Our Vantage Points

~ P a r i s ~
I love Paris in the spring time;
I love Paris in the fall.
I love Paris in the summer, when it sizzles.
I love Paris in the winter, when it drizzles.

I love Paris every moment,
Every moment of the year.
I love Paris; why oh why do I love Paris?
Because my love is here.
There seems to be an assumption that Paris is entitled to a special ranking among world cities.   People say.  "If you travel in Europe, you must see Paris!"  Rome and London are the other ones.   I was skeptical at first, but maybe Paris is indeed special.

Early History

About 2200 years ago, a group of Celtic people found protection from intruders on a small island of the Seine River in north central France.   Earliest records reveal that the community here was known as Lutetia.

The Parisii, those early Celtic inhabitants, burned the island town before leaving it to the Romans in 52 BC. The Romans gradually built their city, not only on the island, but expanded it to the left bank of the Seine.  Then, after more than half a millennium, when the Western Roman Empire was failing, the Romans left it all to the Germanic tribes eager to take over.

Clovis I became the ruler of the Frankish Kingdom, setting up his residence and governing headquarters here in 502.   Clovis had become a Christian, establishing close ties to the papacy in Rome, a "cool" thing to do in those days.

The city was called Paris in honor of the Parisii, its earliest identified inhabitants. But The island is still referred to as Îl de la Cité.  


Charlemagne

Today, as we cross the bridge onto Îl de la Cité and walk up to that massive Cathedral, Notre Dame, the very first thing we encounter is a life-sized bronze statue of Charlemagne flanked by two of his loyal soldiers, armed with battleaxes and carefully surveying this pigeon-cluttered plaza.   Probably few, if any, French monuments characterize the persistent historic challenges to France, as does this imposing statue.

Charlemagne (Charles the Great) was the grandson of Charles Martel (The Hammer) who stopped the advancing Moors (Muslims), near Tours, France in 732, deferring the Islamic conquest of France.

Today, immigrants coming to reap the socialistic benefits of France now comprise about one tenth of the population.   Most of these are Muslims.   Only days after we left France, riots broke out in numerous places around Paris and elsewhere in France resulting in some loss of life and hundreds of automobiles burned.   The popular notion is that those "kids" are just bored with their bleak surroundings in government urban housing.   This, it seems to me, is a shallow over-simplification. The French government had already outlawed the wearing of burkas in schools. Then to be "fair" the wearing of crucifixes was outlawed.   This effort to be even handed shows little understanding of the problems.  But as you read further, French rulers have always considered religion only as a convenient ally or a pesky enemy.

Just 36 years after the battle of Tours, Charlemagne began his 46-year reign of the Frankish Kingdom, expanding it far beyond what we know today as France.   It soon included Switzerland and large areas of Germany and Italy.

This guy was "on a roll!"

Then, on Christmas day of 800, Pope Leo III, crowned Charlemagne, the emperor of the "Empire of the West," to replace the Roman under girding enjoyed by the Roman Catholic Church.   Charlemagne became the most powerful leader in Europe...   a clever piece of work for both Charlemagne and Leo.   Later, Charlemagne became recognized as the first Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire,

Charlemagne was a "devout" Roman Catholic.   Even in the field, during his military campaigns, it is said that rituals of the church were routine.   Although this affiliation was a significant tie, uniting his Empirical acquisitions, it was not sufficient.   Charlemagne incorporated a number of other unifying reforms such as toll standards, new bridges, an emphasis on Latin, etc.

But unlike the civil infrastructure established by the Romans, these reforms did not last much beyond his death in 814 because they were not properly delegated.   When his only heir, Louis I, died in 840 the kingdom was divided among Charlemagne's grandsons at Verdun.   West Francia (France) went to Charles II; East Francia (Germany) went to Louis II; and the middle strip running from the North Sea to Northern Italy went to Lothair.


The Church and France

Eventually Paris became the true capital of France and Îl de la Cité, it's true centerpiece.   In 1163 this great cathedral, Notre Dame, was built on the island without sky cranes or ready mix.   There was no electricity for its great chandeliers, just tallow.   Even today as we walk through this huge sanctuary, the interior is dimly lit, probably to accentuate the light coming through great colored glass windows and to give us the ambiance of the Middle Ages.

Notre Dame still provides worship opportunities.   A vesper service was being announced on a small electric reader board.
But now, Notre Dame is mainly a memorial to the strong, enduring alliance that the French once had with the Roman Catholic Church.

This alliance was so strong when the Protestant reformers challenged the Catholic institution that it was as if the Kingdom of France itself was challenged.   Indeed, this situation brought on a series of French civil wars dubbed "The Huguenot Wars," a reference to the Protestants of France, many of whom were learned and respected members of their society.   The Huguenots followed the theology of John Calvin, and Calvin's distinctive theological thread told them that they were "God's elect people."   For the Catholics, this was a particularly irritating notion.   And the kings, if they thought about it at all, would probably reply: "Who are 'God's elect' more than kings?"
For 30 years after 1562, these wars tragically mixed the power struggles of nobility and kings with the debate of church doctrines.   For people of true faith, it should be no surprise that nobility and kings are rarely able to comprehend spiritual matters.   Indeed, it seems that this impasse between the secular and the religious will never be broken.   Even Jesus said as much to his disciples:
"Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see; for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it." Luke 10:23,24
The most catastrophic event of this power struggle came when Catherine de Medicis, queen mother of Charles IX, advised her son to order the assassination of Gaspard de Coligny, a French Military leader aiding the Huguenots.   When he suffered only minor wounds the failed plot was covered up by ordering major Huguenot leaders killed.  If that indeed was the order, it was not properly construed: Beginning on St.  Bartholomew's Day, August 24, 1572 and continuing into October, thousands of Huguenots were killed, not only in Paris, but throughout France.   Moderate estimates place the death toll at something like 70,000.  The rivers, particularly the Seine and the Loire, were overburdened with corpses.  Wolves came down at night to feast.

The Huguenot Wars ended when Henry IV issued the Edict of Nantes (1598).   This gave the Huguenots some room to practice their faith, albeit with significant stipulations.  Huguenots were not allowed to build churches in and around Paris and other specified areas.  A special court, balanced in favor of the Catholics was established to negotiate Huguenot issues.   Catholics were given no such restrictions, yet Pope Clement VIII, concerned that Huguenots were off the hook, remarked of the Edict: "It crucifies me."

But because the Huguenots were a thorn in the side of absolutist kings, even this limited freedom for the Huguenots was very strained.

Finally, Louis XIV, put his foot down. He had no patience for the Huguenots and seriously persecute them.  Then, 87 years after the Edict of Nantes, Louis XIV issued the Edict of Fontainebleau which revoked the Edict of Nantes, causing many to flee France.   Thousands of Huguenots came to America to contribute to our heritage, a newly defined freedom of religion.



The Louvre

On the following day, our second in Paris, we returned to the right bank of the Seine, this time just downriver from Îl de la Cité to visit the "Musee du Louvre," the world's largest museum.   The length of the Louvre approaches a half mile.   Exhibits are on four levels.   The twin Richelieu and Denon wings spreading to the west become separated by about 1000 feet to form a huge courtyard.   In the center of that courtyard is the most recent addition to the Louvre: the great crystal pyramid, completed in 1989.   It covers a large reception area just below ground level where we waited in long lines for tickets to access to the galleries..

In 1190, Philippe II built the first Louvre Castle.   It was a 100-foot high fortress, complete with towers, moat and wall.   It was not, at first, a residence for the king, but a "safe" to keep treasures and prisoners.   In time, its appearance and its uses were modified.   It later included an audience hall where the king received important visitors and where justice was dispensed.   It was even the site of fatal tournaments condemned by the church.   Yet it was made charming enough for some kings to actually live in it.

But with the "new dawning," The Renaissance, that old Louvre simply lost its charm and became neglected.   No two ways about it, it had to go!   So, in 1546 that "beam of light," Francois I, did it!   He demolished it to make way for the new Louvre, a Louvre more in line with the spirit of The Renaissance.   Pierre Lescot was assigned the responsibility of designing a proper Louvre.   Near 1600, during the reign of Henri IV, the "Grande Galerie," a quarter-mile long and 100-foot wide hall was completed.  It's now a part of the Denon Wing, the south wing of the Louvre.

Our tour began in the Mesopotamia Galleries of the Sully Wing, which spilled into the Richelieu Wing.   We saw the Code of Hammurabi, some huge bas-reliefs and other fabulous sculptures.   Indeed we saw many amazing and beautiful treasures of art as we moved among other galleries; a fabulous etching here, a huge tapestry there, a statue with wings and no head ("Winged Victory") over here and a slew of enormous paintings there.   Many of the paintings were about 5x7 feet in size.  "Marriage at Cana," by Paolo Veronese was about 17x25 feet.  But I was really disappointed when I saw that small "Mona Lisa," only 30 inches high.

Marriage at Cana   (By Paolo Veronese)
I made my photographs inside the Louvre using existing light, just to be respectful of the museum and the art treasures.

A crowd was pressed in front of the "Mona Lisa," making it virtually impossible to get a good view.   Flash photography was specifically forbidden at the Mona Lisa, yet the flashes were very frequent.   A day after day barrage like this would probably not be good for this masterpiece.   It could accelerate the deterioration of the colors.  A curator was present and was almost beside himself trying to stop the abuse.   He was yelling at the crowd that just kept flashing away.   Then I noticed that Mona was enclosed in glass, perhaps a UV filter.   It was amusing to watch the flashing persist, realizing that the center of each photograph would feature a bright glare obliterating Mona.   Poetic justice in action!   The photo posted here simply comes from one of the many found elsewhere on the internet.



The Chateau de Versailles

While visiting Paris, our lodging was in Versailles.   It was a fairly short ride on the train/subway with about 10 stops and 30 minutes to get to Îl de la Cité.   But our hotel was just a few blocks from the Chateau.

The Chateau de Versailles is mostly about Louis XIV who is remembered as The Sun King.   His father, Louis XIII, died in 1643, making 4-year-old Louis XIV the king of France.   What grand things a 4-year-old might have done with a kingdom like France!   Instead, his mother, Ann of Austria became the regent.   She deferred her authority almost completely to her husband's minister of one year, Jules Cardinal Mazarin.


Clydesdale-drawn carriages ready for tours of the Chateau de Versailles Estate


While Louis was still very young, he learned to dislike the nobility as they contended with Mazarin.   Some very ugly political situations were observed by the lad including a 5-year civil war called The Frond, in which the nobility and commoners of France mounted severe opposition against Cardinal Mazarin and his absolutism.  Mazarin was very involved in tutoring the young king in royal protocols, the management of wars and in ways to out fox the nobility.

In 1660, Louis XIV married a cousin, Marie Therese of Spain, in accordance with the Treaty of the Pyrenees which also set the border between Spain and France and removed Marie from any claim to the Spanish throne.   Such marriage arrangements were chess moves in the games of Europe.  

Cardinal Mazarin died the very next year, putting Louis XIV in power over France at age 22.   Such timing!  


There's room to stretch your legs at the Versailles Estate


Louis did not appoint a prime minister as many would have preferred, but he decided to rule alone.   He immediately began spending money, generously funding artists and writers.   And so, by 1665 Louis truly needed an expert Controller-General.   Jean-Baptiste Colbert gained the appointment and started rolling in the money through, what else?   … taxation!   He taxed peasant land owners; he taxed salt and levied customs duties but retained the tax exemption for nobility and clergy.   You don't confront nobility.   You have to sneak up on them.

Colbert also pushed to improve commerce with nations outside of France; this included improvement of internal roads and waterways.   An example of this was to engage farmers in road improvement projects.   Actually the internal economic conditions of France continued to be severely strained by Louis XIV's penchant for a lavish royalty and showy public works.  

Louis improved the Louvre, refurbished Notre Dame, removed the old city walls, and laid plans for the Champs de Elysees, that famous boulevard of victory.  

He built the Hotel des Invalides, to provide a place to care for and house disabled war veterans.  

But his favorite and most lavish project was his own palace at Versailles some 10 miles southwest of his Louvre Palace.   This massive palace began as a small Chateau which was a retreat for prior French kings.   Louis moved here on May 6, 1682 because he wanted to rule from here in order to better focus on the whole of France rather than just on Paris.


Louis XIV rides again


Louis was very methodical but effective.   His reign was a veritable chess game, working to build his royal absolutism.   The Chateau de Versailles was a major piece of this strategy.   The place hummed with celebrations, entertainment and pompous formalities.   With subtle moves Louis "invited" nobles to the privilege of working and staying with him in the Chateau de Versailles as courtiers to implement the formalities of state.  This allowed him to assign pliable commoners to be his ministers and high officials.  

Today the Chateau is even more glorious that when Louis lived here.  Now its extensive parc caters more to tourists and vacationers than to heads of state.   Now we all can Ohhh and Ahhh at the splendor of the French.   We can pay the bill, proving the success of Controller-General Jules Colbert and the checkmate of Louis XIV … I suppose.  

Louis XIV died on September 1, 1715.   He was king of France for 72 years, reigning longer than any major European monarch. On his death bed he said: "L'État, c'est moi," I am the state.  

Did you know that The Louisiana Territory, that old midsection of the U.S.A., was named in honor of Louis XIV?  





The Eiffel Tower et al

The Eiffel Tower was the last place we visited in Paris.  In many ways this is a fitting summary of Paris.   Paris prides itself on human accomplishment as indeed it should.  This is where many scientific and technological accomplishments were made.

In 1783, Jean François Pilâtre de Rozier made the first manned flights over Paris in a hot air balloon.

In 1898, Pierre and Marie Curie, while researching radiation at the University of Paris, discovered the elements radium and polonium in 1898.

From 1846 to 1865, Claud Bernard in Paris developed modern experimental medicine procedures that led to important understandings of the physiological functions of the pancreas, the liver and other important body organs.

In 1895, Louis and Auguste Lumiere, invented the Cinematographe, a motion picture camera and projector. They used this portable equipment to present what some have called the world's first cinema.  Folks gathered at the Grand Cafe in Paris were thrilled by "La Sortie des Usines Lumiere (Quitting time at the Lumiere Factory) .

In 1886, Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi created the Statue of Liberty by hammering 300 sheets of copper on a wooden mold. He displayed it first in Paris, then dismantled it and erected it in New York Harbor.  It was a gift from France commemorating the alliance of France with the United States during the U.S. Revolutionary War.  Alexandre Gustave Eiffel was a partner with Bartholdi in creating that monument. Lady Liberty's copper form is held in place on a system of girders similar to those used in the Eiffel Tower.

To prepare for the Paris World's Fair of 1889, Alexandre Gustave Eiffel built the tower that bears his name.  It stands on the left bank of the Seine River topping out near 1000 feet.

It's an amazing structure of angle iron trusses held together by 2-1/2 million rivets.  When you take a close look you can see the relatively small pieces of angle iron and wider flat iron plates that artfully overlap joints and edges.
Paris is a vibrant and impressive city, one of the worlds greatest.   Don't let me catch you missing Paris if you go to Europe!!   Forget the fabulous tours of the Paris sewer and the catacombs.   Do that in Rome.   I can recommend that you at least try to see what we saw in Paris.

However, you might want to check the tower for signs of rust before you ride to the top.
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