100th Anniversary of World War I

A large map of France showing fortifications around Paris at the time of World War I

A large map of France showing fortifications around Paris at the time of World War I

August marks the 100th Anniversary of the start of World War I, an event that transformed Europe and produced a lasting effect on France. In Paris there have been several recent exhibitions showing various aspects of the war through French eyes. Unlike World War II, where the threat of destruction was everywhere, World War I in France was confined to a strip of countryside running from the North Sea along the French-Belgian border and across France to the Swiss border. The land in this wide strip was devastated, first by the various armies digging on each side up to 4 networks of trenches fortified with barbed wire and concrete, and then through the explosions of many millions of shells and even more bullets. The same land was consecrated by the death of millions of French, German, English, and eventually American soldiers, many of whose bodies were never recovered.

Europe in 1914 was at peace, and most governments had been stable for many years. In France, it was the time of the Belle Époch, the period from the end of the Franco Prussian War in 1871 until the start of World War I. It was a golden age of achievements in science, art, and literature. There were strong links between countries in banking and commerce. Continental Europe, though some parts were still imperial, was a civilization of European enlightenment, respect for constitutional principles, the rule of law, and representative government. The war would damage this civilization, bring on the rise of totalitarianism in Russia, Spain, Italy, and Germany and set the stage for World War II.

Civilization, life itself, is something learned and invented… After several years of peace men forget it all too easily. They come to believe that culture is innate, that it is identical with nature. But savagery is always lurking two steps away, and it regains a foothold as soon as one stumbles.

Saint-Beuve, quoted by George Eliot in Impressions of Theophrastus Such

The idea of sending the French army into battle became a rallying point for the country.

The idea of sending the French army into battle had broad public support

Beneath the peace and prosperity, there was in France a cultural battle pitting a conservative viewpoint, which wanted to preserve religious and cultural heritage (including the monarchy) and a liberal viewpoint, which embraced the ideas of the 18th century thinkers who had fostered the French Revolution (including most contentiously the separation of the church from the state). The rhetoric between these two parties was contentious, like the rhetoric in modern day America. War was one idea that both groups, tired of years of public bickering and scandals, found they could support. A way to revive the spirit of unity and progress! Also the French were still angry at the Germans for the loss of their territories in Alsace and Lorraine in 1871. The public expectation was that the war would be quickly brought to an end.

The start of World War I

The war started in a most curious manner. The heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, Arch Duke Ferdinand, and his wife were assassinated on June 28, 1914, by Serbian nationalists in Sarajevo, Bosnia – then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The assassins were armed and assisted by a nationalist organization from nearby Serbia, a country which had gained its independence from the Turkish Empire. Many ethnic Serbs lived in Bosnia. The state of Serbia was sponsoring nationalist terrorists to rise up against the Austro-Hungarian government (similar to the current activities of Russia in the Ukraine). The Austro-Hungarian government ruled an empire with 5 languages and a dozen religions, so they could scarcely let this external ethnic threat go unanswered. They decided to threaten military action against Serbia.

Pictures of some of the defenses - note that the entry doors to Notre Dame are all bricked up.

Pictures of some of the defenses – note that the entry doors to Notre Dame are all bricked up.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire was part of the Triple Alliance with Germany and Italy, who each pledged to support the other in the event of an attack by an outside power. There was a possibility that Russia might decide to come to Serbia’s assistance. Worried about the military consequences of attacking Serbia, Austria-Hungary sought diplomatic support from the German Emperor. There was a mutual assistance alliance between Russia and France in case either was attacked by Germany. There was also an understanding between Britain and France to lend assistance if the vital interests of either were judged to be threatened.

Germany agreed to fully support Austria-Hungary. The Austro-Hungarians dithered for 3 weeks before submitting a diplomatic note of demands to Serbia. Serbia was ready to accept all the demands (which would have prevented war) when they heard from their diplomat in Russia that the Czar was fiercely pro-Serbian and had declared a period preparatory to war (a pre mobilization of troops so to speak). This caused the Serbians to amend their response to Austria-Hungary and reject some of the conditions. While the Serbian army mobilized, the diplomats to all the major powers conferred to try to work out a solution to the crisis.

French soldiers mobilizing for war

French soldiers mobilizing for war

The problem was that the diplomatic efforts were superseded by war planning. The armies needed time to call up reserves and move troops into positions to defend against an attack. The Russians actually mobilized half their Army, and the Czar agreed to fully mobilise on July 30th. Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II, cousin of the Czar, sent a telegraph to him urging Russia to remain a spectator in the conflict without involving Europe in “the most horrible war she has ever witnessed.”. The evening of July 29th the Czar cancelled his mobilization order – just in time. Unfortunately, Helmuth von Moltke, Chief of the German General Staff, determined that unless Germany mobilized immediately, they would be vulnerable on their eastern frontier should war commence. He decided to greatly exceed his authority and inform the Austro-Hungarian Chief of Staff to mobilize immediately, and that Germany would mobilize as well. The Austro-Hungarians put the order to mobilize before the Emperor Franz Josef, who signed and returned it on July 31st. Russia backtracked and declared general mobilization too. On August 1st Germany mobilized against Russia. The French, fearing a loss of territory from a German first strike, actually mobilized an hour earlier than the Germans. The British declared war on August 4th after Germany failed to respond to a British request that they cease their attack on Belgium.

The War

(I’ll keep it short)

Purple is the closest approach of the German front to Paris. Blue is the approximate front for most of the fighting from 1915 - 1918. Gray is the line the German's fell back to at war's end.

Purple is the closest approach of the German front to Paris. Blue is the approximate front for most of the fighting from 1915 – 1918. Gray is the line the German’s fell back to at war’s end.

World War I spread to involve fighting in Europe, Africa, and Asia. It was a huge and complicated conflict. Considering only the major activities in France, here is a link to a map showing the the western front. Germany had a plan called the Schlieffen Plan to end the war with France and England in six weeks. It involved bringing overwhelming force to sweep through Belgium and across northern France, then turning south to envelop Paris and the northern part of the country. The French plan of attack was to go into Germany through Alsace. Neither of these plans worked out as intended.

The Germans encountered much more resistance from the Belgians than they expected, and then they encountered strong resistance from the British. The French attack reached German territory and then was driven back in a counterattack. Eventually the French General Joffre decided on August 23rd that the offensive plan was failing and ordered troops to withdraw from the front to defensive positions. French troops retreated towards Paris with the Germans in hot pursuit. German logistics worsened, French logistics improved. The French organized a counter attack at the Marne River – the Germans had come within 30 miles of Paris. The counter attack had success, and eventually the Germans concluded that their plan for rapid defeat of the French had failed. They withdrew back beyond the Marne to the Aisne River and its tributaries, giving up the ground they had taken in the previous 2 weeks.

Photograph showing digging of the trenches.

Photograph showing digging of the trenches.

Thus began a new phase of the War – trench warfare. The German Schlieffen plan was designed to win the war in the west before the Russian troops could become a threat to Germany in the east. The German army ran out of time and was ordered to fortify and defend its positions in the west while troops were redeployed to fight on the eastern front. The line of trenches by the end of 1914 was 475 miles long – from the North Sea to Swiss border. In 1915 the French and English had little success against the German defenses. In 1916, the Germans tried to take the offensive at Verdun against the French General Pétain, but in the end not much was gained, and each side had over 200,000 killed or wounded. The Somme was an allied offensive led by the British General Haig. In trench warfare, the lightly protected attackers always suffered horrific casualties trying to dislodge the entrenched defenders. First one side would attack until they were repulsed, then the other side would attack. The attacks at The Somme yielded little ground, and Germany and the Allies each had more than 600,000 killed or wounded after months of battle.

In 1917, the French forces staged mutinies against the war. Their demands were more leave, better food, better treatment for soldier’s families, and lastly, a way to find peace. The French placed Philippe Pétain as Commander of the Army. Pétain made changes in doctrine to provide defense in depth, changes in tactics to limit the number of casualties in battle, and changes to policy to provide simpler and more regular leave. Gradually the crisis of the French army abated. Other countries were to have their own crises of morale during the war.

In April 1917, the US declared war on Germany. Despite efforts by President Woodrow Wilson to remain neutral and bring the warring parties to the negotiating table, the German resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare plus other factors finally brought the US into the War. America had a large navy but a very small army, and was otherwise unprepared to make an immediate contribution. General John J Pershing arrived in France in June 1917. By August 1918, America had sent 1,300,000 men to Europe.

Local exhibits were erected in the form of a trench surrounded by woods.

Local exhibits were erected in the form of a trench surrounded by woods.

The Germans were released from their eastern front by the collapse of the Russian Army when the Czar of Russia was overthrown by the Bolsheviks in 1917. Russia had agreed to peace terms with Germany, ceding it territory for an end to warfare. Germany’s plan was to redeploy their troops from the east for one last all or nothing offensive in the west. The Germans still had a numerical superiority, and their plan was to attack before the Americans could mass forces to join the effort. The German aim was to push the British forces in northern France along the Belgian border back into the sea, then to sweep down upon the French forces. Thus on 21 March 1918, 76 German divisions attacked 28 British divisions of lesser quality first using deadly chlorine and phosgene gas and then bombarding them with millions of artillery shells. After the onslaught, the German attackers overran the British positions and pressed into France, attempting to roll up the British against the sea. As the allied armies fell back, they held a meeting between British and French to coordinate strategy, and both countries agreed to respond under the allied leadership of French General Ferdinand Foch. Foch’s coordinated strategy allowed the allies to staunch the assault.

The German’s tried several other assaults, all stopped short of taking Paris. Eventually the Germans could see that they didn’t have the population to provide enough new soldiers to make up for their continuing losses in battle. With an ever growing American army and the allies also possessing great superiority in tanks and other hardware, the Germans finally decided to fall back to the Hindenburg line and pursue negotiations for an armistice.

Aftermath of the War

Typical memorial to French war dead. On far left and far right are columns added for World War II. The rest of the names are from World War I, about 5 times as many.

Typical memorial to French war dead. On far left and far right are columns added for World War II. The rest of the names are from World War I, about 5 times as many in this instance.

There were some great inventions and legacies as a result of the war. The Wall Street Journal published an informative section on legacies of the Great War. These include minor achievements like the development of Pilates and more significant ones like the invention of plastic surgery. Of course there were also many new developments in warfare. The war created new countries and unfortunately also fostered the beginnings of the Middle East conflict. However, all these changes were overshadowed by the horrible, indescribable losses. Just consider some of the sacrifices of France:

The bodies of over half of the men killed in action were never recovered. There were 1.7 million French war dead in a country of 40 million. Twice that many were injured. Some 13% of the men of fighting age were killed. Among the youngest recruits aged 19-22 when the war broke out, 35-37% were killed. There were 680,000 widows. The total French losses in World War II were greater than those of the US. On a per capita basis, they were 5 times the American losses. Yet the French lost more than 3 times as many people in World War I than they did in World War II. A whole generation had been wiped out.

Shortly after the war ended and partly as a result of the problems of poor health and sanitation caused by the war, a Spanish flu would rage through Europe and kill more people than had been killed in the war. The liberation of peoples formerly in the Austro-Hungarian or German Empire brought little relief for the ethnic animosities that contributed to starting the war, and neither did the totalitarian revolution in Russia. The rancors and instabilities left behind only led to an even more destructive war a generation later. For all parties World War I was a terrible mistake.

Valentine’s Day in Paris

Abelard and his school on the hill dedicated to Saint Genevive (near today's Pantheon)

Abelard and his school on the hill dedicated to Saint Genevive (near today’s Pantheon) – wall painting at the Sorbonne.

Like in the US, stores milk Valentine’s day in Paris for as many sales of chocolate and hearts and roses and you name it as possible. Plus, Paris is for lovers so there’s no shortage of kissing going on. Still Paris has its own literature that conveys the spriit of Valentine’s Day in a more permanent sense.

Valentine’s Day may come to you as either an awkward moment (pour moi) or a day to be celebrated (pour ma femme) in all its glory. Wikipedia refers to the Roman presbyter (Christian leader) Saint Valentine, of whom some say:

A popular hagiographical account of Saint Valentine of Rome states that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire. According to legend, during his imprisonment, he healed the daughter of his jailer, Asterius. An embellishment to this story states that before his execution he wrote her a letter signed “Your Valentine” as a farewell.

The English author Geoffrey Chaucer was the first associated with this idea as an expression of romantic love. In Paris we can find a couple of examples of the Valentine ideal that go way beyond what most men and women are willing to commit to in modern society.

First there is the story of Peter Abelard and Héloïse. Pierre Abelard was a well known scholar in Paris in the early 12th century,  “the keenest thinker and boldest theologian of the 12th Century”. Abelard’s career brought him to the Cathedral School at Notre Dame de Paris, the epitome for his profession, and it was then that his scholastic life was interrupted by his meeting with Héloïse d’Argente, who was under the care of her uncle, the secular canon Fulbert. She attracted Abelard’s attention with her remarkable knowledge of classical letters. In about 1116 he began an affair with her, and she became pregnant (and gave birth to a son named Astrolabe). He sent her to Brittany to live with his family. As a cleric of the Church he could not be married. He arranged a secret marriage to her through Fulbert, but when Fulbert disclosed it, Abelard sent Héloïse to the convent at Argenteuil, where she led the life of a Nun. Fulbert arranged for Abelard to be castrated, ending his romantic career. Abelard became a monk at the monastery of Saint Denis near Paris.

The graves of Pierre Abelard and Héloïse d'Argenteuil, side by side at Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris

The graves of Pierre Abelard and Héloïse d’Argenteuil, side by side at Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris

Here he published his famous work Historia Calamitatum (known in English as “Story of His Misfortunes” or “A history of my Calamities”), which is a readable window into the life of an academic of the church prior to founding of the first university in Paris. His thoughts on his relationship with Héloïse were a key part. She responded with a letter to him, and they began a correspondence, though they could never again be together. The letters revealed both her continued devotion and his regrets for the troubles his love had caused.

Abelard’s later writings and teachings were controversial, and he was accused of heresy by Bernard of Clairvaux and condemned by the Pope. He was assigned to a monastery and his books were to be burned. Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny intervened. He reconciled Abelard with Bernard and the Pope and persuaded everyone that it was enough that Abelard remain under the protection of Cluny. Abelard passed away in 1142, his accusations largely resolved, and his reputation as a wise scholar restored. Héloïse died in 1163.

Though some researchers dispute this, it is thought that Héloïse’s bones were placed alongside Pierre’s when she died. At the behest of Napoleon’s wife Josephine Bonaparte, their bones were moved to a well known tomb at Père-Lachaise cemetery, where today “lovers from all over the world visit the tomb where the remains of Heloise and Abelard rest eternally together.” I’ll have to say we were among those who have visited.

Now a second story, shorter than the first. At the end of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame“, there is this passage relating the fates of Quasi Modo and Esmeralda (translated):

“…they found among those hideous carcasses two skeletons, one of which held the other in its embrace. One of these skeletons, which was that of a woman, still had a few strips of garment which had once been white, and around her neck was to be seen a string of adrèzarach beads with a little silk bag ornamented with green glass, which was open and empty. These objects were of so little value that the executioner had probably not cared for them. The other, which held this one in a close embrace, was the skeleton of a man. It was noticed that his spinal column was crooked, his head seated on his shoulder blades, and that one leg was shorter than the other. Moreover there was no fracture of the vertebrae at the nape of the neck, and it was evident that he had not been hanged. Hence the man to whom it had belonged had come thither and had died there. When they tried to detach the skeleton which he held in his embrace, he fell to dust.”

There – that’s some Valentine’s Day for you.

Northern Ireland: The Troubles

Tour of “The Troubles” in Catholic Belfast

Memorial mural to the Troubles on Falls Road, Belfast

Memorial mural to the Troubles on Falls Road, Belfast

As part of our Belfast visit we wanted to learn more about the conflict in Northern Ireland known as “The Troubles”. Anyone old enough can remember how from the early ’70s until well into the ’90s, year after year, every day there would be stories in the news of bombings and killings and disagreements and fighting in Northern Ireland. How did Northern Ireland come to be? What was the fighting all about? How did it start and finally end?

There’s a great deal of complexity to Irish history, and we can only skim the surface in a short article. Still, the story of this conflict needs to be told because it is like so many others that perpetuate in our world today, whether it be the problems with race relations in the US, the conflict over the state of Israel, or the civil wars in Syria, Afganistan, Iraq, Egypt, and numerous other states.

There are two sides to every argument. The British and their Unionist followers in Northern Ireland had political and governmental goals that to them seemed every bit as valid and necessary as the Irish Republican reasoning that we heard about during our tour. The safety and security of a large portion of the population was at risk through the actions of rebellious minority group. The Irish Republicans whose rights were being oppressed decided to stand up until their grievances were addressed. The best practice for doing this has yet to be invented. Redressing the problems caused when one people subjects another people to their will and discriminates against them is painfully difficult – witness efforts in the US to undo slavery.

We’ll describe our tour and afterwards provide more historical details of the period leading up to “The Troubles”, a short history of Irish Republicanism, and a basic historical recounting of period of “The Troubles”.

Jack Duffin on left as our group winds up Falls Avenue in Belfast

Jack Duffin on left as our group winds up Falls Avenue in Belfast. He is talking about how large numbers of Catholics were suddenly displaced from their homes by security forces.

Brenda and I took a more than 2 hour walking tour of Belfast along Falls Road heading west from downtown. Falls Road runs through the center of the Catholic neighborhood in West Belfast. A couple of major streets to the north was Shankill Rd, which was the heart of the Protestent neighborhood. These two neighborhoods were where many of the incidents of “The Troubles” took place.

Our guide was a staunch Republican (a supporter of a free Irish state and usually a Catholic) named Jack Duffin. He is a left leaning supporter of the Irish Republican Army who would like to see Northern Ireland become part of the Republic of Ireland. Jack was born and raised in the same neighborhoods where the fighting occurred. He had been on the front lines, and many of his friends were killed or arrested during the course of the conflict. Jack now works for a company called Coiste, which has a small office near the tour route and also a great web site at http://www.coiste.ie, where you can learn more about the story of “The Troubles”.

There were only 7 in our group – five from the US and two from Italy. From the US we had a Ph.D. graduate student doing research for his thesis, a UCLA Ph.D student and her boyfriend who were enroute to Egypt for similar studies, and us.

Our tour started at the Divis Tower, the location of one of the early neighborhood battles of 1969, then past Saint Comgell’s Primary School, where we could see some of the bullet holes in the concrete and brick. We stopped at a memorial for the Republicans martyrs from one neighborhood and across the street saw a block of murals supporting various situations involving human rights all over the world. A short while later we stopped at a library funded by Andrew Carnegie. Jack pointed out that the Republicans have a museum in an old factory building that was a linen factory back in the days when Belfast was the largest producer of linen in the world. He described how miserable working conditions were for those early factory workers.

We passed several building murals dedicated to players of the Belfast Celtic Football Club, reportedly one of the best soccer teams in the world from 1891 to 1949. The football club ended in 1949 as a result of fighting between Catholic team members and Protestant fans.

Mural for Bobby Sands and Sinn Fein Headquarters

Mural for Bobby Sands near Sinn Fein Headquarters

There was a memorial on the side of one building for the martyr Bobby Sands. Bobby Sands was a leader of a Hunger Strike in 1981 while he was imprisoned at Her Majesty’s Maze Prison south of Belfast. The Catholic prisoners sent there during “The Troubles” considered themselves to be prisoners of war. In the early ’70s the British government had agreed to grant these prisoners a Special Category Status, allowing political prisoners of the conflict to not wear the normal prison uniforms, not perform prison work, to freely communicate with one another, and the right to one visit, one parcel, and one letter per week. These rights were revoked by the British in 1976, and the hunger strike was a protest that these rights had been removed. Bobby Sands died of starvation after 66 days. During the hunger strike, Sands was elected in a special election to the British House of Commons, though he died of hunger in prison before he could ever take his elected seat.

We stopped in front of the local Sinn Féin office, with memorial placards above the door to fallen members of the Provisional IRA during the Troubles. One was Pat McGeown, a leader who died in 1996 from complications started during his hunger strike in prison in 1981. Another was to Máire Drumm, Vice President of Sinn Féin when she was assassinated in 1976. Two other placards were memorials to 6 members who had been killed by the RUC in the early ’90s.

We passed by the place where President Bill Clinton met with Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams in November 1995. Adams has been President of Sinn Féin since 1983. President Clinton was revered by the Catholic community for his support of Gerry Adams and the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Royal Hospital, where the first air conditioner was installed, where defibrillator paddles were invented, where modern gunshot wound treatment was advanced.

Royal Hospital, where the first air conditioner was installed, where defibrillator paddles were invented, where modern gunshot wound treatment was advanced.

A couple blocks later we passed by the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, where Gerry Adams’s life was saved after an assassination attempt in 1984. As a result of the many assaults during “The Troubles”, the hospital became a cutting edge facility for the treatment of gunshot woulds. It also made another significant contribution to emergency medicine – a doctor there invented the portable defibrillator. The hospital was also the world’s first air conditioned public building, the unit having been developed by the Sirocco Works in Belfast in 1906.

We continued along Falls Rd, eventually reaching another area where the street side was lined with posters, one still demanding justice for a bombing in 1971 that killed fifteen patrons at McGurk’s Bar. Individual posters cited the death of over 200 Republicans, showing each to have been murdered at the hands of the Unionist paramilitary groups, the police, or British troops. Jack knew a number of them personally and recounted for us each of their stories.

We went by the home of James Connolly, where he lived in Belfast from 1910 to 1913. Connolly was a socialist politician and leader of trade unions who is revered for his advocacy of Irish nationalism and independence. In 1916 he led a group of volunteers in what became known as the Easter Rising. The Irish Nationalists attacked and took over various areas of Dublin and proclaimed Ireland as an independent republic. The British troops quickly quelled the uprising, and Connolly was badly wounded and had only a short time to live. Still, the British found him guilty of treason, tied him to a chair (since he could not stand) and executed him. Such martyrdom did not go unnoticed – the public awareness soon increased public support for Irish nationalism.

Memorial to some of the fallen Republicans at the Catholic Cemetery on Andersontown Rd in Belfast

Memorial to some of the fallen Republicans at the Catholic Cemetery on Andersontown Rd in Belfast

The tour ended by passing the Protestant Falls Park cemetery, where many of the Unionist victims are buried, and then proceeded to the Catholic Milltown cemetery on the opposite side of the road, where we viewed many graves of the Nationalists, including Bobby Sands.

Our tour ended in the dark and the rain, and afterwards we all went together to a nearby club where we hoisted a pint of Guiness to our guide and to the memory of those in the conflict. The Americans in our group were highly interested in “The Troubles”, and we enjoyed the stimulating discussion. On our cab ride home, the driver related his own feelings about “The Troubles”. He also noted that we’d just come from the most Republican club in town.

See more photos of the tour.

Some history leading up to “The Troubles”

How did Scots and English become the majority in Northern Ireland?

According to a Wikipedia article, the area that is now Northern Ireland was sparsely populated by Gaelic Irish, clans or tribes that migrated seasonally with their cattle. It was the most Gaelic part of Ireland. In the 1590s, the forces of the Gaelic Irish chieftains fought the Nine Years War to oppose English rule in Ireland. The war was throughout Ireland, but was mainly fought in the northern province of Ulster. The English won the war, and in in 1601, in exchange for King James I pardoning the chieftains, they gave up control of their land to England, a substantial part of what is now Northern Ireland. At the end of the war this area was sparsely populated with perhaps 25,000 to 45,000 people.

In 1609 the English organized to colonize a substantial portion of the counties of Ulster, redistributing the land to Protestants from England and Scotland. The English intention was to civilize the Ulster region and to anglicize the Irish, including converting them to Protestantism. The principal landowners, known as Undertakers, were wealthy men from Scotland and England who undertook to import tenants from their own estates. All tenants were to be English speaking and Protestant. Veterans of the Nine Years War also lobbied successfully to receive land grants, these to be paid for by subsidies from other organizations within England. Also the remaining portions of Northern Ireland that were not part of the official plantation, including the area around Belfast, were planted with immigrants in many cases by the private land owners.

In 1641 there was a massacre of about 4000 Protestant settlers when the Irish Catholic population staged a rebellion on the Ulster plantation. Another 8000 Protestants went home as a result. The English sent a force of 10,000 to quell the rebellion, and they committed many atrocities against the Catholics. After the conflict, there were no more Catholic landowners in the Ulster region, but so many of the tenants in the plantation areas had left that the percentage of immigrants was actually greatest in the privately settled areas closer to what is now Belfast.

After England’s William III conquered Ireland in 1691, a complicated series of acts were put in place to limit and discriminate against the Irish Catholics and also those Presbyterian Protestants who would not swear an oath of allegiance to the King. These included exclusion from public office, a ban on interfaith marriages and the state’s refusal to recognize marriage of Presbyterians, barring of Catholics from holding firearms, exclusion from the legal profession and judiciary, ban on converting from Protestantism to Catholicism, and many more similar restrictions. Many of these restrictions were later repealed, but they remained as a strongly resonant element in the politics of Irish Catholicism for long afterwards.

The author and sociologist Allan G Johnson describes how over the years of English control, the English subjected the native Irish to discrimination:

“The British came to view the Irish as something like a separate species altogether, possessing inferior traits that were biologically passed from one generation to the next. In this, the British were inventing a concept of race that made it a path of least resistance to see other peoples as subhuman if not nonhuman, making it easier to objectify them and more difficult to feel empathy for them as members of their own kind, both integral to the exertion of control over others.”

This historical undercurrent eventually resurfaced in the tension between the Irish Catholics and ancestors of the migrant English and Scottish Protestants that boiled over in the a period of civil conflict between 1969 and 1998 known as “The Troubles”.

History of Irish Republicanism

History of Irish Republicanism from the Coiste web site:

Following the enforced partition of Ireland by the British Government in 1921 the newly elected Unionist Government in the Six Counties set about establishing a form of religious apartheid,’a protestant parliament for a protestant people’, as one former Unionist prime minister described it. In the decades between 1921 and 1969, Catholics and Nationalists bore the brunt of institutionalised discrimination and state repression. No opposition to Unionist rule was tolerated.

By the 1960s the Northern Ireland Civil Rights association was formed, and began to campaign peacefully for basic civil rights – one person one vote and an end to discrimination in housing and employment. That peaceful campaign was met with violence by the Unionist regime; demonstrators were attacked with batons, tear gas and eventually live bullets. Whipped into a frenzy of sectarian hatred and fear, loyalist mobs supported by the police force (RUC and B Specials) swept into Nationalist districts throughout Belfast on the night of the 15th August. Hundreds of Nationalist homes and businesses were attacked and destroyed leaving thousands of Nationalists homeless. That evening Gerard Mc Auley, just 15 years of age, was shot and killed by Loyalists. Later Patrick Rooney just 9 years of age was shot and killed by the RUC. Trooper Mc Cabe who was on home leave at the time from his regiment in the British Army was also shot and killed by the RUC in the Divis Street area.

Before 1969 the IRA was a relatively small organisation, made up for most part of older men and women who had previously fought military campaigns against British rule in Ireland. After the suppression of the civil rights movement and the pogroms, hundreds of men and women joined the ranks of the IRA. The British Government ordered British troops onto the streets again and the perennial struggle between the British and Irish Republicans began again.

Short history of the period of “The Troubles”

Wikipedia provides an overview of “The Troubles”:

“The Troubles” refers to the three decades of violence between elements of Northern Ireland’s Irish nationalist community (mainly self-identified as Irish and/or Roman Catholic) and its unionist community (mainly self-identified as British and/or Protestant). The conflict was the result of discrimination against the Irish nationalist/Catholic minority by the unionist/Protestant majority and the question of Northern Ireland’s status within the United Kingdom.

In 1964 Nationalist Catholic Irish began a civil rights campaign to end restrictions on government hiring, gerrymandering of election districts, changing of the vote from 1 vote per household to 1 vote per person, reform of the police (the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) was almost 100% Protestant), and repeal of special powers that enabled search without a warrant, imprisonment without trial, banishment of assembly, etc. During the period from 1964 to 1969 the Unionists organized several loyalist paramilitary groups: the Ulter Volunteer Force (UVF) among people in the Shankill Rd neighborhood north of Falls Rd; the Ulster Constitution Defence Committee (UCDC) set up a paramilitary style wing called the Ulster Protestant Volunteers (UPV). During the same period the Nationalists formed the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA). During these years there are skirmishes but not outbreaks, and the Nationalists continued to press their case for civil rights.

In 1969, loyalist paramilitary groups bombed electricity and water installations in Northern Ireland, and cast blame upon the then dormant Irish Republican Army. Outside of Belfast, there was fighting between Protestants and Catholics in Derry. Loyalists in Belfast invaded the Republican neighborhoods, burned houses and businesses. Republicans exchanged gunfire with Loyalists and the RUC. British troops were deployed to restore order.

During the period 1970 to 1972, violence escalated and over 500 people lost their lives . Two more Republican groups formed, the Provisional Irish Republican Army and the Official Irish Republican Army. Our tour guide was a member of the Official IRA and described the Provisional IRA members as being angered and driven to action by their loss, but not ideologically in tune with the political ideas of the Official IRA. The newer Provisional IRA was more attuned to armed struggle. Unionists imposed a “Falls Curfew” upon the residents of the Falls Rd . Also they imposed internment without trial, almost always applied to the Republicans rather than the Unionists. By 1972 the Provisional IRA had carried out a destructive campaign of violence, killing about 100 soldiers and carrying out more than 1300 bombing of mostly commercial targets. The Official IRA carried out a similar campaign. Loyalist paramilitary groups retaliated by assassinating Republicans, and both Protestants and Catholics were displaced out of their communities by force.

In 1972, the government of Great Britain passed emergency legislation dissolving the Loyalist Government at Stormont, Northern Ireland and introducing direct rule from London.

In 1974 an effort to achieve a cease fire failed, and for the rest of the 1970’s the two sides traded violent attacks. In 1981 ten Republican prisoners starved themselves to death as they advocated restoring a political status to the Republicans in Northern Ireland. The first to die, Bobby Sands, was elected to Parliament. Over 100,000 people attended his funeral. The IRA received arms from Muammar Gaddafi of Libya during this period. During the ’80s, the paramilitary violence between Unionists and Republicans continued unabated.

Sinn Fein headquarters on Falls Road

Sinn Fein headquarters on Falls Road

In the late ’80s, the political wing of the Provisional IRA, Sinn Féin, led by Gerry Adams, sought a negotiated end to the conflict. After prolonged negotiations between Loyalists, Republicans, and the British, the first cease fire was declared in 1994. Subsequent violence interrupted this first attempt. The IRA bombed targets in the UK.

In 1997 a second cease fire was declared with the assistance of the US government as negotiations without the agreement of Sinn Féin became known as the Good Friday Agreement. Later in the year Sinn Féin agreed to the conditions. President Bill Clinton visited Northern Ireland during this time and arranged a US visa for Gerry Adams. He met with leaders of both sides of the conflict and today is well remembered for his influence in helping to bring an end to “The Troubles”.

Though some violence still occurred, the second cease fire has largely held up and a political process has begun. Self government has been restored to Northern Ireland, and the police force has been reformed. There are still some significant problems to be resolved.

Between 1969 and 2001, 3526 people were killed. More statistics of casualties can be found here.

When the north was divided from the rest of Ireland and kept British in 1921, Northern Ireland was about 70% Unionist. Today the percentage of Unionists has dwindled to about 48%, according to our tour guide. Sinn Féin has grown to be the second largest political party in Northern Ireland.

Concerts at Notre Dame de Paris

Notre Dame with about 850 people attending the chorale concert.

Notre Dame with about 850 people attending the chorale concert.

We’ve attended several concerts at Notre Dame de Paris. According to the church’s web site, sacred music has been an important part of Catholic worship for 1500 years. There is wonder in knowing that there have been perhaps 35 generations of worship in that place – many more if you count the Roman religious sites that existed there since about 50 AD. The gothic architecture has inspired people to look upward and consider their existence for a very long time, and the effect is no different today.

Sometimes when the mood of the music is right, I’ve found myself recalling the story of the Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, thinking about the scenes with Quasimodo, La Esmèralda, and Archdeacon Claude Frollo. The darkened cloisters, candles and spotlights illuminating selected works of art help the drama to come alive.

Sitting in a concert can bring to mind some of the church’s long history. In medieval days those darkened cloisters were the meeting places for members of the congregation. One can imagine the bustle and noise of a church filled each day with people meeting friends and exchanging news and ideas. At night it was cold and sombre and dark. The church was also the chief source of education and learning that provided impetus for the growth of Paris’s Latin Quarter. The religious music program at Notre Dame is a continuation of that focus on education.

Kings heads from the front of Notre Dame - now at the Cluny Museum

Kings heads from the front of Notre Dame – now at the Cluny Museum

During the Revolution, the mobs broke the windows and took everything of value from the church, including all but one of the bells. They also chopped off the heads and knocked down the statues of all the biblical kings that adorn the front of the building. The mobs mistakenly thought that the statues of biblical kings were those of the hated kings of France. In 1977, long after the figures of the kings had been replaced on the front of the building, the old heads and statues were rediscovered by workers digging around the foundation of a local Paris bank building. These relics of Notre Dame are now on display at Musée de Cluny. Napoleon chose the church as the site of his crowning and coronation as Emperor in 1807, as documented by the famous painting by Jacques Louis David. Even in our own short history in Paris, the church has become a familiar place to admire and visit, and going to concerts provides a perfect opportunity.

The 8000 pipe organ is one of the world’s largest and most famous, and the sound is magnificent. You can see and hear the organ in this U-tube video, which shows the instrument and explains (in French) some about how it works. I recorded a sample of a chorale concert featuring new compositions by 15 composers for a “Notre Dame Choir Book”. The concert music started out pretty dark and heavy with lots of minor chords, but fortunately the music became more hopeful as the night proceeded. The kids singing are between 12 and 14 years old, and they are really impressive. Here is part of the final piece, “Ô Notre Dame du soir” (Our lady of the evening – my apologies in advance for my poor movie making skills):

The lyrics are in French but translated were translated in the program as follows:

Our lady of the Evening,
Whose light shines forth after sunset,
Our hope through the night,
O joy!
Bestow your maternal care
upon us,
Shining star in the overcoming darkness,
O Queen of heaven!
Your tender smile
Is a reflection of God’s tenderness for His
children in exile,
Mother of forgiveness who gave us your Son,
Lead us to Jesus, the Light that was born of
you.
You who dissipate darkness,
O most compassionate,
sweet Virgin Mary!

A Visit to the Assemblée Nationale

Chambers of the Assembly

Chambers of the Assembly – l’hémicycle

Like our previous articles about the Sénat, Hôtel de Ville, and Sorbonne during the special weekend for Journées Européennes du Patrimoine, we also went to the Assemblée Nationale, the French legislative branch lower house. The Assemblée Nationale is not normally open to the public.

A little about the Assemblée Nationale – it consists of 577 members elected directly by the public in a two election process. All candidates compete in the first round of the election. Then in many cases the two candidates with the most votes in round 1 compete in round 2, though it’s possible for a candidate to win outright on the 1st round if he/she has a simple majority. Members serve a term of 5 years. The President of the Republic has the power to dissolve the Assemblée Nationale – a way to resolve stalemates, and the Assemblée has the power to overthrow the executive (the Prime Minister and Ministers of the Cabinet) through a vote of no confidence. In practice neither of these measures are exercised because the President and majority of the Assemblée are from the same party, and the President’s term coincides with those of the members of the Assemblée, so throughout his/her term, there is a majority from his/her party to defeat such a vote. A vote to censure the executive branch is usually a form of protest that can never pass. The Assemblée is presided over by the President of the Assemblée, currently Claude Bartolone. The President is from the majority party. He also has several vice presidents from the other parties.

The Assemblée meets in the Palais Bourbon, which is located along the Seine across the river from Place de la Concorde. The Palais was built by Louis XIV for one of his daughters, Louise François de Bourbon. Construction was completed in 1728. The President of the Assemblée resides in an adjoining building, the Hôtel de Lassay. Our tour visited parts of both these buildings.

We waited probably an hour in a long line outside before reaching the entry to the Hôtel de Lassay. We proceeded through the opulent public spaces of that building and then along the corridor joining it to the Palais Bourbon. All along the way there were placards in French explaining details of the spaces and how that space is used in the daily operation of the legislature. Too many details to cover for you. The highlights of the Palais Bourbon were the assembly chambers, with a huge skylight in the overhead. The library with ceilings by the famous French painter Eugene Delacroix was spectacular. It contained such works as the trial transcript of Joan d’Arc, an Aztec calendar, a copy of the constitution annotated by Robespierre, and numerous articles and manuscripts by Lamartine, Hugo, Clemenceau, Jaurès, and other famous French statesmen.

You can see a photo tour here, and there is a more comprehensive virtual tour on the French web site here.

Tour of the Sorbonne

Main entry into the Sorbonne

Like our previous articles about the Sénat and Hôtel de Ville, during the special weekend for Journées Européennes du Patrimoine, we also went to the historic Sorbonne, which is not normally open to the public. A lovely couple we met on one of the Paris Walks told us about this special weekend or we never would have known. La Sorbonne was first a college started in the middle ages, part of the loose affiliation known as the University of Paris, which still adorns the entry, and now refers to the historic building in the Latin Quarter of Paris, which is used in part by four different universities:

  • Panthéon-Sorbonne University (Paris I), which also houses the observatory of the Sorbonne and the Sorbonne Law School.
  • Sorbonne Nouvelle University (Paris III)
  • Paris-Sorbonne University (Paris IV), which also houses the “School of Journalism (CELSA)” and the “Maison de la Recherche”
  • Paris Descartes University: Faculté des Sciences Humaines et Sociales – Sorbonne (Paris V)
paris_city_wall

Shown outline is the Phillip Augustus city wall. The portion inside the wall south of (below) the Seine River is the Latin Quarter.

I was hoping to find a simple explanation for origin of colleges and universities in the Latin Quarter – but no (more details here). The simplest starting point is that the church, represented by the Cathedral at Notre Dame, encouraged development of schools on the left bank. Students could be identified because the tops of their heads were shaven, and those with that identification were under the protection of the church, and not subject to the King’s laws or courts. Paris, as is shown in the diagram of the city wall of Phillip Augustus, which was completed in about 1215, included portions on the right bank and left bank with a core on Île de la Cité. The Latin quarter is in the south (bottom) part of the picture. The right bank (north part) was governed by the Provost (mayor of the merchants – he lived at Hôtel de Ville). The King lived on Île de la Cité and governed that space. On the left bank the students were only accountable to ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and the King had no authority there. Originally there were the palace school, the school of Notre Dame, and the Saint Geneviève Abbey, as well as numerous smaller schools. The school of Saint Victor later rose to rival the earlier schools, and the palace school faded in importance. One of its most famous professors (I must point out) was Hugh of Saint Victor. It seems, though the literature is not positive, that these three remaining schools formed the University of Paris in about 1208. The students were also organized by nations, a fraternity like arrangement where students of certain nationalities spoke a common language and complied with a certain set of rules.

The chapel at the Sorbonne was destroyed in the French Revolution

The chapel at the Sorbonne was destroyed in the French Revolution – painting at the Carnavalet Museum

The Collège de Sorbonne, was founded in 1257 by Robert de Sorbon. The Latin quarter had many scholar residents who taught students. The original colleges were started to house and feed the students rather than to provide classrooms and administration for the faculty. In later years the college was reformed to become the university it is today.

France’s principal minister under Louis XIII, Cardinal Richelieu, is represented today as an important figure in the life of the Sorbonne. In 1622, Richelieu was elected the proviseur or principal of the Sorbonne. He presided over the renovation of the college’s buildings, and over the construction of its famous chapel, where he is now entombed. There is more about his internment at the Chapel of the Sorbonne (from the Wikipedia article):

Richelieu died on 4 December 1642, aged 57. His body was embalmed, and interred at the church of the Sorbonne. (On hearing of Richelieu’s death, Pope Urban is said to have remarked, “If there is a God, Richelieu will have much to answer for. If there is not, he lived a successful life.”) During the French Revolution, the corpse was removed from its tomb, and the mummified front of his head, having been removed and replaced during the original embalming process, was stolen. It ended up in the possession of Nicholas Armez of Brittany by 1796, and he occasionally exhibited the well-preserved face. His nephew, Louis-Philippe Armez, inherited it and also occasionally exhibited it and lent it out for study. In 1866, Napoleon III persuaded Armez to return the face to the government for re-interment with the rest of Richelieu’s body.

The French Revolution also destroyed the chapel, which has not been completely restored to this day and is only opened on special occasions. Our photo tour below includes photos of the present day chapel.

The 20th Century again brought a major transformation to the Sorbonne and the University of Paris. Following contentious demonstrations and riots at the University in 1968, in 1970 the University of Paris was reorganized into 13 autonomous successor universities, four of which occupy the historic building of the Sorbonne, as noted above.

From the Paris-Sorbonne University web site:

Paris Sorbonne University is the main inheritor of the old Sorbonne, which dates back to the 13th century. It was one of the first universities in the world.

The biggest complex in France, dedicated to Literature, Languages, Civilizations, Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, is located on the original medieval foundations, and now extends to the Latin Quarter and to other areas in Paris.

The University has two characteristics : rich culture and tradition, with top-quality researchers, and therefore an excellent scientific reputation shown through publications and international exchanges; its concern to constantly adapt to present day social and technological changes and to encourage as many students as possible to study at Paris-Sorbonne while preparing for their future careers. The Sorbonne incites its students to think freely, to construct their own judgment, so that they can become responsible and inventive citizens who can promote dignity and peace culture.

Our photo tour to tries to capture some of this famous institution. See the photo captions to find out more about some of the famous people who studied and taught there. Many have had an influence on our lives in America. Also in the photo tour (and potentially of more interest to some) are photos of some Paris fashions that were on display in the main salon as we passed through. Magnifique!

Story of a painting in my parent’s living room

Irene Cahen d'Anvers by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Irene Cahen d’Anvers by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

I’ve been told that this story is confusing. If you need to get a pencil and paper please do so now.

An inexpensive copy of this painting used to hang in my parent’s living room in Peoria, Illinois, when I was growing up. The original, titled “Mademoiselle Irène Cahen d’Anvers”, was painted in 1880 by the famous Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir after he received a commission from the Cahen d’Anvers family of Paris. Irène was then 11 years old. When the work was completed, the family told Renoir that they did not like the painting and offered only 1500 francs, far less than the painter’s normal fee, to purchase both this painting and another showing Irène’s two younger sisters.

Our story begins last weekend, when we were on a Paris-Walks Tour showing Paris of the Impressionists. The tour focused on Parc Monceau and the nearby neighborhood l’Europe. Our guide displayed the picture while talking about two large houses in the neighborhood and how the son of one of the owners had rejected joining the family business so he could study art. That son later became a collector of art and financial backer of the Impressionists. The story of the Impressionists in this part of Paris we’ll save for another time, but that painting – it was in my parent’s living room – who was that person again?

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Oriel Caine of Paris Walks shows us the photo in her notebook

In 1868, a Sephardic Jewish banking family from Constantinople moved to Paris. Two brothers, Behor Abraham Camondo and Nissim Camondo, purchased and built houses on side-by-side lots adjoining what is today the beautiful Park Monceau. Behor died and passed his home to his son Isaac. Isaac was the son who decided to study art. Nissim died and passed his home to his son Möise. Möise later (in 1912) rebuilds the other property into a masterpiece of 18th century French art and furniture. However, long before that, in 1891 he married Iréne Cahen D’Anvers (the woman in the painting), and they had two children, Nissim and Béatrice. They were married just 5 years before separating and later divorcing, and when they separated, the children remained with their father Möise. In 1896 Irène (the woman in the painting) converted to Catholicism and ran off with the Camondo’s stable man, Count Charles Sampieri. The painting of Iréne was given back to Iréne’s mother as part of the divorce settlement, and in 1910 she gave the portrait to Iréne’s daughter Béatrice.

Family home of Moise de Camondo, where the children grew up

Family home of Moise de Camondo, where the children grew up

World War I began in 1914, and late in the war tragedy struck when in 1917 Nissim (Möise’s son) was killed in aerial combat in Lorraine. This was a great blow to his father Möise, who from that point withdrew from public life. In 1918 his daughter Béatrice married Léon Reinach and had two children, Fanny and Bertrand. They purchased their own home, so Möise was then alone in his large mansion. Moïse died in 1935, with his fortune largely going to his daughter Béatrice. His mansion and art collection were donated to the City of Paris to establish Musee Nissim de Camondo to honor his deceased son Nissim.

In 1940 the Germans invaded and occupied France. Prior to that time Béatrice had divorced Léon and converted to Catholicism. She was very wealthy and well connected socially, and thinking she was safe from the Nazi’s harassment of Jews, she ignored Léon’s warning to take the children out of the country. In 1943 they were all arrested – Béatrice, Léon and their children and were sent to an internment camp and then to Auschwitz, where they were all killed. Béatrice’s estranged mother Irène (the woman in the painting), now separated from Charles the former stable man, was able to save herself from arrest by hiding behind her former husband’s Italian last name and religion.

The Renoir painting was confiscated from Béatrice in 1941 by the Germans and became the property of General Hermann Göring in Paris. He sold it to an art dealer representing Emil Bürhle, a Swiss collector and head of an arms manufacturing business. In 1946 Irène saw the painting of herself on display at an exhibition of Paris art, and she applied for and eventually succeeded in having it returned to her custody. In 1949 she sold the painting through a gallery, and the purchaser was Emil Georg Bürhle, the same person who bought it previously. The painting remains today in the Bürhle Foundation Museum in Zurich.

According to several sources, Irène was the sole heir to daughter Béatrice’s fortune from the former de Camondo estate. Sources say that she gambled away or otherwise spent the money made on that portrait and the entire Camondo fortune in casinos in southern France during the many years before 1963, when she died in Paris at age 91.

I sent a post card of the painting to my 91 year old mother with a note telling the story of  Irène, her family, and the picture that was in our living room.

A Visit to the Sénat

Main staircase to the Luxembourg Palace

Grand Staircase of the Palais du Luxembourg

As part of the event called Journées Européennes du Patrimoine, we toured the Sénat, which is one of two legislative houses of the French government, similar to (but also different from) the Senate and House of Representatives in the US. The Sénat represents grass roots France, providing a voice for the governments of all municipalities. It also represents French citizens living abroad, who do not have a voice in the National Assembly. In France the government (the President of the Republic and his ministers) has priority in setting the agenda before the legislative assemblies, though members of the both assemblies may also introduce legislation and time is set aside in their monthly agenda for the discussion of member’s legislation.

There are 348 senators, each elected for a period of 6 years with elections held every 3 years to renew half of the members of the house. Senators are elected indirectly by electoral colleges made up mostly of delegates of municipal councils. The number of senators from any given municipality varies according to its population. The Sénate cannot make the government resign, but Senators can investigate and question ministers of the government. It also has a committee specifically dedicated to the review of legislation and regulations of the European Union. And  it also participates in various ways in the international relations of France. Although the President of the Republic can dissolve the National Assembly, he or she must consult with the President of the Sénat prior to doing so. The Sénate cannot be dissolved.

Until an election can be held, the President of the Sénat also is tasked with temporarily replacing the President of the Republic should he die or resign. The President of the Sénat is elected to a 3 year term. There is a managing committee of 25 senators, including 8 deputy speakers, 3 Questers who handle the management and administration of the Sénat, and 14 secretaries who supervise voting. There are 7 standing committees, one of which is assigned to review each new piece of legislation.

Our tour was of the Sénate quarters in the Luxembourg Palace (Palais du Luxembourg), built following the death of King Henry IV by his wife Marie de’ Medici starting in 1612. It was declared a National Palace in 1791 after the Revolution. Our tour started at the Petit Luxembourg, to the west of the Palais du Luxembourg, and connected to it through interior courts. The Petit Luxembourg was the sixteenth-century original hôtel of the duc de Piney-Luxembourg and was rebuilt during the construction of the Luxembourg Palace. It was once the home of Cardinal Richelieu. Since 1958, the Petit-Luxembourg has been the official residence of the President of the French Senate (président du Sénat). We saw the public spaces used by the Sénat President.

Then we proceeded into the Luxembourg Palace and up the grand staircase, through the various salons and offices, through the spectacular library with paintings by Eugene Delacroix and a fabulous view of the gardens, then into the Sénat chambers, then to the huge  golden Conference Hall and yet another spectacular space with Sénat Archives. Lastly we saw a short film about the Sénat and toured some of the media spaces. You can see some photos of our tour at this photo tour.

Hôtel de Ville

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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.