Hôtel de Ville


Hotel de Ville with beach volley ball court and palms set up in the square

Every year during a weekend in September the French government opens for public touring many buildings normally closed to the public. The event is called Journées Européennes du Patrimoine, and one way we took advantage of the opportunity was to see Hôtel de Ville (city hall).

Hôtel in French is used in the name of many different types of buildings. Some hotels are hotels, but the name can apply also to hospital buildings, private residences, police stations and government buildings. Hôtel de Ville is the standard term for city hall. I had no idea that it wasn’t a hotel the first time I saw it. Unlike City Hall in Poulsbo, Hôtel de Ville is not a place you can wander into to pay your water bill – each of the city’s administrative districts (called arrondissements), has its own building for the normal interactions between citizens and government. Hôtel de Ville is where city council meets and the mayor lives, though the current mayor Bertrand Delanoë declined to live there and opened up his flat as a nursery for workers children and for the display of public works of art.

Hôtel de Ville was established in 1357 by Etienne Marcel, then provost (mayor) of the merchants. In those days he would have had jurisdiction over the affairs on the right bank. Paris had separate administrations for the left bank (colleges and the University of Paris) and for Île de la Cité. The square in front was then called Place de la Grève (now Place de l’Hôtel de Ville) and was used for public floggings and executions. You can see a good description in the “Hunchback of Notre Dame”. These days it is used for more mundane public entertainment – an ice skating rink, a garden show complete with tons of dirt, trees and grasses planted, & lawn chairs, a tennis court with big screen and lots of chairs to view the French open, a rock concert, or beach volleyball courts with tons of sand for Paris Plage.

In 1537 King François I established plans for a new building in the Renaissance style. He was also rebuilding the Louvre Palace in a similar manner. Work on the new Hôtel de Ville was not completed until 1628 during the reign of Louis XIII, but no further changes were made after that for the next 200 years. During the French Revolution in 1789, the mayor was killed by an angry crowd, and a few years later the Jacobin leader Maximilien Robespierre, leader of the Terror that was such a destructive part of the Revolution, was wounded (prior to his execution) when he fled there after the National Convention had voted to execute him and other members of his Committee for Public Safety. In 1835 two more wings were added to allow more space for the government. During the revolt of the Paris Commune following the Franco Prussian War of 1870, the Communards burned the building down. Hôtel de Ville was redesigned and rebuilt from 1870 to 1892 using the same exterior stone walls but redesigning the interior in the 19th century style.

Our tour was fantastic. The city had employees on hand to explain many details about the building and promote some aspects of local government. The huge halls and staircases were spectacular. There were people to explain how the parquet floors are made, about the special hardware they use on doors, how the old furniture is maintained, how the heating system is maintained, and how they keep the clocks working. They showed how the city saves money on electricity by converting the chandeliers and other lights to LED lighting. They showed art work made from recycled materials, and other artworks displayed in the Mayor’s quarters. We saw the chambers for the city council, as well as their huge library. The extensive Mayor’s office was reserved for last. The art work in the mayor’s office is on loan from museums and private parties.

See more photos of Hôtel de Ville.

Visit to the Arc de Triomphe

Hugh and Brenda at Place de l'Étoile - Feb 2013

Hugh and Brenda at Place de l’Étoile – Feb 2013

What we term as a visit to the Arc de Triomphe actually consisted of several visits. Many of our visitors have wanted to see it. There is a tunnel under the wide circle around the monument so you can avoid having to cross the street in the chaotic traffic of this huge round-a-bout, and the view from the top is stunning. On one visit I spent a wonderful evening there watching the city lights come on.

The Arc is one of the most famous monuments in the world. It has a longer formal name, the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile. Étoile is French for star, and the famous round where streets join at the Arc is called Place de l’Étoile. There is another smaller but similar arc at the Louvre called the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.

The Arc was commissioned in 1806 by Emperor Napoleon I following his victory in the Battle of Austerlitz (fought in the modern Czech Republic), one of Napoleon’s most daring and famous victories. The Arc honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary (1792-1802) and the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), basically corresponding to the periods of the First Republic and then Napoleon’s First Empire. These wars were complex. At the time of the revolution, other imperial governments wanted to support France’s fallen monarchy and feared that similar populist uprisings might occur in their kingdoms. The Holy Roman Emperor was also the brother of French Queen Marie Antoinette, so he had an interest. The Austrian Empire, Prussians, Russians, and English, as well as others at various times, opposed the French and their allies. These conflicts occurred for nearly 25 years in various seemingly interminable phases throughout Europe and North Africa, until first Napoleon’s defeat in Russia and then his subsequent loss at Waterloo put an end to the conflict.

After a long period of construction, the monument was completed in about 1835 during the reign of King Louis Phillipe. It is about 165 feet high by 150 feet wide and 75 feet deep. The arch is so large that in 1919 a daredevil pilot flew his biplane through it. Four main sculptures depicting the Departure of the Volunteers (1792), the Triumph (1810), the Resistance (1813), and the Peace (1815) adorn the legs of the monument. Six reliefs on the upper facades depict famous battles (including Austerlitz) and the funeral of the famous Revolutionary War General Marceau. Shields across the top are engraved with the names of significant victories. The names of Generals and battles won are also engraved on the inside of the monument. At the base is the French tomb of the unknown soldier. The eternal flame for the unknown soldier was the inspiration for the eternal flame at John F Kennedy’s grave. Also mounted at the base are brass memorial plates honoring soldiers from various more recent battles in French history.

The arch is a focal point of many events, Bastille Day ceremonies, the return of Napoleon’s remains to Paris (he is buried at Invalides), the funeral of Victor Hugo, the celebration of the end of WWI and WWII (as well as by the Nazi’s when France was occupied). Every year the Tour de France bicycle race ends here.

See some photos of the monument and the view from the top.

Another Great Adventure

Brenda looking for something else to do.You might wonder how we figure out what to do each day. Well often things are well planned – visitors, appointments, concerts, etc., but some days the plan just evolves. Here is an example.

We set out to see the Jardin de la Nouvelle France, which Brenda read about on a Paris Blog – the writer went on and on about it being a hidden treasure and a wonderful place to spend the afternoon. I looked at the map and noted that it was tucked in behind the Grand Palais on the other side of the building from the Champs Elysees. We had walked by it before, and I knew exactly where to go, so after a quick ride on the Metro – voila – we arrived.

It was a small park and we finished exploring the whole place in about 5 minutes. We couldn’t find some of the items we thought were there (the link above shows statues and a memorial scupture to French explorers of Canada), so figuring we must have misunderstood, we decided to explore several other park areas along the Champs Elysees. We found several other park areas and some large statues, but not an afternoon’s entertainment. We meandered onward. You can just follow along on Google Maps if you want.

I suggested that we go to WH Smith, an English language bookstore near Place de la Concord. We walked along the Champs Élysées until we reached Place de la Concorde. We looked along the Champs Élysées for the Élysée Palace, where the President of France lives. We could see the flag, but security was heavy, and we couldn’t get a good look at the building. I noticed we were right by the US Embassy, so tried to take a photo – but no – I heard the sharp whistle of the nearby guard warning me that no photos are permitted. You have to be able to whistle loudly with your fingers to make it on the police and security forces here.

We visited WH Smith. Brenda bought Elle magazine in French. I noticed this huge building at Place de la Madeleine – looks sort of like the Parthenon in Athens. Must investigate. Enroute we used Yelp to find the closest boulangerie, where we stopped for a sandwich. We first saw the building at Madeleine the night we were going to see a Melody Gardot concert. We had walked over there looking for another metro station after our metro train caught on fire and we were evacuated.

The big building turned out to be a Catholic church – L’église de la Madeleine (Church of Mary Magdaline). An older church originally on the site was replaced by a design selected by Emperor Napoleon I, Temple de la Gloire de la Grande Armée (“Temple to the Glory of the Great Army”). The old church was razed, but the Temple was not completed before Napoleon was forced to step down. The design was finally completed many years later, and it was again consecrated as a Catholic church, opening in 1842. Services are held here daily. Chopin’s funeral was held at this church. The neoclassical design is massive, and the interior is spectacular.

Along the way to see the church, we spotted another huge cathedral down the road – what was that? After departing L’église de la Madeleine, we hiked up Boulevard Malesherbes to the next church, which turned out to be L’église Saint Augustin de Paris. This massive church was not as light and bright and spectacular as L’église de la Madeleine but still very impressive. Outside it is a statue of Joan of Arc, erected in 1896. Inside was a sign noting that in 1886 a man named Charles de Foucauld was converted to Catholicism. He became a priest and spent many years spreading the faith in the Sahara in southern Algeria. He was assassinated and became a Catholic martyr in 1916. He was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. According to Wikipedia:

The Prefect of Paris, Baron Haussmann was responsible for much of the design of the layout of Paris’s rectilinear avenues, which called for prestigious edifices. Saint-Augustin was built between 1860 and 1871 by Victor Baltard (architect of Les Halles) in an eclectic and vaguely Byzantine style. It is almost 100 metres in length, with a dome height of 80 metres, and was one of the first sizable buildings in Paris constructed about a metal frame.

So that was how we spent the day. That night I posted to Facebook about a shop we passed along the way – Odiot.

See pictures of the day’s adventure.

Victor Hugo


Portrait of Victor Hugo from the museum

No extended trip to Paris would be complete without delving into the life of French poet, writer, artist, and politician Victor Hugo. His literary achievements and fame go far beyond his two best known works in the English speaking world, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Les Miserables“. Later in life he was also a well known politician and member of the French Assembly and Senate. He is buried among France’s most famous intellectual heroes at the Pantheon, just a few blocks up the hill from our apartment.

Hugo was born in 1803 – Napoleon Bonaparte was at the height of his military success and would soon become Emperor Napoleon I. Hugo’s father was a high ranking officer in Napoleon’s army, and his mother was a Catholic loyal to the King. Thus Hugo’s parents were politically at odds. The family settled in Paris by the time of Victor’s birth, but because of his father’s travels, Victor was able from an early age to see some of the world outside France. His beliefs, however, started out more like his mother’s. He was educated primarily in Paris and married his childhood sweetheart Adèle in 1822. They had 5 children. One died in infancy. The oldest daughter Lèopoldine drowned in the Seine at age 19 along with her husband, who was trying to save her. This was a great loss to Hugo and the frequent subject of his poetry. Later in life he lost his wife and 2 sons in a short period, then committed his daughter Adèle to an insane asylum. He was no stranger to heart rending effects of love and loss, and his writing reveals the impact such loss has in the lives of his characters.

Hugo’s first novel, Notre Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) was published in 1831, the same year he moved into a fine apartment at Place des Vosges, the oldest square in Paris. Though Hugo later spent a considerable amount of time living elsewhere, a family friend purchased the apartment at Place de Vosges after Hugo’s death and donated it to the City of Paris to become today’s Victor Hugo Museum.

The museum combines elements and artifacts from throughout Hugo’s life. It also displays his artwork. Though not a professional artist, he was talented and loved to sketch and draw.

The novel Notre Dame de Paris was a huge success. It has a host of characters, including the hunchback Quasimodo, the gypsy Esmeralda, an aspiring writer Pierre Gringoire, Archdeacon Claude Frollo (who both raised a younger brother and adopted Quasimodo), the valiant officer Phoebus, a grieving mother locked for life in Tour Roland, King Louis XI, and of course the Church itself. Prior to reading the book, I had always thought of Quasimodo as some kind of monster or comic character who haunted the Cathedral, but he is actually a very real human with severe deformities trying to find a life during the middle ages. I won’t go into further detail about the novel in the hope that some of you might give the English version a try. It remains today a fascinating and gripping story.

Hugo was a romanticist, and in the novel he explored the nature of love and other aspects of psychology through the various characters. He also presented a thorough historical representation of Paris in the 15th Century. It was fascinating to read his descriptions of medieval churches, squares, and streets that still exist near where we live. Unfortunately many of these places were destroyed in the urban renewal of Paris that occurred under Napoleon III from 1850 – 1870. Hugo also spent a portion of the book describing how the printing press had become the death of architecture. In modern times the lament is that the Internet has become the death of the print industry. One effect of the novel was to shame the City of Paris into restoring Notre Dame de Paris, which attracted thousands of visitors after the novel’s publication. It also inspired an interest in preserving other pre-renaissance buildings in Paris. If you look at the photo tour below, you’ll see based on the shops and restaurants nearby the Cathedral, the novel still plays a major role in attracting the interests of tourists.

In 1841 Hugo was elected to the Académie Français (the elite body of distinguished writers who make recommendations regarding the usages, vocabulary, and grammar of the French language) and was appointed by King Louis Philippe as a Peer of France (a position of nobility in the government). Hugo opposed the death penalty and advocated social injustice. More and more he became an advocate of republican government. At the time of the 2nd Republic in 1848, he was elected to the Constitutional Assembly and Legislative Assembly. This all came apart when Napoleon III staged a coup d’état in 1851 and declared himself to be Emperor. Hugo declared Napoleon III a traitor to France and left the country, eventually settling on the Isle of Guernsey, where he lived from 1851 to 1870. He refused to return until the republic was restored.

In 1862 Hugo published a novel about social misery and injustice, “Les Miserables”. Although it was panned by some early critics, it became popular by highlighting important social issues, and its impact was such that these issues were soon to be addressed by the French National Assembly. The work remains popular today not only as a novel, but also in opera and in the movies.

Hugo returned to Paris in 1870, where he remained active as a writer and politician until his death in 1885. His last novel, judged to be among his finest works, was “Ninety Three” (Quatre-vingt-treize), published in 1874. This work dealt with The Reign of Terror, that inglorious period of the Revolution when so many enemies of the government were beheaded.

View the photo gallery of images related to Victor Hugo, including photos from the Museum, photos of artwork depicting scenes from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and photos of businesses around the church showing the continuing interest and influence in the story.

See our short history of Paris for more historical detail.

From the French Revolution to a Stable Democracy

Our Paris apartment is in the building to the right of the bridge, shown in this painting done at the time of the Paris Commune.

Our Paris apartment is in the building to the right of the bridge, shown in this painting done at the time of the Paris Commune, a part of the long road to a stable democracy

I look at the current efforts in the Middle East to establish democratic government (Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Libya, and others) and wonder if the world expects too much too soon. Abraham Lincoln said it well when he expressed in his 2nd Inaugural Address his amazement at how much more difficult the Civil War had been than he or others had expected.

Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding.

The French Revolution provides an example of how much effort it might take for any of these governments to become stable democracies. Years pass by as institutions are established and political deadlocks are resolved. Stability is elusive. Consider the French timeline.

  1. After about 800 years of rule by a king, the French staged a revolution in 1789 and proclaimed the first republic in 1792. The Girondists attempted to form a constitutional monarchy as was done in England, but ultimately lost out to the Jacobins, who abolished the Monarchy and established the First Republic. They set up a dictatorial government around the Committee for Public Safety. In a reign of terror, they executed more than 2500 Parisians and more than 14,500 French. Ultimately, the members of the committee are executed.
  2. In 1799 the popular general Napoleon returned from success in battle and overthrew the government, naming himself as emperor. He ruled as an autocrat, albeit to the benefit of France, until he was forced from rule in 1813 and ultimately defeated at Waterloo in 1815.
  3. The French brought back a member of the Bourbon family, Louis XVIII, to be king again, reigning from 1814 – 1824. He was then replaced by another king, Charles X, who continued to struggle between implementing the goals of the revolution and reverting to the customs of the old monarchy.
  4. In 1830 Charles gave up the throne to King Louis Phillipe, who made an enlightened attempt to set up a constitutional monarchy. It ultimately failed in 1848 and he was removed. The 2nd Republic was formed.
  5. An election was held and Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, nephew of the still popular general, was elected. In 1851 the legislature deadlocked, and Louis Napoleon Bonaparte staged a military coup, declaring himself Emperor Napoleon III. France again had autocratic rule until 1870, when Napoleon III was captured in battle against the Prussians.
  6. A new government was formed and elections were held. The winners campaigned on a popular peace platform. When they took control they signed a treaty with the Prussians. The settlement included huge war reparations, loss of the Alsace and Lorraine provinces, and 30,000 Prussian occupation troops. A public outcry ensued and once again there was a revolt.
  7. A communist anarchist insurrection (the Paris Commune) formed in 1871 and established parallel local governments in parts of the city. Although elected as the city council, the Commune proclaimed its authority to rule all of France. Rioting broke out. The Tuleries Palace (at the Louvre) and Hotel de Ville (City Hall), as well as other important buildings, were burned. The elected Versailles government launched a counter offensive using the army. There was fighting in the streets and thousands were killed. The elected government regained control, and stability was finally established until World War II, when France fell to the Germans.

From the time of the Revolution, it took 80 years of turmoil before a stable democracy was established in France.

Celebration of the Assumption of Mary

Tonight we saw police in the street outside our apartment as we were leaving the building. A short time later we were engulfed in a parade celebrating the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. Clergy and several thousand Catholic followers from Notre Dame paraded down our street to celebrate the Assumption of Mary. We had heard the church bells and observed a large group with candles proceeding to the church last night, but didn’t know of the parade we now observed.

If you’ve studied the Bible you may have noted that it doesn’t contain much information about Mary and Joseph. As far as I know they are not a big part of the message of the Gospel. Yet at the same time, one need not look far to find Mary as an iconic figure in the Catholic Church. Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris (Cathedral of Our Lady of Paris) is a reference to Mary, not to mention the US university you see on TV every weekend in the fall. The figure of the Virgin Mary in sculpture and paintings may be as common as artwork for Christ. While I could try to decipher the terminology of the church, suffice it to say that the Catholic Church realized that Mary was an important part of their message of Christianity. Even before 500 AD there was tacit acceptance that the end of Mary’s life was a holy event and that the anniversary was to be celebrated and recognized.

It was not until 1950 that the Catholic Church officially incorporated the Assumption into its dogma, thus vouching for a practice that had long been condoned. This event was noted at the time by the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung to be “the most important religious event since the Reformation”. Protestant movements have not similarly included Mary, to which Jung at the time commented,”Protestantism has obviously not given sufficient attention to the signs of the times which point to the equality of women. But this equality requires to be metaphysically anchored in the figure of a ‘divine’ woman. . . . The feminine, like the masculine, demands an equally personal representation.” He said that many years ago, but his observation seems rather modern to me.

You can see a few photos of the event below:

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Paris Gardens!

Our summer visitors have enjoyed exploring some of Paris’s many gardens. Two of their favorites were the Jardins des Plantes and the Jardin du Luxembourg.

Brenda in the same field after the flowers get going

Brenda in the field after the flowers get going

Jardins des Plantes-Paris’s main botanical garden was founded in 1626. It was planted as a medicinal herb garden in 1635 by Louis XIII’ s physician, Guy de la Brosse. There are over 4500 plants in these spectacular grounds and they are only a short walk along the Seine from our apartment!  About 3 hectares (7.5 acres) of the total 25 hectares are planted in stunning display gardens. There is also a magical rose garden, an alpine garden, Mexican and Australian hothouses, a labyrinth and a zoo.  The Jardin des Plantes maintains a botanical school and 4 museum galleries.

Sailing ships in the Luxembourg pool

Sailing ships in the Luxembourg pool

Jardin du Luxembourg is located a bit further away from our apartment but still within walking distance-my 87 year old mother had no trouble strolling there with me! We love the wide tree lined pathways, the ice cream vendors conveniently located at the entry gates, the combination of traditional French and English gardens, the fountains and sculptures. There is even a bronze replica of the Statue of Liberty. When Henry the IV was assassinated in 1610, his wife, Marie de Medicis, had the Palais de Luxembourg and surrounding gardens built to be like those of her childhood home in Florence, Italy. She did not want to continue living at the Louvre with the memory of her slain husband. We explain a little more of the history in this previous entry about the gardens. The Palais de Luxembourg has been home to many other historical events and is now home to the French Senate.

A short history of Paris

Often our posts make reference to aspects of the history of Paris. If you are like me it may seem difficult to keep one era separate from another. If the French Revolution got rid of the King, then why some years later did Napoleon become the Emperor? What was the difference between Napoleon I and Napoleon III? Why do they call the current government the 5th Republic? What happened to all the other Republics? Why do they call it Paris?

Information for this post comes from the short histories and information in various travel guides, including Rick Steves Paris 2013 and the Lonely Planet Guide, as well as information we’ve received on various Paris Walks, and what I’ve studied from the ubiquitous Wikipedia. None of what appears below is the product of my own individual research.

Early History

Arènes de Lutèce was a Roman amphitheater dating from 1st century AD. It could seat about 17,000.

Arènes de Lutèce was a Roman amphitheater dating from 1st century AD. It could seat about 17,000.

Celtic speaking Gauls (indigenous tribes to the region of France) started settling in this area around 700 BC, and in the 3rd century BC a tribe called the Parisi settled in the region that is now Paris. After a long period of fighting, the Romans captured the area in 52 BC and started a community called Lutecia, which stands for mid-water dwelling. By the 3rd century about 10,000 people lived there. The first Christian Church appeared on Isle de Cité during this period. Our tour guide at the Cathedral at Notre Dame told us that the since Roman Times the church had been at one end of the island and the administrative headquarters at the other (headquarters today is home of the Palais de Justice and the Chief of Police). The Martyrdom of Saint Denis, the Bishop of Paris, occurred in about 250. The story goes that Saint Denis picked up his severed head and marched north to the area where the Cathedral Saint Denis is now located. Then he rested.

Middle Ages

Charlemagne united central Europe, but left the defense of Paris to local nobles

Charlemagne united central Europe, but left the defense of Paris to local nobles

In the 6th century the area was overrun by the Merovingian Franks, who converted to Christianity and in the mid 6th century and established the Abbey of St-Germain des Prés. The dynasty’s most productive ruler, Dagobert, established an abbey at St-Denis. This abbey soon became the richest, most important monastery in France and became the final resting place of its kings. The Merovingian Empire stretched over a wide swath of western Europe, and eventually became the Carolingian Empire. Charlemagne reinvigorated the military might of the dynasty and conquered new lands. He moved away from France and established his capital in the mid to late 700s in lands near what is today Aachen, Germany. Paris was left relatively undefended and subject to raids by the Vikings and others until the Counts of Paris established firm control over local affairs.

Portion in the Marias of the old Louis Philippe wall around Paris

Portion in the Marias of the old Louis Philippe wall around Paris

They elected Hugh Capet (I like the name) as king at Senlis in 987. He made Paris the royal seat and resided in the renovated palace of the Roman governor on the Île de la Cité (the site of the present Palais de Justice). Capetian rule would last for the next 800 years, and Paris established itself as a shipping port and the home of trade guilds. The left bank established itself as the centre of European learning and erudition, particularly in the so-called Latin Quarter. About 30 colleges were started, including the Sorbonne. Construction of the Cathedral at Notre Dame was begun in 1163 and completed in 1345. A wall is constructed around the old city of Paris by King Phillip Augustus between 1190 and 1215.

Hotel de Sens was an important residence from the Middle Ages

Hotel de Sens was an important residence from the Middle Ages

In the mid 14th century, the Hundred Years War (between the Capetians and the Anglo Normans) and the Plague both took a toll on the population of Paris. The Black Plague took 80,000 lives in 1348-49. The Hundred Years War (1337-1453) is too complicated to discuss. Basically the English and French Kings are waging war about who was the King of France. Within the envelope of the war, there was unrest within Paris. A wealthy merchant named Étienne Marcel led a peasant revolt against the dauphine (the future Charles V, not yet old enough to rule) and seized Paris in an effort to limit the power of the throne. He began building a city wall. A couple years later Charles supporters succeed in retaking control of the city. They kept working on that wall. In 1420 the Dukes of Burgundy, allied with the English King, take control of the city for 16 years. Around this time a 17 year old named Joan d’Arc convinces a French pretender to the throne, Charles VII, that she had received a divine mission to drive the English from France. Joan rallied the troops to defeat the English and allow Charles VII to be crowned, but she was captured and killed in a failed attempt to retake Paris. Charles VII returns to Paris finally in 1436. The city has been badly damaged, but a renaissance starts to take place. New churches are built, and two prominent residences, Hôtel de Cluny (now Musée National du Moyen Age) and Hôtel de Sens (now Bibliothèque Forney), are constructed.

Renaissance France
Ideas of the Italian Renaissance came to France in the early 16th century during the reign of François I. François also brings Italian artists to Paris, among them Leonardo da Vinci. François acquires the Mona Lisa, which has since remained French. He tore down the medieval palace and built a new Louvre Palace with a renaissance design. He financed the construction of Hôtel de Ville (City Hall).

The Protestant Reformation was also sweeping across Europe, and there were wars of religion from 1562 and 1598. This was a complex dispute between the English backed Protestant Huguenots, French Catholic League (a political group whose goal was to eradicate Protestantism), and the French King. Ultimately King Henry III is assassinated, and King Henry IV converts to Catholicism. The Huguenots were eventually converted or driven from France.

Henry IV built bridge Pont Neuf, now the city's oldest.

Henry IV built bridge Pont Neuf, now the city’s oldest.

Henry IV was the first Bourbon king. He did much to restore the city of Paris. Place de Vosges was constructed, the city’s oldest square, and also place Dauphine at the western end of the Île de la Cité. He built the bridge at Pont Neuf (means “new bridge”, but is the oldest in Paris). The Grande Gallerie was added to the Louvre. Unfortunately Henry IV was assassinated by a religious fanatic.

Palais du Luxembourg was home to Louis XII's mother, Marie de Medici.

Palais du Luxembourg was home to Louis XII’s mother, Marie de Medici.

His son, Louis XIII, was too young to rule, so Louis’s mother, Marie de Medici, was appointed as regent. Marie built the magnificent Palais du Luxembourg and its gardens, today the home of the French Senate. Louis XIII eventually takes the throne at age 16, but much of his time as king he is overshadowed by his chief minister, Cardinal Richelieu, who strengthened the monarchy to enable the absolute control of the successor king, Louis XIV. Richelieu also built Palais Royal across from the Louvre after Louis XIV moved the royal palace to Versailles.

Louis XIV turned fashion into a projection of his political power, both at home and abroad.

Louis XIV turned fashion into a projection of his political power, both at home and abroad.

Louis XIV also came to the throne early, at age 5. His mother, Anne of Austria, was appointed regent, and Cardinal Mazarin, a protégé of Richelieu, was named chief minister. Upon the death of Mazarin in 1661, Louis took over for both. He was a truly clever politician who knew how to project power and held the throne for a long time, from 1661 to 1715. He started several unpopular wars, incurred huge debts for the treasury, and continued the merciless persecution of the Protestants, but also kept the aristocracy in check. Members of the aristocracy and bourgeoisie had begun to challenge the high taxes and burdens of the monarchy. Louis XiV moved the royal palace to Versailles and established style and haut couture and fashion as the envy of not only everyone in his court, but in the courts of all his enemies as well. He also created strict rules of etiquette for anyone visiting, controlling access and communications with the nobility and wealth that needed the King’s favor. He funded and constructed L’Hôtel national des Invalides as a home, hospital, and chapel for the aged, but later to become a military museum and burial site for famous soldiers, most notably Napoleon Bonaparte. At the end of Louis XIV’s reign, the population of Paris was about 600,000.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was one whose ideas on the revolution had such impact that he is buried at the Pantheon.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was one whose ideas on the revolution had such impact that he is buried at the Pantheon.

After the popular Louis XIV, Louis XV was a failure, losing a fortune as well as the French colonies in the new world at the conclusion of the 7 Years War. He was succeeded in 1774 by his grandson Louis XVI, who helped the Americans win independence but also helped further bankrupt the state. His Austrian born wife, Marie-Antoinette, was unpopular with many of the King’s subjects. In the meantime there had been a French literary and cultural response to the excesses of the monarchy. Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet), Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Denis Diderot contributed to the enlightenment thinking that was taking hold in France.

The Revolution
The French people, armed with Renaissance ideas and disgust over the excesses of the King and the failure of others in the nobility to act. France was in a terrible economic crisis from the cost of 7 Years War and participation in the American War of Independence. The Nobility had revolted against the King and refused to pay the taxes to alleviate the crushing debt. In the Spring of 1789, a group of commoners formed calling itself the National Assembly, and proposed a constitution for the country. They took the Tennis Court Oath vowing to stand together in opposing the King. On July 14, a mob raided the armoury at the Hôtel des Invalides for rifles and stormed the fortress and prison at the Bastille, a symbolic challenge to the regime. In August the National Assembly adopted the Declaration of Rights of Man. The King was forced through a march on Versailles (started over the scarcity of bread) in October to return to Paris. The King and his supporters sparred with the Assembly and its supporters over the next several years until the Republic was proclaimed in 1792 and the King was executed (along with the Queen) at Place de la Concorde the following year. The revolution has for the first time empowered the peasantry and removed the special status of the King and Nobility, shaking the underpinnings of other European governments.

The French Revolution worried the governments of nearby countries, particularly the Queen’s brother, Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, as well as King William Frederick of Prussia. Over the next 10 years there would be a series of external wars and conflicts. Ultimately with the rise of a then unknown artillery officer named Napoleon Bonaparte, among others, the French gained victories over many other European powers, as well as conquest of the left bank of the Rhine, the Netherlands, portions of Switzerland and Italy.

Meanwhile, in France the revolutionary government was trying to find its way. A moderate republican group called the Girondians declared France constitutional monarchy and proposed various organizing documents. Ultimately, however, they lost out to a more radical group, the Jacobians, headed by Maximilien Robespierre and several others. They abolished the monarchy and established the First Republic. The group set up a Committee of Public Safety with dictatorial powers to provide for the national defense and internal security. They turned radical, revoking religious freedoms, desecrating the churches, and starting a reign of terror that resulted in the beheading of 2500 so called traitors in Paris and as many as 14,500 throughout France. By the end of 1793 this movement consumed itself, and Robespierre and other leaders were themselves sent to the guillotine.


Napolean Bonaparte's Throne when he was emperor

Napolean Bonaparte’s Throne when he was emperor

In 1799 Napoleon returned to Paris to find a French government in disarray, so he overthrew the existing government and assumed control himself. In 1804 he crowned himself Emperor, and the First Republic had been transformed into the First Empire. The Louvre’s “The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of the Empress Joséphine on December 2, 1804” presents the political picture.

Napoleon returned to the battlefield to shore up his ratings, and he captured nearly all of Europe, but made a fatal mistake by invading Russia. A famous chart taught by Edward Tufte shows in dramatic fashion how the French forces dwindled from 600,000 to 90,000. The allies opposing France regrouped and eventually entered Paris, forcing Napoleon to flee in exile to Italy. The Senate deposed him as Emperor. At the Congress of Vienna, the allies declared victory and restored the Bourbon Kings to power, naming Louis XVI’s brother as Louis XVIII (another brother heir died in prison). Incredibly, Napoleon escaped exile in 1815, formed a huge army in the south, returned and took control of Paris and reclaimed the French throne, only to lose the Battle of Waterloo 3 weeks later.

The Arc de Triomphe commemorates Napoleon's victory at Austerlitz.

The Arc de Triomphe commemorates Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz.

During Napoleon’s reign, he accomplished a lot – reorganization of the judicial system; the establishment of a new legal code, which forms the basis of the French legal system; and the establishment of a new educational system. He preserved the changes of the French Revolution and is looked upon as France’s greatest hero. Only a few of his architectural plans were completed, among them the Arc de Triomphe, Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, La Madeleine, Pont des Arts, Rue de Rivoli and some buildings within the Louvre complex as well as the Canal St-Martin.

Post Napoleonic Monarchy and the Second Empire
Louis XVIII reigned from 1814-1824. He was replaced by Charles X (1824-1830). All the time both reigns struggled between trying to bring back the old monarchy and implementing the changes wrought by the Revolution. In July 1830, Charles was overthrown in a skirmish that captured Hôtel de Ville. A constitutional monarch was installed under Louis Philippe, but again things did not go well and he was overthrown in 1848, when the 2nd Republic was established.

Napoleon III's portrait hangs in his luxurious apartment in the Louvre.

Napoleon III’s portrait hangs in his luxurious apartment in the Louvre.

A presidential election was held in 1848, and Napoleon I’s nephew, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, was elected. In 1851 after the legislature deadlocked, he staged a coup d’etat, after which he was proclaimed Emperor Napoleon III (Napoleon’s son was Napoleon II, but he never ruled). He moved into the Palais des Tuileries and commenced the Second Empire, a rule of some 20 years that would forever change Paris.

Paris was now over 1 million people, and France had become an economic power. Paris was transformed by town planner Georges-Eugène Haussmann into a city with wide boulevards and huge squares. The first department stores were built, including the Bon Marché in 1852, as were the passages couverts, Paris’s covered shopping arcades.

Napoleon III failed in his foreign policy, first losing the Crimean War (1854–56), then losing and being captured himself in a war with Prussia. It was this event that provoked Parisians back into the streets calling for a Third Republic.

The Third Republic
Meanwhile the Prussians lay siege to Paris, and the populace is starving. The Third Republic begins as a government to organize the defense of the city. In January 1871 the government negotiated a truce, and one of the Prussian demands was that elections be held immediately. Monarchists, who had campaigned on a peace platform, overwhelmingly defeat the republicans who had organized the city’s defense. The monarchist controlled Assembly ratified the Treaty of Frankfurt, but when the common Parisians discovered the terms, there was public outcry. The settlement included huge war reparations, loss of the Alsace and Lorraine provinces, and 30,000 Prussian occupation troops. So once again there was a revolt.

After the withdrawal of Prussian Troops in March, 1871, an insurrectionary government known as the Paris Commune seized control of the city. Their communist supporters (Communards) tried to burn the center of the city. Hôtel de Ville, the Palais des Tuileries and the Cours des Comptes (site of the present-day Musée d’Orsay) were all burned. In May, the Versailles government launched a counteroffensive in which many thousands were killed, and the elected government regained control.

The windmill atop Montmartre symbolizes the innovations in art - impressionism, cubism, that sprang from there.

The windmill atop Montmartre symbolizes the innovations in art – impressionism, cubism, that sprang from there.

The Third Republic was also a golden era for France. The city was again transformed by Art Nouveau Architecture, Impressionism, accomplishments in engineering such as installation of the first Metro line. A world exhibition in 1889 showcased the Eiffel Tower and Grand Palais, and another in 1900 showcased the Petit Palais. Nightclubs and cafe’s started to thrive in the City, and Montmartre became famous for its collection of artists and writers.

One event, the Dreyfus Affair, had a lasting effect upon the country. This began in 1894 when a Jewish army captain named Alfred Dreyfus was accused of betraying military secrets to Germany – he was then court-martialled and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island. Liberal politicians and activists, including the writer Émile Zola, came to his defense. It became a major confrontation between the right wing and Catholic politicians against those on the left. Ultimately Dreyfus was vindicated in 1900, and the Army and Catholic Church were discredited for their roles in the affair. The political result was more stringent civilian control over the military and the separation of the Catholic Church from the French state.

Raymond Poincaré, the French President from 1913 – 1920, advocated steps against Germany for France to regain its provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, but World War I started when Germany and Austria-Hungary declared war on France and Russia following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914. There was intense fighting along the German border early in the war, but the French were losing and fell into retreat. German troops had reached the Marne River, just 15 km from Paris, by September of 1914, and the army had recommended the evacuation of Paris. In a military turnaround, General Joseph Joffre, reinvigorated the French troops, who counterattacked and drove back the German offensive. The victory notably included the use of 600 Paris taxis to ferry troops to the front, which also lifted the morale of the troops. The Battle of the Marne resulted in 500,000 casualties. The aftermath was a stalemate that lasted until the end of the war in 1917. The armistice following World War I resulted in France regaining their territories of Alsace and Lorraine. The war had killed 20% of French men between ages 20 and 45, and another million were crippled. At the Battle of Verdun, the French let by General Petain, lost 400,000 men, as did the Germans.

World War II
We’ve covered many aspects of World War II in our story of the French family. As we relate there, the war began in 1939 with German and French forces massing near the border, but no fighting. Then in just a short time in May and June 1940, France fell. Almost half the population of 5 million left Paris. France was divided into a Nazi occupied zone including Paris in the North and to transform the 3rd Republic into the French State, an authoritarian government headed by Philippe Pétain, former French General and hero of the Battle of Verdun in World War I. The French State was located at the spa town of Vichy in central France. The Vichy government collaborated with the Germans, who by 1942 assumed control of the whole country. Among other atrocities, they collaborated in rounding up 78,000 Jews for extermination at Auschwitz. Post World War II, Petain was convicted of treason and sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to life in prison by Charles de Gaulle.

Charles de Gaulle, the Undersecretary of War, had fled Paris for England. He set up a government in exile and appealed to the French to resist the Germans. He established Forced Free Francais, a force dedicated to fighting the Germans. The French Resistance, actually less than 5% of the population, assisted the Allies through acts of sabotage and gathering of intelligence. After the Normandy landings in June 1944 and other landings in southern France in August, Paris was liberated on August 25th. Free French units were sent ahead of Allied troops to allow them the honor of liberating the city. It was fortunate that Hitler’s orders to burn Paris were never carried out.

Forth Republic
De Gaulle returned to Paris and set up a provisional government, but in January 1946 he resigned hoping that the French people would elect him as president. Such was not the case. A new constitution was approved by referendum, and the Forth Republic involved forming coalitions of multiple parties with diverse interests, on average forming a new government every 6 months or so. French colonies in Viet Nam and Algeria experience rebellions, which created political opportunities that aided in the frequent changes of the ruling coalition. By 1958, certain right wing factions were believed to be plotting to overthrow the government rather than allow the loss of the Algerian colony. Charles de Gaulle was brought back to power to prevent a possible civil war or military coup. He supervised drafting a new constitution that gave more power to the President at the expense of power to the National Assembly. Thus the 5th Republic was born, and Charles de Gaulle was elected as President. As part of forming the new republic, French colonies other than Algeria were granted their independence.

Fifth Republic
Charles de Gaulle promoted a politics called Gaullism, that France should continue to see itself as a major power and should not rely on other countries. He made the decision to allow the independence of Algeria, encouraged the development of French atomic weapons, withdrew from NATO, and twice vetoed admission of Great Britain into the European Union. He was opposed within France by both the right and by communists and socialists. He resigned in 1969 after losing a referendum where he proposed more decentralization of the government.

The Fifth Republic strengthened the executive by giving France a President elected every 5 years, as well as a Prime Minister. The Constitutional Council provides additional checks and balances by, upon request, approving that legislation does not violate the rights of citizens established by the constitution. French political parties represent a wide variety of both left and right wing politics. The government is currently Socialist, a strong minority presence continues to advocate other points of view. The past 50 years of French history has of course continued to dramatically transform Paris and the country of France.

World War II in France

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

Picking up from our last episode about the French family in World War II, it’s 1940 and the bombers have attacked. The Germans have sent their tanks and troops through the Ardennes forest bypassing the Maginot Line. The French government, not having another plan to defend France, appointed Marshall Petain to take charge of the war. Our family remained at the farm owned by the Ledouxs, where they had stopped after running out of fuel. They listened to the radio for further word. Within a few days, Marshall Petain announced that he had asked the Germans for an armistice and a stop to the war. He declared that France had not enough men, arms, allies to continue. According to terms, Germany would occupy the northern half of the country, and Marshall Petain would install a new government in the southern city of Vichy.

A short time later, Charles Degaulle, who had escaped France to England, came on the radio calling on the country to resist the Germans, that England was their ally and that France still has a chance. Alas, his broadcast was missed by most of France, and the surrender took place. France capitulated to Germany in just 6 days. Terms of the armistice arranged for the Germans to occupy and govern the northern part of France. Marshall Petain would form a government at the town of Vichy to govern the liberated portion in the south.

In 1941, Marceline and her family returned to Paris with an uncertain future. Her father was a prisoner of war in Germany. It was a cold and icy winter, and the family was hungry because the Germans took everything from them. Marceline’s mother had to stand in line at the local shops and stores to get food for her family. Most days after school Marceline would go to take her place in line. The Germans issued ration tickets to each family to pay for food and other essentials.

Marceline recalled the German soldiers goose stepping as they marched by. One soldier told her that she reminded him of his daughter and gave her a bon bon, which her mother later threw on the ground rather than let her eat.

After some time they received letters from Papa. He was being held prisoner at a camp in Germany, and he was hungry. The family sent him a package with all they could find to help him. Marceline sent him a sweater and a scarf, as well as her hope that the family gift would warm his heart.

Mom found extra work as a dressmaker. She would go to people’s houses and would be paid sometimes with other than money, sometimes with some sausage and one time returning home with lentils hidden inside the lining of her coat.

For Marceline’s 8th birthday, her mother made her a dress from the material in the curtains. Marceline made herself a cake using some potatoes and cocoa. It didn’t taste very good. Four days after her birthday the family learned that the German’s had attacked Russia by surprise.

Each night there was a curfew at 7 pm in the village. No lights were permitted. Marceline’s family would cover the windows with dark paper, but one time they forgot a pane, and a German patrol almost discovered them. It was very scary.

1942 was a terrible year. France had been cut in two. The French government in Vichy was collaborating with the Germans, who occupied the north. Also the French organized an underground resistance movement.

One day Marceline remembered coming to school and seeing the four Jewish students, including her friend Rébecca, arrive wearing yellow stars on their coats. The Germans had ordered all Jews to wear yellow stars as an identification badge. In June 1942, the German police took away Rébecca’s father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. Weissman, to work in Germany. Rébecca escaped capture by fleeing to Marceline’s house. Marceline realized that her parents had no way to stop the things that were happening to the Jews.

Rébecca stayed with Marceline’s family after her parents were sent to Germany. Her aunt asked Marceline’s mom if they could keep Rébecca for an extended period and gave her some money to help with the cost.

In the summer the family went to Marceline’s grandmother’s house. She lived in Indre near Châteauroux. That was past the line of demarcation that is the border between the occupied zone and the liberated zone. They took Rébecca with them. As they took the train south, they knew that they couldn’t show the identification papers for Rébecca stating that she was a Jew.

When the Germans entered their compartment, they hid Rébecca under the bench seat. Mom had removed the yellow star from her coat. When the Germans asked for their papers, Marceline was so scared that she couldn’t manage to breathe. She thought they might spot Rébecca when her younger brother Michael dropped his toy car on the floor. After looking at their papers the German inspector finally left, and Rébecca got back up – completely pale. When they arrived at Châteauroux, Marceline’s grandmother was just happy that they were there and that it was vacation.

In 1943, the family was still at grandma’s house in Indre. Chateauroux as well as the rest of France was now occupied by the Germans. Rébecca had been given the name Rosaline so people would not know she was a Jew. The school had accepted her as a student without papers. All of her class work was destroyed once it was completed, so there was no record of her. Although there were informants in every village, no one denounced the courageous actions of the school teacher. “Not existing” was very traumatic for Rébecca, who felt she could not participate in life with the other students.

It was a very cold winter. There was no heat. Marceline remembered her hands swelling and itching as a result of the cold. 1943 arrived with a ray of hope about the war. They heard that the Germans had lost the battle of Stalingrad.

Marceline’s brother Jacques was to depart for Obligatory Work Service in Germany, but he wanted to join the Resistance. Mom told him that he was a fool because she knew that the militia, the French police, and the Germans would pursue members of the Resistance and would torture and deport to Germany anyone who was apprehended.

Jacques asked the parish priest where to find the Resistance. The priest told him to look in the woods at midnight. Jacques disappeared from home.

Mom was worried about him. One night Marceline heard her speak with Jacques in the kitchen. He had joined the Resistance. He had helped a pilot whose plane had been shot down by the Germans. He related how they had listened to the secret English radio broadcasts and used message codes to provide the information for the resistance.

At the end of 1943 Papa was still in prison. All the Santa’s were in prison so it was a sad Christmas.

Marceline did not hear again from her brother until June of 1944. He had been involved with sabotaging German trains. The Germans had taken hostages as a result and then shot them, but Marceline’s brother was not caught.

The allies had started bombing the German forces, bridges, and vehicles. Marceline recalled rushing to the bomb shelter at school and how the fear of bombing had turned into an excuse for not doing one’s homework. She remembered June 6, 1944, when the allies and resistance arrived in France. She didn’t sleep. People laughed and cried as the hope of freedom had returned.

One day Rébecca left them. Her aunt came to search for her. Rebecca had never heard from her parents. It was so sad. Marceline’s family returned to Paris in August, just in time to see General de Gaulle and the army of the French Liberated Forces come down the Champs-Élysées. Paris was liberated. It was a party!

Some days later Marceline also saw the Americans, Canadians, and English arrive and pass down the street on foot and in jeeps. One of them gave Marceline some chewing gum. They threw bags of Nestle’s chocolate and cigarettes. They looked tired. Everyone was celebrating, and all the world danced in the streets.

The war continued, and in the Spring of 1945 Hitler committed suicide shortly before the Russians arrived in Berlin. Germany surrendered on 8 May and was occupied by the Allies.

They discovered the concentration camps. They heard that the Jews had been worked to exhaustion in the camps. Those who couldn’t work were exterminated in the gas chambers. They separated the children from their parents. The bodies were burned in the ovens at the crematorium. More than 6 million Jews were killed in the camps.

Other camps harbored resistance fighters from all the countries, among whom were also Germans who had resisted Hitler.

Marceline’s father was liberated. She did not recognize him when he arrived home. He was very thin and had white hair.

The war was not finished. Japan was still fighting. On August 6th the Americans dropped the atomic bombs on Japan. They caused 130,000 deaths. On September 2nd Japan finally surrendered.

The war had caused 50 million deaths, including 20 million Russians, 5 million Germans, and 600,000 French. But the victorious Russians and Americans could not agree on a plan at war’s end. Europe was divided, and Germany was cut in two.

All the same, there was peace, and Marceline received a letter from Rébecca. Her parents died in Auschwitz, but her uncle survived. She would be returning to Paris. Marceline was 12 years old and suddenly felt so grown up.

Our French lesson this week is about World War II


Arc de Triomphe

In our French lesson this week we are reading a short but true story. The purpose is for us to learn French, but the story is about recounting in a child’s eyes the outbreak of World War II in France. How it started when they returned from a family vacation. How she noticed that her parents were worried for some unstated reason. How it was for the father when he learned the news. How is was for the child when she wondered about how the family would exist when her father was mobilized to go to the front. How her father reassured her that he would be back by Christmas. How confusing it was when the Germans and the French armies lined up at the border but no one fought. How the school teacher reassured her class that all was well because France had the Maginot Line (a fortress of guns along the border) and a network of underground tunnels. How important it was for her to have her best friend in the apartment downstairs. How the father did not return as promised at Christmas. How the Germans suddenly and unexpectedly attacked through the Ardennes forest, driving their tanks through the mountains and bypassing the Maginot Line. How the family was told to flee Paris. The mother didn’t even have a driver’s license, but she loaded the family into the car and fled anyway. How the roads were clogged with people doing the same thing. How horrifying it was when the bombers attacked and a person nearby them was killed. How they ran out of gas and had to abandon their car. How they were invited by a family to sleep in their nearby barn. How it was to wake up after a night sleeping in the hay. How the country turned to Marshall Pétain, 84 year old hero of World War I, to take charge and keep everything safe.

Hooked yet? This happened to people here, and the German attackers were perhaps our relatives, and only a few hundred miles away. The disturbing story described here still happens in many parts of our world today. More to follow.