Sunday, October 28, 2007

Tuesday afternoon in Paris: A park, a museum, two churches and a monument

I have so much more to share with everyone about my trip to France, so bear with me as I juggle with other commitments for my time to bring forth my anecdotes and share pictures.

Previously, I posted about a morning well spent at the Institut du Monde Arabe. We left there feeling quite hungry. I wanted to purchase food for a nice picnic lunch and eat at an historic site on the way to the next place on my itinerary.

We crossed the Seine again, and passed through the Isle Saint Louis, and came to the right bank. Paris is an amazing city filled with life and art everywhere you turn.

Here is a small garden park that we came across. It is the Jardin de l'Hotel de Sens.


We found a small bakery and bought two baguette sandwiches with meat and cheese, then we bought some grapes from a grocer. Using our Frommer's map we navigated our way to the Place des Vosges and enjoyed our lunch Parisian style. It was a popular spot with many other people picnicking as well. It was therefore also popular with pigeons.

Unfortunately, we were enjoying ourselves and happy to sit and relax that we forgot to take pictures of that famous landmark. For those unfamiliar with the Place des Vosges, you can see images here. According to an official Paris Monuments webpage:

"Paris' original attempt at urban planning, the Place des Vosges is now its oldest square. The square symmetry of the square, with its ground floor arcade, consists of 39 (some say 36) houses - each made of red brick with stone facings. Its construction was under Henri IV from 1605 - 1612. The site was originally occupied by the Hôtel des Tournelles."

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It is also reportedly the same site where King Henri II met his untimely demise. He took part in a joust and a sliver from a lance pierced one of his eyes which led to his death a few days later. Accidents happen, even to royalty.

The reason I wanted to see the Place des Vosges was more than to find an oasis in the middle of a metropolitan city. It was to help me comprehend the size and scope of the area inside the ancient city walls of Paris. That park was near the extent of the walls built by Philippe August on the right bank.

The fortifications for Paris changed over the centuries and it poses difficulty for me as a novelist. I am adapting classic poems which were written during the Italian Renaissance by poets who were terrible historians and worse geographers. One of the biggest challenges is deciding when to correct their historical errors, and when to include historical inaccuracies because to change them would be to open up the plot to extraordinary complications.

The walls of Medieval Paris have been one of those headaches for me.

That leads me to our next destination the Musée Carnavelet. This museum is dedicated to the history of Paris and has many artifacts through the ages.

Boiardo and Ariosto did not realize that during the time of Charlemagne that the only fortifications protecting Paris surrounded the Isle de la Cité.

Here are two images of Paris showing the Isle de la Cité as well as the populated left bank and largely vacant right bank. This is the Roman city of Lutecia.

As you can see there are a lot of potential targets for looting and sacking by invading armies.

That is what happened when the Vikings attacked Paris in the ninth century. They ransacked the left bank.

Now look at a map that is in the public domain of Medieval Paris surrounded by fortified walls.



My plot is complicated enough without the invading Saracen army having the ability to sack the left bank. So after a lot of mental gymnastics about the matter, I decided to keep the protective walls around Paris for my story even though they were not there during the time of Charlemagne. There will be a disclaimer, but after all, I am telling an epic tale about a war that never took place so I will need to have a little poetic license as well as some historical latitude to tell the tale.

I was also interested in jewelry and artifacts from the Merovingian period.




One thing that disappointed me was finding out that the wing dedicated to the Medieval period was closed for renovation. In order for me to get to the area with the prehistoric and Gallo-Roman period, we had to pass through the ages. I simply did not have time to pay any attention to the French Revolution, or even the Hundred Years War as I was focused on seeing as much as I could in the short time I had in Paris.

Our next stop was the church of Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais on the right bank near Hotel de Ville. There has been a church on this site since the seventh century, although it is hard to see if there are any remnant of that previous time left standing. The outside shows three different columns. The bottom level is Doric, the second is Ionic, the topmost is Corinthian.




This church also had pointed Gothic arches and stained glass



as well as murals and statues.


We left there with still some time to spare before places closed for the night. We headed back to the Isle de la Cité and the Conciergerie. This was the site of the palace for the Merovingian kings. I had hoped to see something like "Clovis slept here," but that was not to be. As you enter the building you go into the ground floor to the Salle des Gens d'Armes.


The sign tells the story that this room dates to the 14th century and that it is the oldest surviving medieval hall in Europe.


The focus of the monument is its role as a prison during the French Revolution and that Marie Antoinette was one of their most famous prisoners. That was interesting, but that was not the time period I wanted to know about. I asked one of the women in the gift shop if she might answer a few of my questions, and she tried.

I told her that what I really wanted was to see anything that dated back to the Merovingian times, and would love to see where any chambers that once belonged to Clovis. She said that if any still existed it was not open to the public.

Sigh.

So that left me with knowing the place the palace and the citadel would have been, but not seeing what it looked like. I did not see any historical images, drawings, etc. of what it may have looked during the time of the Merovingian kings. (I mention the dynasty prior to the Carolingian kings since Paris was not favored by Charlemagne and he did not make it one of his palaces.)

C'est la vie. That means that because it is no longer there, I have to allow myself to create what works best for my plot needs.

The last stop we made that day was for the joy of seeing stained glass. Sainte-Chapelle is a small church nestled in the middle of the Palais du Justice compound. Here is the impressive looking exterior.



Here is a short history from the official Paris Monuments page:

"Built by Louis IX in the 1240's to house relics from the Holy Land believed to be the Crown of Thorns and part of the True Cross, this small gothic chapel is one of the inspiring visual experiences of Paris. Much of this is due to its stained glass windows which essentially surround the entire upper floor.

The chapel itself is now surrounded by the Palais of Justice on the Ile de la Cité near Notre Dame. It has two "tiers", the first one at ground level being rather dark and close, the second one having radiant tall windows, as well as a small balcony."

The ground level of the church seems dark, and I would wonder why anyone during the Middle Ages would choose to worship on the ground floor of Sainte-Chapelle when they could have gone to Notre Dame. Or even Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais.

The first floor serves as the gift shop.

For those who were nobility and were allowed to venture up the spiral staircase to the second floor, your eyes could feast upon the colors radiating the room from the glorious stained glass .



Then it was back to our hotel, take a short rest before heading out in search of dinner. That is a story in and of itself for next time.

Until then...

Linda


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