Paris’ story has evolved with its time. Its remarkably diverse architectural styles transport visitors through France’s historical milestones, art and lifestyles. Whether you are looking to admire the timeless landmarks or discover bold masterpieces of modern architecture, you’ll find everything you want in the city.
Paris historical, Paris modern
The Eiffel Tower: Paris’ Iron Lady
The most iconic symbol of Paris was:
- Meant to be temporary and removed after twenty years.
- Hated! Yes! Believe it or not, when Gustave Eiffel’s Eiffel Tower was first erected in 1889 as part of the World Fair, many people thought it was unimaginably ugly, gasping in horror at the sight of it.
However, as history showed, it’s in the French DNA to hate and love in equal proportion. Maupassant couldn’t bear the tower but, interestingly, always had breakfast at the tower’s restaurant arguing that it was the only place in town where he didn’t actually see the Eiffel Tower! Evidently, Gustave Eiffel however, loved his tower so much so that he built himself a cozy little apartment on the third floor, where he would hold private meeting with the science elite. Exorbitant sums of money were later offered to Eiffel for his flat but he never agreed to sell it.
Notre Dame de Paris: from unloved to worshipped
Notre Dame is the heart of Paris as indicated by the Point Zero metal plate embedded on the cathedral’s square. Located on Île de la Cité, Notre Dame de Paris has been overlooking the banks of the Seine for more than 850 years and while the famous cathedral is worshipped today, it wasn’t always loved and taken care of. During the French Revolution, it was even turned into a food and wine warehouse! Yet, despite centuries of neglect, wars and revolutions, it still stands proud. In 1802, Napoleon restored the cathedral and was therein crowned Emperor of the French two years later. Then, thanks to the incredible rise in the cathedral’s popularity after Victor Hugo’s novel Notre-Dame de Paris, additional restoration work took place. The 2019 fire is just another episode from which the cathedral will come out even more impressive and beautiful.
The Louvre: a mix of history and modernity
Nowhere is the harmony between the ancient and the contemporary more evident than at the Louvre. Its striking glass pyramid reflects the beautiful building, originally built as a fortress in 1190. 800 years later, newly elected French president, Francois Mitterrand, commissioned architect IM Pei to revamp the museum. He came up with the idea of creating a new entrance in the middle of the courtyard topped by a steel and glass pyramid built in the same proportions as the famous Pyramid of Giza. The structure would bring light to the underground extension. Unsurprisingly the project drew harsh criticisms and was seen as an architectural joke.
Today, the Louvre along with its pyramid is the most visited museum in the world with approximately ten million visitors a year.
Beaubourg : a combination of art and oddity
Centre Georges Pompidou is a symbol of the 20th century modern architecture. It houses the largest museum of modern art in Europe and is also an artistic and music research center. The exterior displays an “inside out” design featuring all of its internal facilities – brightly colored tubes, pipework, glass elevators and mechanical systems – on its façade. The top floor offers some of the best views over Paris.
Grand Palais: the glory of French art
The 1900 World’s Fair saw the birth of the beautiful Grand Palais upon the Avenue des Champs Elysées in Paris. The building was constructed with stone, steel and glass. To construct its incredible glass roof, more than 8 500 tons of steel were required, more metal than for the Eiffel Tower. To this day, Grand Palais’ glass roof is the largest in Europe. The grand staircase, with its wrought-iron structure, mosaic floor and limestone steps, is a masterpiece of Art Nouveau style. The venue sought to become home to fine art exhibitions and events. It never failed to do so except during WWI when the monument was requisitioned to serve a period as a military hospital.
Paris peculiar, Paris picturesque
Nicolas Flamel’s house
Built in 1407 and believed to be the oldest stone house in Paris, this is where Flamel is said to have carried out his experiments in alchemy and where many believe he discovered the mysteries of the Philosopher’s Stone. While there is no evidence Flamel did actually participate in any such activities, the house is however a plunge into medieval Paris which is arguably just as fascinating.
A dispute over the smallest house
Many believe that the tiny house located at 13 Quai Voltaire and overlooking the river Seine is the narrowest building in Paris. However, the smallest house in Paris is to be found in the 10th arrondissement, rue du château d’eau. The micro building measures 1, 10 meters wide, five meters high and is tucked away between two buildings on a bustling street, opposite the Town Hall of the district.
This little space was originally a passage way between two streets and in fact, proved a bone of contention as to who should own the rights of access to the passageway. In order to end the endless disputes, it was decided to fill the gap with a new property, leaving nothing to argue about.
The red Pagoda: a Chinese palace in Paris
The Pagoda is somewhat of an anomaly in Paris’ Haussmann’s architectural style. In 1925, collector and dealer Ching Tsai Loo purchased what used to be a standard house in the French Louis Philippe style. In order to showcase his incredible collection of Asian antiques, he undertook massive transformation work and turned the house into a Chinese Pagoda, inside out, literally. It is impossible to miss its red façade and sloping roof as it clearly clashes with the 19th century architecture surrounding it.
Paris Art Nouveau
Paris and its relationship to Art Nouveau
The Art Nouveau movement of architecture and design flourished in Paris from about 1895 to 1914, reaching its high point at the 1900 Paris World Fair. With its organic features inspired by nature, Art Nouveau aimed at modernizing and breaking free from the linear, restrictive forms of classical art, architecture and design. Hence, the architects of Art Nouveau invigorated the Haussmannian monotony with an infusion of movement and color. It was in Paris that this burgeoning style found a home at the Maison de l’Art Nouveau – adopting its name. Paris is home to stunning examples of art nouveau architecture which can be found everywhere from grand museums, hotels, metro entrances or doorways.
The remarkable work of art at Galeries Lafayette
At the heart of Galeries Lafayette lies an architectural masterwork: “la coupole”, listed as a Historical Monument. On the 8th of October 1912, the Great Hall of Galeries Lafayette is inaugurated. 43 meters above ground level, a beautiful steel-framed glass Art Nouveau cupola tops the hall and a stunning sweeping staircase. To support it, ten concrete pillars linked by arches form loggias, all with a wrought iron balcony overlooking the hall. The center of the cupola is topped by a small dome adorned with colored stained-glass panes. Balconies and ceiling are decorated with carved and painted floral patterns, one of the distinctive signatures of Art Nouveau.
The creation of this masterpiece, along with the remarkable three branched theatrical staircase, was appointed to the best Art Nouveau artists from the School of Nancy. Made from bronze, forged iron, printed iron plate, paint and gold, the fantastic French Art Nouveau stairs took shoppers from ground floor to first. Unfortunately, the staircase, occupying too much valuable retail space, was dismantled in 1974 and replaced with escalators. You can still see a section of it, quietly watching, by the elevators.
When visiting Galeries Lafayette, don’t forget to look up!