Monday, October 19
Up early today to do a walking tour of Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis. We had a beautiful sunrise, and pleasant temperatures. These two natural islands in the Seine were among the first areas settled in the area, and retain a medieval feel. They are connected to the rest of the city by several bridges, but to each other by only one, the Pont Saint-Louis.
Île Saint-Louis is named for King Louis IX, king of France in the 13th century, and canonized in 1297, just 30 years after his death. Although mostly residential, with little auto traffic, there were many shops and restaurants – so tempting!
In the first century BC, Île de la Cité was settled by a Gallic tribe called the Parisii. After the Romans conquered the inhabitants, they named the island Lutetia. It was later named Paris for the original tribe. This island is the heart of Paris today.
Lovers have been attaching locks to the Pont Sainte-Louis to symbolize their undying love (similar to a practice at the Ponte dell’Accademia in Venice.) They write their names on the lock, fasten it to the bridge, then thrown away the key. However, this practice can exert great pressure on the bridges. Just last year, part of the Pont des Arts bridge near the Louvre collapsed from the weight, and 45 tons of locks were cut off.
The Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Paris, built on Île Sainte-Louis between 1160 and 1345 AD, was one of the first buildings in the world to use flying buttresses. The arched exterior supports allowed the builders to construct taller and thinner walls without compromising the structural integrity of the building.
At the base of the steeple, you can see bronze statues of the twelve apostles, three to a side. Of these, only Saint Thomas is looking up toward the steeple (still questioning?) while the others look down.
The cathedral has suffered a few attacks on its features and treasures, in 1548 by the Huguenots who considered many of the features idolatrous, and again in 1793 by anti-religious French revolutionaries, and then again during World War II when some windows were hit by stray bullets.
In 1238, the emperor of Constantinople sold what is purported to be be Jesus Christ’s crown of thorns to Louis IX. The king paid more for this relic than he did for the cathedral which now houses it. It is on display under red glass, so it’s pretty hard to see. It is simply a circlet of rushes, no thorns, which supposedly held the thorns together.
After lunch, we visited the Louvre museum. Although busy, it was easy to see the items on display. Of course, we could only cover a fraction of the museum, which includes almost 35,000 objects. The Louvre Palace was originally built as a fortress in the last 12th century, then used as a palace until the last 17th century. It opened as a museum in 1793, with less than 600 paintings. Many of the works were royal or confiscated church property.
The building was renovated in the 1980’s and the iconic glass pyramid, designed by I.M Pei, a world famous architect, born in China and educated in the US, was constructed over a new entrance in the main court in 1989. An inverted pyramid was added in 1993 in the Carrousel du Louvre shopping mall in front of the museum. There are also three smaller pyramids which bring natural light into the building.
During the renovation in the 1980’s, some of the foundations were uncovered from the original fortress. We were able to see parts of the moat, drawbridge and the base of a circular staircase that rose from the moat to the living quarters of the king.
Many of the ancient sculptures are copies, although the Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of Samothrace are originals. A French naval officer was exploring the island of Milos in 1820, and began to dig around some ancient ruins where he uncovered the Venus. Winged Victory (Nike of Samothrace) was discovered in 1863 by the then French consul, an amateur archaeologist.
We also were able to see the Mona Lisa, which is displayed behind bullet-proof glass. As a result, most photos will show reflections from the light around it. If you look closely at the photo here, you can see faces of many of the people trying to see it. There were so many people gathered around it that is was difficult to get near enough to take a picture. One young mother was quite resourceful – she sat here young daughter (4 years old?) on her shoulders and had the daughter take the photo – smart mother, smart daughter.
And there was still more excitement! We visited the Moulin Rouge for dinner and a show. Created in 1889 by Joseph Oller and Charles Zidler, this cabaret allowed people from all walks of life to mix and enjoy dancing and entertainment. We were amazed to find ourselves sitting right in front of the dance floor and stage. Tables are set close together so once we were seated, we didn’t get up until the show was over.
A couple of singers entertained us during dinner. After that, the stage extended out over the dance floor to the front tables. The stage was immediately next to us. We could look up directly at the dancers and performers in front. At times, we were worried that we’d get kicked by the dancers, but they know where to stop.
The cast includes 80 artists, including 60 Doriss Girls. To qualify as a Doriss Girl, girls must be at least 1.75 meters tall and boys must be over 1.85 meters. There are also other specific measurement requirements, including distance between various physical characteristics. They are not necessarily buxom, but they are “perky.”
There were certainly plenty of breasts to be seen, of course, but the performances were very entertaining and skillful. The show was non-stop, with many costume changes and a few quick set changes. One performance included miniature horses, another included a pool and pythons with a performer in the pool. One comedy sketch brought a few audience members on stage. Another performance was on a round raised platform on roller skates (a brother and sister pair). Dancing, singing, acrobatics and more.
No photos are allowed in the theater, so you’ll just have to go there yourself.
And so, another trip comes to an end. We go home tomorrow, but will enjoy our memories for years to come. Thanks for joining me on another awesome trip.