The Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile is one of the most famous monuments in Paris, standing at the western end of the Champs-Élysées at the center of Place Charles de Gaulle, formerly named Place de l’Étoile, the étoile or “star” of the juncture formed by its twelve radiating avenues. The Arc de Triomphe honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. The Arc is located on the right bank of the Seine at the centre of a dodecagonal configuration of twelve radiating avenues. It was commissioned in 1806 after the victory at Austerlitz by Emperor Napoleon at the peak of his fortunes. Laying the foundations alone took two years and, in 1810, when Napoleon entered Paris from the west with his bride Archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria, he had a wooden mock-up of the completed arch constructed. The architect, Jean Chalgrin, died in 1811 and the work was taken over by Jean-Nicolas Huyot. During the Bourbon Restoration, construction was halted and it would not be completed until the reign of King Louis-Philippe, between 1833 and 1836, by the architects Goust, then Huyot, under the direction of Héricart de Thury.
Boxes are an invention that probably predates recorded history, but were certainly present after the Neolithic revolution with a more sedentary lifestyle. By the Middle Ages every home had at least one chest given as part of the bride’s dowry. The chests in the Middle Ages were usually pretty simple affairs but that all changed in the Renaissance. The emergence of a wealthy merchant class meant that the the chest had to be more ornate, more expensive and bigger. The cassone (“large chest”) was one of the trophy furnishings of rich merchants and aristocrats in Italian culture, from the Late Middle Ages onward. The cassone was the most important piece of furniture of that time. It was given to a bride and placed in the bridal suite. It would be given to the bride during the wedding, and it was the bride’s parents’ contribution to the wedding. The casson pictured above would have been an extravagant wedding gift. I have collected photos of a number of beautiful chests and cabinets from around the world, from different time periods and I will show them here along with some very interesting history.
“Venus figurine” is an umbrella term for a number of prehistoric statuettes of women portrayed with similar physical attributes. “Venus figurine” is the name given to a nearly universal type of art, appearing first in the Upper Paleolithic period between 31,000 and 9,000 years ago. Archaeologically they are known from the earliest horizons of the Aurignacian (37,000 to 27,000 years ago) and extend to the end of the Magdalenian (17,000 to 12,000 years ago). Venus figurines have been found in Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Austria, Germany, Czechoslovakia, the Ukraine, and as far east as Lake Baikal in Siberia. In appearance most are plump little creatures with exaggerated female characteristics: large breasts, thighs and buttocks. These figurines were carved from soft stone (such as steatite, calcite or limestone), bone or ivory, or formed with clay and fired. Most of them are roughly diamond-shaped, with two tapering terminals at top (head) and bottom (legs) and the widest point in the middle (hips/belly). Although the typical Venus figurine is traditionally assumed to be a voluptuous female, men, children, and animals are also depicted. Venus figurines have been found throughout Europe and Asia at sites such as Willendorf (Austria), Brassempouy (France), Hohle Fels (Germany) and Dolni Vestonice (Czech Republic). There are many different interpretations of the figurines, but like many prehistoric artifacts, the cultural meaning of these artifacts may never be known. The Venus of Brassempouy or La Dame de Brassempouy, a fragmentary ivory figurine from the Upper Palaeolithic discovered in the Grotte du Pape at Brassempouy, France in 1892, by Édouard Piette, is one of the earliest known realistic representations of a human face.
Founded in 1379, the Sainte-Chapelle (Holy Chapel), whose construction started just before the death of Charles V in 1380, was inaugurated only in 1552 under the reign of Henry II, after a long interruption of the building work starting at the beginning of 15th century. The Collège de Chanoines was set up in February 1380. The Sainte-Chapelle of Vincennes was intended to house part of the relics of the Passion, like the chapel of the Palais de la Cité in Paris. Through the construction of the Sainte-Chapelle, Charles V wished to turn Vincennes into a second capital of the kingdom, alongside the Palais de la Cité in Paris. The traditional old Parisian palace remained but, at Vincennes, in an appropriate and grandiose setting boldly asserting the ideology of a triumphant monarchy through its quality, opulence and décor, a new capital was envisioned but unfortunately never really realized.
This is my second post on the Château de Vincennes, the first covered the history and grounds of the outer keep or Enciente. The Chateau de Vincennes was where both Philippe III and IV were married and three kings, namely Louis X, Philippe V and Charles IV, were born there. Henry V of England also passed away in the donjon tower in 1422 following the siege of Meaux. This really gave it a place in French history and made the Chateau more than just a hunting lodge and sometime home for kings. The Chateau boasts the tallest medieval fortified structure in not only France, but in all of Europe. It is a donjon tower that was added by Philip VI (1293-1350) in 1337. It was further fortified by the addition of a circuit of rectangular walls in the early 15th century. The Royal Keep which remains today and the fortified gate house were both completed in 1369 under the auspices of Charles V (1338-1380). The keep stands 160 feet high and is the only surviving medieval royal residence in France. Each side measures 50 feet and the walls are 10 feet thick. The château was built by Charles V in response to civil unrest during the Hundred Years War. The Hundred Years' War, a series of conflicts waged from 1337 to 1453, pitted the Kingdom of England against the Valois Capetians for control of the French throne. Each side drew many allies into the fighting.
We had decided to come back to La Madeleine to visit the church and to go to Maille, the famous mustard shop. On the way, we discovered the Paris-London café right across from the flower shops of La Madeleine. This restaurant is particularly well known for cheeseburgers but the food is good for all the French classics. Not so long ago, burgers in Paris were not only few and far between, but (gasp!) shunned. Today, gourmet cheeseburgers are the latest craze in in Paris, not surprising as frites or French fries originated in France. The chef at Paris-London, Maurice Guillouët, spent ten years with Joël Robuchon and was a chef at the Ritz. “France has excellent bakers and exceptional breads, so she is able to offer the best burger.” The restaurant was packed, with efficient service, very friendly and helpful, with a good selection of beers and wines by the glass in red and white. Guillouët uses Iberian pork belly instead of bacon, with soft cheddar cheese for a delicious sauce tartare. The result is a great gourmet cheeseburger.
We first came across La Madeleine after the Beach Boys concert, it appeared like a Roman mirage in central Paris. Madeleine Church (more formally, L'église Sainte-Marie-Madeleine; less formally, just La Madeleine) is in the 8th arrondissement, centered at the end of rue Royale. This is on a line-of-sight between Gabriel's twin hôtels in the Place de la Concorde to the square established in 1755, as Place Louis XV. The Eglise de la Madeleine is situated between Place de la Concorde and the Palais Garnier opera house, in Haussmannian Paris. Its construction started in 1764 and was finished in 1842. Its appearance is not typical of a religious building, in the form of a Greek temple without any crosses or bell-towers. Its 52 Corinthian columns, each 20 meters (66 feet) high, are carried around the entire building. Napoleon wanted it to be a pantheon in honor of his armies. Inside, there are sculpture, paintings and the famous neo-Byzantine mosaic created by Charles-Joseph Lameire. The magnificent church organ was designed by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. Throughout the year, both day and night, the church holds quality classical music concerts.
As I mentioned in the previous post, we visited Dijon on a Tuesday, the one day of the week when the museums are closed. We wandered through the medieval center of town and came upon the western façade of Notre-Dame de Dijon. As you can see from the picture above, the streets near the church are narrow and there is really no plaza. Before the second half of the 12th century, the site of today's Notre-Dame was occupied by a simple chapel, the chapelle Sainte-Marie, which was outside the city walls. Around 1150, this chapel was rebuilt in the Romanesque style. Then beginning around 1220, the people of Dijon built the Gothic church we see today on this site. It was located in the middle of a popular quarter, so there was a lack of space for the building. All the weight of the framing and the roof rests on pillars rather than flying buttresses, thereby allowing the maximum floor area for the interior. The earliest archaeological finds within the city limits of Dijon date to the Neolithic period. Dijon later became a Roman settlement named Divio, located on the road from Lyon to Paris. The province was home to the Dukes of Burgundy from the early 11th until the late 15th centuries and Dijon was a place of tremendous wealth and power, one of the great European centres of art, learning and science.
We decided to take a trip to from Paris to Dijon in Burgundy. Unfortunately, we went on a Tuesday, the day most of the museums are closed. Don't make the same mistake. Nonetheless we managed to have a lovely summer day, visiting the local cathedral and the Jardin de L'Arquebuse, a lovely botanical park in the heart of Dijon. This is actually a famous botanical garden with 4,000 plant species with an emphasis on the flora of Bourgogne. Its collections include a systematic collection (3,352 taxa), regional flora of Bourgogne (1,423 taxa), French native plants (789 species), and 1,140 species from the rest of the world, with specimens of ornamental plants, food plants, succulents, carnivorous plants, subtropical plants, and Mediterranean plants. It also contains an arboretum, a herbarium containing about 100,000 specimens, greenhouses, and a school of botany, as well as an extensive collection of Anatidae (wild ducks, geese, and swans). A regiment of harquebusiers (musketeers) took up residence here in 1543. In the 18th century, the regiment’s last captain, Marc-Antoine Chartraire de Montigny, had the gardens and buildings restored and embellished at his own expense, the buildings being converted into quarters for military markers. During the French Revolution, the playgrounds and buildings became national property which in turn was granted by the State free of charge to the Municipality in 1808.
In 750, Archbishop Tilpin installed a community of Benedictine monks to guide pilgrims to the relics of Saint Remi. Thus began a monastic life that lasted a thousand years. Different successive abbots undertook many expansions and enrichment works which made the present Basilica of Saint-Remi gradually take shape. Of these changes over several centuries, the building retained various influences, from Romanesque to Renaissance through the Gothic movement. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Saint-Remi Basilica is a collection of history and art which should not be missed. The 11th century Romanesque nave was lengthened by two transepts at the end of the 12th century to render it accessible to a greater number of pilgrims. At the same time, the facade was reconstructed, while a choir ambulatory and radiating chapels were created. While the Gothic style is apparent in these transformations, they in no way altered the homogeneity and serenity of the church. It contains Saint Remi's tomb, a collection of 12th century stained-glass windows and a Cattiaux grand organ, inaugurated in the year 2000. Saint-Remi was a great fortified monastery going back the 4th and 5th-centuries that held the Saint-Ampoule – with the unction used in the coronations of the Kings of France and the burial place of Saint-Remi. The old galleried nave with its wooden roof is thought to resemble that of many similar great churches in the North including, for example, Jumièges. The chevet figures importantly in the story of early gothic architecture. The delicacy of the slender columns refers to Suger's chevet at Saint Denis.