Category Archives: France

France: Paris Landmarks

Notre Dame
Notre Dame

Notre Dame de Paris, also known as Notre Dame Cathedral or simply Notre Dame, is a historic Roman Catholic Marian cathedral in Paris, France. Widely considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture and among the largest and most well-known church in the world ever built.

Notre Dame de Paris is often reputed to be one of the most prominent examples of Gothic architecture in both France and in Europe as a whole, and the naturalism of its sculptures and stained glass are in contrast with earlier Romanesque architecture. The first period of construction was from 1163 into 1240′s, and was finally completed by 1345.

The cathedral suffered desecration during the radical phase of the French Revolution in the 1790s, when much of its religious imagery was damaged or destroyed. An extensive restoration supervised by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc removed remaining decoration, returning the cathedral to an ‘original’ gothic state.

She has witnessed centuries of events in French History flow past her including the in French Revolution along, with the waters of the River Seine.  Its famous gargoyles, supposed there to guard against evil spirits, have suffered from years of history.

The great Paris Cathedral has seen crusaders and kings praying within her walls before going off to battle.

It was here in 1431 King Henry VI of England was crowned King of France, and Napoleon was crowned emperor to the backdrop of an 8,000 pipe Grand Organ.

Sacre Coeur
Sacre Coeur

The inspiration for Sacre Coeur’s design, rose from the decades following the French Revolution between Catholics and Royalists on one side, and democrats, secularists, socialists and radicals on the other side.  This fine building is dedicated to those who lost their lives in battle.

Paul Abadie was commissioned to design the Basilica of Sacre Coeur, and the foundation stone was laid on 16thJune 1875 at the summit of Montmarte.

The Basilica of Sacre Coeur is built of travertine stone quarried at the Chateau-Landon (Seine-et-Marne), France.  The stone is known to constantly exude calcite, which ensures that the Basilica of Sacre Coeur remains white at all times, no amount of weathering or pollution would change its colour.

The grounds include a garden set aside for meditation, with a fountain.  The top of the dome affords a spectacular view of the city of Paris.

The pipe organ built by Aristide Cavaille-Coll was composed of 109 ranks, 78 speaking stops spread across four 61 note manuals and a 32 note pedal board was installed in 1905.

Sadly Paul Adadie never lived long enough to see the completion of the Basilica of Sacre Coeur, for he died in 1884.  Honore Daumet (1884-1886), Jean-Charles Laisne (1886-1891), Henri-Pierre-Marie Rauline (1891-1904), Lucien Magne (1904-1916) and Jean-Louis Hulot (1916-1924), continued his work through the years to its completion.  Basilica of Sacre Coeur was formerly dedicated in 1919, after World War I.

Construction costs came in at seven million French Francs, and paid for entirely by private funding.

Even to this day the Basilica of Sacre Coeur observes a state of silence, as much as possible, so as not to disturb people who attend this place in pilgrimage.

(The word Basilica refers to said building being a Catholic Pilgrimage site).

Eiffel Tower by A.G. Photographe
Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower is probably Europe’s best known landmark and one of Paris’s most famous landmarks.  This world famous structure can be seen from all parts of the city, as the tower rises some 300 meters (984 ft), into the skyline.

The Eiffel Tower was built for the World Exhibition in 1889, held in celebration of the French Revolution of 1789. Originally built to last the duration of the World Exhibition, has remained part of its skyline ever since.Who could imagine Paris without the Eiffel Tower, in fact it has become the symbol of the City of Light.

The man behind the Eiffel Tower was Gustave Eiffel, also known for the construction of the Statue of Liberty’siron framework.

The structure took more than two years to complete. Each one of the about 12,000 iron pieces were designed separately to give them exactly the shape needed. All pieces were prefabricated and fit together using some seven million nails.

Arc de Triomphe
Arc de Triomphe

The Arc de Triomphe in Parisis considered one of the most monumental arches, ever built.  Construction took place between  1806 and 1836.

The Arc de Triomphestands at the centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle, also known as the “Place de l’Étoile”, with its nineteenth century decorative styled sculpture.

This arch was built in honour of those who fought for France, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars.

Engraved list the names of the generals and wars.  There are inscriptions in the ground underneath the vault of the arch which include the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.  It was on 11thNovember 1923 the memorial flame was installed and since that moment, the flame has never been extinguished, making this a highly revered and patriotic site.

The Arc de Triomphestands 49.5 m (162 ft) tall, 45 m (150 ft) wide and 22 m (72 ft) deep. The vault is 29.19 m (95.8 ft) high and 14.62 m (48.0 ft) wide. The smaller vault is 18.68 m (61.3 ft) high and 8.44 m (27.7 ft) wide.

Champs Elysees


The Champs-Elysees runs 1.91km from the Palace de la Concorde in the east, with the Obelisk of Luxor to the Place Charles de Gaulle formerly the (Place de I’Etoile) in the west, the location of the Arc de Triomphe.  The Champs-Elysees ends at the Arc de Triomphe, built to honour those who died fighting for their beloved homeland of France.

The Champs-Elysees was originally nothing more than fields and market gardens, but all that changed in 1616 when Marie de Medici extended it with an avenue of trees. Then King Louis XIV had it transformed by landscape architect Andre Le Notre and completed by 1670, when it was known as the “Grand Cours”.  It did not take on the name of Champs-Elysees until 1709.

By the late 18thcentury, the Champs-Elysees had become a fashionable avenue, and in 1860 merchants formed an association to promote the avenue.  It has become one of the most famous streets for upscale shopping, with Cartier, Nike, Benetton and major stores selling top quality merchandise.

What started out as fields and market gardens has changed in all so many ways, to become one of the best known shopping avenues worldwide.

Images: Wikipedia – AG Photos – Self


France: The Louvre

Louvre at night
The Louvre

The Louvre, in its successive architectural metamorphoses, has dominated central Paris since the late 12thcentury.  Built on the city’s western edge, the original structure was gradually engulfed as the city grew.  The dark fortress of the early days was transformed into the modernised dwelling of Francoise I and later, the sumptuous palace of King Louis XIV.

During the forty-three-year reign of Philippee Auguste (1180-1223), the power and influence of the French monarchy gre considerably, both inside and outside the kingdom.  In 1190, a rampart was built around Paris, which was Europe’s biggest city at the time.  To protect the capital from the Anglo-Norman threat,   the King decided to reinforce its defences with a fortress, which came to be known as the Louvre.  It was built to the west of the city, on the banks of the River Seine.

Philippee Auguste’s fortress of 1190 was not a royal residence but a sizeable arsenal comprising of a moated quadrilateral with round bastions at each corner, and at the centre of the north and west walls, measuring some seventy-eight by seventy-two metres in size.  Defensive towers flanked the narrow gates in the south and east walls.  At the centre of this complex stood the large keep, some fifteen metres in diameter and thirty metres high.  Two inner buildings abutted the outer walls on the west and south sides.

In 1356-1358, saw the fortress increase in size, giving the additional defence, amidst the onset of the Hundred Years War with England.  Then in 1364, King Charles V converted the former fortress into a Royal Palace.

Louvre Gallery
The Gallery

From 1624, under the reigns of King Louis XIII and King Louis XIV, the building underwent major extensions.  In 1692, it became a meeting place for the artistic and intellectual, and a gallery within for antique sculptures.  This was the first step in a long road, converting the former fortress into a museum.

In 1791, following the 1789 Revolution, the Louvre continued expanding and acquiring  new collections, and in 1883 became dedicated to arts and culture, until its expansion came to an abrupt halt in 1939.

With the impending breakout of World War II in 1939, the museum closed, and collections were evacuated, with the exception of larger items.  So when the Germans invaded Paris in 1940, and the Louvre was re-opened, it was almost empty.

In 1981 by order of the French President “Francois Mitterand” remaining government departments, working out of the Louvre were moved out, making the Louvre dedicated to its activity as a museum.

In November 1983, the extensive extension and modernization of the Louvre was taken on by Chinese-American architect Leoh Ming Pei.  He was responsible for the glass pyramid which was inaugurated on 30thMarch 1989.

Then in 1993, glazed roofs covered three inner courtyards creating new displays of monumental sculptures.

The Louvre is an ever expanding museum, once built for war, now holding some of the most famous paintings, sculptures etc, for the entire world to see!

Norman History: Mary of Blois

Mary of Blois
Mary of Blois

Mary was born in Blois, France in 1136.  Her parents were Stephen of Blois and Matilda of Boulogne, the grand-daughter of St.Margaret, Queen of Scotland.  From an early age Mary’s future had been mapped out for her, she would become a child of God, and would enter the church.

From an early age she entered Stratford Convent in London, with nuns from St.Sulpice in Rennes.  Her life in the church would take a dramatic change of direction, not of her choice.  Her brother would die, and events that followed led to her abduction, and marriage.

With the death of King Henry I, Stephen quickly snatched the English crown from Empress Matilda, she being Henry’s legitimate child and designated heir.  England’s nobles backed Stephen’s actions, not wanting to be ruled by a Queen.

Some twenty years of bloodshed followed, as Stephen and Matilda took the country into a state of Civil War, each believing they be the rightful King or Queen of England.

Henry, the Count of Anjou and Matilda’s son made several unsuccessful incursions against Stephen. Finally Stephen and Henry made an agreement, upon Stephen’s death; the English crown would pass to Henry, and not Stephen’s children.  It was an admittance by Stephen that the true heir upon the death of Henry I was Matilda.

Stephen of Blois and Matilda of Boulogne were blessed with three children:

  • Eustace IV being the eldest became the Count of Boulogne, and held the title until his death in 1153.
  • William was born around 1134 and went on to marry Isabel de Warenne in 1149, heiress to William de Warenne (3rdEarl of Surrey). In 1153 became Count of Boulogne.  With clergy assistance made a deal with Henry of Anjou, by waving his rights to the English crown in return be rfecognised as the Count of Boulogne and Earl of Surrey and all lands that go with said title.
  • Mary whose holy life had started out at the convent in Stratford was moved to a new convent, founded by her parents for her at Lillechurch, Higham in Kent, a sister convent of St.Sulpice. The 1155-1158 Charter of Henry II, granted Lillechurch to Mary and her nuns, which suggested Mary held a position of authority.  Prior to 1160 Mary became the Abbess of Romsey Abbey.

Mary’s brother, William the Count of Boulogne, died in 1159 during the Siege of Toulouse, and was succeeded by his sister Mary.  Mary’s life was turned upside down, for she was a child of God, and now she was a great heiress, the Countess of Boulogne, and through her father she had a rival claim to the English throne.

Mary became a rich prize, and Mathew of Alsace, second son to the Count of Flanders, abducted her from Romsey, and forced her into marriage with him.  There was much outrage amongst the clergy, for marriage with a nun was a breach against Cannon Law.  The Pope showed his displeasure by imposing an interdict on Mathew of Alsace. In time the marriage was allowed to stand by order of the Pope following years of disapproval.

Mathew of Alsace, he who forced Mary into marriage with him, proved to be an unscrupulous husband in the eyes of Henry II.  Mathew made claim to Mortain land held by Henry II, which should have been Mary’s by right of inheritance.  An agreement was forged; Mathew would renounce any claims of his wife’s estate, that were in royal hands in return for £1000.

Mary had little love for Henry II, believing he be involved in her abduction and marriage against her will.

Mary and Mathew had two daughters: Ida and Matilda.  Mathew divorced Mary in 1170 at the request of his dying father and Emperor; Frederick Barbarossa. The aim of the divorce was to get the interdict placed on him at the time of his marriage lifted.

The interdict placed on Mathew was finally lifted by the Pope when Mary returned to convent life. Mary became a Benedictine nun at St.Austrebert, Montreuil.  She lived out the remainder of her years at the convent and died in July 1182.

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France: Maximillien de Robespierre

Maximilien de Rebespierre

Maximilien de Robespierre was born on the 6thMay 1758, in Arras, France.  His mother died in 1764, and his distraught father just wandered off, leaving him to be raised by his grandparent, along with his brothers and sisters.  He learnt at an early age, what it meant to be poor, when attending school as a charity boy.  These early years, proved to be grounding for his life in later years.

Robespierre won a scholarship to the Louis le Grand College in Paris when he was eleven, and in 1775 was selected to deliver his address in Latin, when Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette visited the school.

Having graduated with a law degree, Robespierre practised law in Arras, and his sister Charlotte kept house for him.  He gained a reputation, for representing poor clients against the rich, in his eyes justice was available for all.

It wasn’t long before he took on a public role, where he could express his views; calling for political change in the French Monarchy.  He was elected to the Estates General of the French Legislature in 1788, aged 30.

He became the people’s voice, attacking the French Monarchy and calling for democratic reforms, and opposed the death penalty and slavery.

To promote his agenda, he left government and in April of 1789 was elected to the post of President of the Jacobin political faction.  In 1790 assisted in the creation of the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen;” this was the foundation to the French Constitution.

In August of 1792, the people of Paris rose up against King Louis XVI, and Robespierre became head of the Paris delegation of the National Convention.

With his new found post, Robespierre encouraged the Parisians to rise up against the aristocracy, whilst he called for the execution of the King of France.

On the 27thJuly 1793, Robespierre was elected to the Committee of Public Safety, with virtual dictorial control over the government.

The Revolutionary government was responsible for the Reign of Terror, which would see some 300,000 enemies of the revolution arrested, and more than 17,000 executed by guillotine. Political opponents to Robespierre found themselves sent to the guillotine.

Robespierre had the power over life and death, as he continued his reign of terror.  It wasn’t long before the Revolutionary government questioned his motives…  A coalition was formed in 1794, by those revolutionaries who once believed in him, who now question his moves, and those of his immediate followers.

On the 27thJuly 1794, Robespierre and his followers were arrested, he escaped, and the National Convention declared him an outlaw.  He was re-captured at the “Hotel de Ville” in Paris.

On the 28thJuly 1794, Maximilien de Robespierre a leading voice of the French Revolution, and instigator of the Reign of Terror was executed by guillotine.

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France: Queen Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette was born a princess to Maria Theresa, Empress of Austria and Francis I, the Holy Roman Emperor on the 2ndNovember 1755 in Vienna, Austria.  It was Maria Theresa’s aim to position her children in places of power through marriage, much like Queen Victoria had done through her children.

On the 16thMay 1770, Louis-Auguste (16) the crown prince of France, marries Marie Antoinette (15) in a royal marriage, cementing an alliance between Austria and France.

In 1774, Louis XV died and Louis-Auguste ascended to the French throne as King Louis XVI (20) with his wife Marie Antoinette becoming Queen of France (19).

Some seven years had passed since their marriage, and no off-spring had been born continuing the family line.  Emperor Joseph of Austria, the Queen’s brother had to step in and offer advice. His intervention saw the birth of Marie Therese Charlotte, less than a year later.

Marie became bored with the court rituals of being a Queen, and constantly being on display.  She sought escape from this life, surrounding herself with questionable friends like; Yolande de Polignac and Therese de Lamballe.  Often lavishing them with expensive gifts and creating positions for them within her household.

It was a life of sheer pleasure; Masked Balls, Gambling, the Theatre, yet she was supposed to be a French Queen, present in Court and part of the French nobility … but she was often absent.

This young Queen, with blonde hair and astounding beauty, set fashion trends across France.  She enjoyed showing off her beauty and style, and spent outrageous amounts on her clothing.

Some envied, other’s hated Marie Antoinette for her contempt of handed down traditions of court etiquette, often interceding on Austrian causes.

Fabricated stories circulated, accusing her of affairs and sexual acts with members of the court … thus muddying her name across Paris.  One act grabbed the nation’s attention: The Diamond Necklace Affair, which would question her moral beliefs.  For it was, one Madame Lamotte, who sought a position in court.  The eligible Prince de Rohan; Cardinal of France was excluded from the Queen’s selected group of loyal friends.

A plot was orchestrated, where Lamotte posed as the Lesbian lover of Marie Antoinette, and she convinced Rohan that the Queen wanted the necklace made by Boehmer for Louis XV’s lover; Madame du Barry.  Rohan obtained the diamond necklace from Boehmer, and then passed it on to Lamotte. The charade was exposed when Boehmer asked the Queen for payment.

Both King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette were outraged at the charade.  Prince de Rohan was arrested, and the trial saw the Monarchy paraded before the nation.

In the late 1780’s France had a series of poor harvests, and those most affected were the country’s poor, peasants’ starved.

France a country with huge debts, found itself unable to repay those inherited from Louis XV.

Tragedy would strike at the heart of the French Monarchy. For it was in 1789; “The Dauphin” son of Louis and Marie died in June from a crippling and agonizing disease.

Louis called upon the Estates in May 1789, a way of gaining support from the common people, to force through much needed reforms.

The Queen wanted to preserve the right of the Monarchy, and opposed any reforms which would give the common people, more say in how France was ruled.

In July 1789 the Bastille was seized by the people.  The King could see a revolution was coming and desired not to provoke the situation. So on the 15thJuly, military troops concentrated around Paris were dispersed.

In October of 1789, tales spread through the down trodden Paris slums, of banquets at Versailles Palace whilst their loyal subjects starved.

On the 4thOctober Parisians demanded bread from the King, and he met with some to hear their grievances.  A number of women gained entrance to the palace, and ripped the Queen’s bed to shreds, as she escaped half-naked.

Situations forced upon them, they moved to Tuileries Palace in Paris, and they would come under the close scrutiny of Parisians, making them vulnerable to possible attack.

It became obvious as to who ruled France; Marie Antoinette … For she sought out assistance from abroad, to step in and restore royal authority in France.

In July of 1792, Prussian armies invaded France, and the people of Paris were warned, if any harm came to King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the invading armies would exact revenge upon them.

In August 1792, Tuileries palace was attacked by the people, and some 900 Swiss guards who protected the monarchy lost their lives.

The monarchy was abolished in 1792, which led to the imprisonment of hundreds of aristocrats, of which many lost their lives in prison.  One of these was Madame Lamballe who had returned to Paris to aid Marie Antoinette, and was hacked to death for failing to swear an oath against the Queen.

King Louis XVI and his Queen; Marie Antoinette were held at the Temple Fortress to await their fate. In December of 1792, Louis was brought before the National Convention on the charge of treason and found guilty. On the 21stJanuary 1793, he was executed on the guillotine.

Over the next two years, hundreds of aristocrats and people of France would face tribunals and be executed on the guillotine.  In September of 1793, Marie Antoinette was moved to the Conciergerie Prison, where she was under constant guard in solitary confinement.

On the 14thOctober, she faced the Revolutionary Tribunal, and found guilty and executed by guillotine on the 16thOctober.

The bodily remains of Marie Antoinette were buried in an unmarked grave, and so ended the life of the Queen of France, the former Princess of Austria aged 38.

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France: King Louis XVI


LouisXVI of France

Louis Auguste de France, was born on the 23rdAugust 1754 at the Palace of Versailles, to parents, Louis, Dauphin of France and Marie – Josephe of Saxony, daughter of Frederick Augustus II and King of Poland.

Louis life was to fall apart, as his older brother and heir apparent, Louis duc de Bourgogne, died in 1761. This was followed up on the 20thDecember 1765, with the death of his father, and his mother on the 13thMarch 1767.

In May 1770 Louis Auguste de France, took the fourteen-year-old Habsburg Archduchess Maria Antonia (Marie Antoinette) as his bride, in an arranged marriage.  She being the daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and Empress Maria Teresa.

The couple were blessed with four children; Marie-Therese, Louis-Joseph, Louis-Charles and Sophie Beatrix, of which only Marie-Therese lived beyond childhood.

On the 10thMay 1774, Louis Auguste became Louis XVI of France, with the death of his grandfather; Louis XV.

Louis was never expected to be king of France, he lacked self confidence and strength of character to rule a country.

When Louis came to the throne, the royal coffers were empty, the country was in debt, and his citizens showed little respect towards the monarchy.

In the early part of his reign, he supported American colonies desire for Independence, against France’s enemy; Great Britain.  Of course was has to be paid for, which meant taking out international loans.  As much as he was advised by his finance minister’s to raise or impose taxes upon his citizens, it was never passed.  Nobility and his Queen had forced him to dismiss such an idea.

By June of 1789, the Third Estate declared itself as the National Assembly, and aligned itself with the Bourgeoisie, and proposed to set out a new constitution.

Louis XVI resisted such changes, declaring the Assembly was void, and called out the army to restore order. Public dissension grew, and a national guard was created to resist the use of the army against its people.

In July of 1789, Louis XVI had no choice, and had to acknowledge the National Assembly’s authority.

On the 14thJuly 1789, riots broke out across Paris, and the Bastille Prison was attacked in a show of defiance, towards the King.

Louis believed the Revolution would burn itself out.  Publicly he stood up, promising reforms he had no intention in keeping, and accepting his post as the constitutional monarch.  He resisted changes, on bad advice from hard line nobles and his Queen; Marie Antoinette.

On the 6thOctober 1789, Louis and his family were removed by force from Versailles Palace to Tuileries Palace in Paris.

Louis and his family attempted to escape from Paris for the eastern frontier in the June of 1791, under the cover of darkness, but the alarm was raised.  They were captured at Varennes and brought back to Paris as prisoners.

War broke out with Austria in the April of 1792, and Louis hoped for defeat, paving the way for the restoration of his authority.

Suspicions of treason, against France led to the suspension of the King’s powers, and on the 21stSeptember 1792, Louis and his family were charged with treason.

King Louis XVI was brought to trial on charges of conspiracy with foreign powers in the January of 1793. He was found guilty by the National Assembly and sentenced to death.

Execution of Louis XVI

On the 21stJanuary 1793, King Louis XVI walked to the guillotine, and was executed in the Palace de la Revolution in Paris.

On the 13thJuly 1793, Louis-Charles was taken from his mother, and imprisoned, where he is believed to have died.

Some nine months later, Queen Marie Antoinette was convicted of treason by a tribunal, and executed by guillotine on the 16thOctober 1793.

Marie-Therese was released from prison in December of 1795, into the custody of her mother’s family in Austria.

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