

The cost of the the tour of Europe includes many city tours.

This morning we took the included Paris city tour. As in all of the city tours a group of local guides were provided. We traveled around Paris with the blue bus group and guide. We saw many of the major sights of Paris and our guide filled us in on the history of Paris and of the major landmarks. As the Tour Eiffel was near our hotel we drove past it first. We drove the full length of the Champs Elysees (from Place de la Concorde to Arc de Triumph), and also saw: Hotel des Invilides, Madelaine, L'Opera, Louvre, Musee D'Orsee, and Notre Dame. We alighted the bus at Notre Dame and went of a walking tour around the Cathedral and then went inside. We came across more gypsy scammers, and this is where I finally tired of them and swore at one of them.

The facade of Notre Dame is world famous, but I find the view from the back even more interesting. I remember in school art classes studying Gothic architecture. The architects attempted to build high walls with plenty of glass, but such constructions (before the age of steel) required buttressing from outside. Notre Dame has buttresses that support the wall half way up and others that "fly" near to the top. They are called flying buttresses, and to my eye look surprisingly modern. They can be seen in the photo below. The last time that we were in Paris the read portion of the cathedral was covered in scaffolding, so I was pleased to get an unobstructed view this time.

After about an hour we returned to the bus and continued the tour. Margaret and I left the bus at Place de la Trocedoro. We had a pleasant lunch at a restaurant called La Malakoff watching people walking around the square and the traffic negotiating the roundabout.

The square makes an excellent vantage point to view the Eiffel Tower. We walked home via the Tower. In the afternoon we had a rest in preparation for our evening tour to Monmatre. It is possible that we needed a rest as jet lag was at last kicking in.

The Monmatre tour was one of the additional ones that cost extra, but it was well worth the money.

We were bussed to Monmatre, on its hill in Northern Paris. On the way we passed the famous Moulin Rouge. Busses can't drive up the narrow Monmatre streets so we took a "train" somewhat reminiscent of the "trains" that take kids for rides in shopping centres.

Montmartre has been known for its many artists since 1880. Until 1873, when the Sacré-Coeur was built on top of the hill, Montmartre was a small village, inhabited by a mostly farming community. It still retains a village like atmosphere, with many restaurants, shops and artists ready to draw eager tourists - for a price.

We followed the guide as she took us on a walking tour of the narrow cobbled streets. The highlight, of cause, was the basilica. I had seen many photos and drawings of it but was not prepared for its grandeur, "in real life". The cupola is 83 metres high, and its position on the Monmatre hill makes it even more spectacular. It is a mix of styles generally described as Roman - Byzantine.

The reasons for the building of Sacre Coeur are somewhat controversial. Although the idea had been around for some time in ultra-Catholic and royalist circles it gained considerable ground after the disaster of the Franco-Prussian war and the Paris Commune. An article in Wikipedia notes:

Though today it is asserted to be dedicated in honor of the 58,000 who lost their lives during the war, the decree of the Assemblée nationale, 24 July 1873, responding to a request by the archbishop of Paris by voting its construction, specifies that it is to "expiate the crimes of the communards"[2]. Montmartre had been the site of the Commune's first insurrection, and many hard-core communards were forever entombed in the subterranean galleries of former gypsum mines where they had retreated, by explosives detonated at the entrances by the Army of Versailles. Hostages had been executed on both sides, and the Communards had executed Georges Darboy, Archbishop of Paris, who became a martyr for the resurgent Catholic Church. His successor Guibert, climbing the Butte Montmartre in October 1872, was reported to have had a vision, as clouds dispersed over the panorama: "It is here, it is here where the martyrs are,[3] it is here that the Sacred Heart must reign so that it can beckon all to come".[4]

The Monmatre hill was a difficult location to build such a large construction and it was not completed until 1914, and not consecrated until 1919 after the war. By then a much larger disaster had occurred so the original reasons for building it were not particularly important.

After dinner in a creperie we returned to the front of the basilica. There were many people sitting on the steps, listening to a guitarist, as can be seen in the photograph below. Margaret stayed there while I reentered the basilica.

I returned to Sacre Coeur because of the awesome beauty of the interior. In yesterday's post I made comment in relation to the Louvre that architecture should be judged by its utility and beauty both inside and outside. Although I was aware of the beauty of Sacre Coeur exterior I was unprepared for its overwhelming interior. It is a very large open space with a huge mural on the cupola. The taking of photographs inside was not allowed. I found the photo below after an extensive Internet search. It gives some sense of the interior but falls far short of its breathtaking size and awe inspiring atmosphere.

One of the issues that would recur during the following month was the "meeting point" and time for leaving. The second reason that we returned to the basilica was that it was near the meeting point. We didn't want to be late.

We returned to the lower areas of Monmatre via a funicular railway, and walked back to the bus past many brightly lit shop windows.

We returned to the Hotel by a circuitous route taking many of the major sights under floodlight.

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