After a good night’s sleep, we woke early the next morning and went downstairs to breakfast in the hotel. Perhaps I was over ambitious but we took on the trip to the Cathedral Basilica of Saint-Denis, a place of pilgrimage and the burial place of French kings and queens. Nearly every king from the 10th to 18th centuries is buried here as well as many from the previous centuries. It was founded in the 7th century by Dagobert I on the burial place of Saint-Denis, a patron saint of France. The Basilica is often referred to as the “royal necropolis of France” and contains some fine examples of cadaver tombs with the effigies of many of the kings and queens. For me this is a very special place. As someone who enjoys religious architecture, Saint-Denis draws from a number of sources its structural and decorative features that make it the first truly Gothic building. It provided an architectural model for cathedrals and abbeys of northern France, England and other countries. Most of the interments that can be found here include 46 kings, 36 queens, 63 princes and princesses and countless other members of French nobility. Marie-Antoinette (1793AD) Louis XVI (1774-93AD) Tomb of Louis, Duke of Orleans (1407AD), his duchess, Valentine Visconte (1408AD), their sons, Charles the Poet (1465AD) and Philip (1420AD) Clovis I (511AD) and Childebert I (558AD) Philip V le Long (1316-22AD), Jeanne d'Evreux (1371AD), Charles IV le Bel (1322-28AD) Louis XII (1498-1515AD) and Anne de Bretagne (1514AD) The central portal of the basilica is quite striking with its tympanum of Christ in Majesty surrounded by the instruments of the Passion. Elements of Christ’s Passion can also be found on the huge bronze doors flanked by statues in niches of the wise and foolish virgins. The other portals are decorated with intricate relief sculptures. The basilica retains stained glass windows from many different periods including several 12th century medieval originals. The best way around Paris is to take the Metro or RER trains. In just minutes, one can be in front of the Fontaine St-Michel built between 1855-1860 and minutes later at the foot of another famous Parisian landmark, Sacré-Cœur Basilica located at the summit of the butte Montmartre, the highest point in the city. It was built between 1875 and 1914 and is dedicated to the 58,000 who lost their lives during the Franco-Prussian War and the ensuing uprising of the Paris Commune of 1870-71. Some interesting facts about the basilica: it is built entirely out of travertine stone quarried from the Seine-et-Marne Department. This stone constantly exudes calcite, which ensures that the basilica remains white even with weathering and pollution. The foundations of the basilica are deeper than the Egyptian pyramids. The mosaic in the apse, entitled “Christ in Majesty”, is among the largest in the world. Since 1885 (before construction had been completed), the Blessed Sacrament (a consecrated host which has been turned into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ during Mass) has been continually on display in a monstrance above the high altar. Perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament has continued uninterrupted in the Basilica since 1885. Some say the basilica looks like a huge, white cake but whatever your taste, it has one of the best views of Paris. If you don’t want to take the 500 plus stairs to the top, hop aboard the funicular at the bottom of the hill using an ordinary Metro ticket. We took the stairs down after our visit but we had to be careful to dodge those pesky street peddlers trying to make friendship bracelets for us. They tell you it’s free but once the string is on your wrist, be ready to cough up 5 to 10 Euros! These guys can be quite aggressive. We were very hungry by the time lunch rolled around and we were fortunate enough to find an excellent street café at the foot of the basilica where we ate sandwiches and watched the people go by. I grabbed this shot from Google Maps. After eating, we headed for the Metro again and exited at the Place de la Concorde. It was here during the French Revolution that the statue of Louis XV of France was torn down and the area renamed “Place de la Revolution”. The new revolutionary government erected the guillotine in the square, and it was here that King Louis XVI was executed on January 21, 1793. Other important figures guillotined on the site, often in front of cheering crowds, were Queen Marie Antoinette, Princess Elisabeth of France, Madame du Barry, Georges Danton, Maximilien Robespierre and Charlotte Corday. Today, at the center of the Place is a giant Egyptian obelisk decorated with hieroglyphics exalting the reign of the pharaoh Ramses II. It once marked the entrance to the Luxor Temple but was given to the French in 1829 by Ottoman viceroy of Egypt, Mehmet Ali. It arrived in Paris on December 21, 1833 and three years later was placed in the center where the guillotine stood during the Revolution. From here, my brother and I chose to do some walking. From Place de la Concorde we entered the Jardin des Tuileries, a public garden created by Catherine de Medicis as the garden of the Tuileries Palace in 1564. It was first opened to the public in 1667. Trees, flowerbeds, fountains and sculptures decorate the long pathways which lead directly to the Louvre Museum. One first has to pass by the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel built between 1806 and 1808 to serve as an entrance of honor at the Tuileries and to commemorate Napoleon’s military victories. It literally takes days to see everything inside the Louvre so we opted to save its treasures for another day and spent our time admiring the façade and the large glass and metal pyramid (designed by the architect I.M. Pei), surrounded by three smaller pyramids, in the main courtyard (Cour Napoléon). The large pyramid serves as the main entrance to the Louvre Museum. It was completed in 1989 and has become a landmark of the city. We left the wonders of the Louvre behind us as we exited from the Cour Carée and followed the Seine onward passing the Church of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois and stopping again to view the Pont-Neuf. Despite its name, it is the oldest standing bridge across the Seine in Paris. The bridge is composed of two separate spans, one of five arches joining the left bank to the Île de la Cité, another seven joining the island to the right bank. Its first stone was laid by King Henry III in 1578 and was completed in 1607. A major restoration of the Pont-Neuf was begun in 1994 and was completed in 2007, the year of its 400th anniversary. In 1991, along with actors Juliette Binoche and Denis Lavant, the bridge was featured in the Leos Carax film “Les Amants du Pont-Neuf”. Go out now and rent it. One of the most beautiful places in Paris is La Sainte-Chapelle, a Gothic chapel built sometime between 1239 and completed in 1248. It was built to house precious relics: Christ’s crown of thorns, the Image of Edessa and thirty other relics of Christ that had been in the possession of Louis IX. What stands out the most to everyone who visits are the tall stained glass windows of the upper chapel, nearly two-thirds are authentic and date as far back as the 12th century. A statue to Saint-Louis can be found in the beautifully painted lower chapel dedicated to the Virgin. In the upper chapel, the rose window represents the Apocalypse while the other stained glass windows represent stories from the Old and New Testaments. Just like the Basilica of Saint-Denis, it is a masterpiece of Gothic design. As part of our ticket price we had entry to La Conciergerie, a formal royal palace and prison. It is part of the larger complex known as the Palais de Justice. It was here that hundreds of prisoners during the French Revolution were kept before taken to be executed on the guillotine at a number of locations around Paris. Built as a palace in the 13th and 14th century it eventually became a prison in 1391. The Hall of the Guards is one of the largest surviving medieval parts of the Conciergerie and often plays the role of exhibition center. During our visit, there was a special exhibit about French Monuments in Film. Some of the more eerie parts of the Conciergerie can still be visited such as the prison cells and the Marie Antoinette room. In the courtyard, one can still see the bell which tolled her final hours before being loaded into a tumbrel and led to Place de la Concorde to be guillotined. What visit would be complete without a visit to the famous Notre-Dame Cathedral. Featured heavily in Victor Hugo’s novel “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”, it is widely considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture in France and in Europe. Its construction spanned the entire Gothic period with groundbreaking in 1163 and its completion in 1345. It was among the first buildings in the world to use the flying buttress. The transept portals are richly embellished with sculpture; the south portal features scenes from the lives of Saint-Stephen and of various local saints, while the north portal features the infancy of Christ and the story of Theophilus in the tympanum. The western façade has three portals, the portal of the Virgin, the portal of the Last Judgement and the portal of Ste-Anne. After being completely looted during the Revolution, in 1845 it underwent a 25-year restoration under the guidance of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. In 1991, a major program of maintenance and restoration was initiated, which was intended to last ten years, but is still in progress, the cleaning and restoration of old sculptures and gargoyles being an exceedingly delicate matter. Sadly, we were unable to fit in any more sights as the sun began to set. My brother found a person selling souvenir prints at three for 5 Euros but we promised ourselves we would return the next day and buy them. What a nightmare that decision turned out to be as you will read in my next article. All in all, it was a fantastic way to end an afternoon of sightseeing. We had our dinner at an Italian restaurant along rue de Charenton near the hotel and went to bed. We had to get our sleep since we had to get up early the next day in order to get to the Palace of Versailles.