Paris Galleries: Musee Rodin

Musee Rodin ParisHoused in the palatial Hotel de Biron (Biron mansion) this museum is dedicated to the life and work of sculptor Auguste Rodin, who based his studio here between 1910-1917. The mansion itself was built during the 1720s by a rich wig-maker and is surrounded by three hectares of landscaped gardens. Dotted in and around the property are numerous examples of Rodin’s work, including sculptures The Thinker, The Kiss, the Burghers of Calais and the Gates of Hell. Also on display here are a number of works by Camille Claudel, sister of the famous writer Paul Claudel and Rodin’s model, pupil and mistress for more than ten years. As well as acting as a showcase for numerous bronze sculptures, the garden is filled with the elegant ‘Rodin Rose’ – a plant specially bred and named after the artist.

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Paris Monuments: The Pantheon

The Pantheon ParisModelled on its counterart in Rome, this Neo-Classical church has been used as a burial place for France’s honoured dead since the late 18th century. Built during the mid 1700s, the Pantheon was commissioned by King Louis XV who, suffering from a mysterious illness at the time, vowed to create a an edifice worthy of the patron saint of Paris. Converted into a mausoleum during the years following the Revolution, the Pantheon has since seen many national heroes interred within its cavernous crypt. Buried here are philosophers Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire; writers Victor Hugo and Emile Zola; famous French resistance fighter Jean Moulin; and the inventor of the written language for the blind, Louis Braille. The first woman laid to rest here in her own right was scientist Marie Curie, who, in honour for her acheivements in the fields of physics and chemistry, had her remains exhumed from a cemetery in Sceaux and moved to Paris. Various others, including statesman Mirabeau and politician Jean-Paul Marat have been buried and since disinterred; while a number of curious ‘body snatching’ incidents in the Pantheon’s early history left some tombs temporarily empty. Inscribed over the entrance is the phrase Aux Grands Hommes La Patrie Reconnaissante – this translates as ‘To the great men, the grateful motherland.’

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Paris Monuments: Sainte Chapelle

Sainte Chapelle ParisPart of the Palais de Justice law courts complex on Ile de la Cite, the exquisite Sainte Chapelle (Holy Chapel) is one of the most inspiring visual experiences on offer in Paris. Comissioned by Louis IX during the 13th century, the chapel was designed to function as a reliquary for a fragment of the True Cross and the Jesus’s Crown of Thorns, both of which the king had purchased from the Emperor of Constantinople. Gothic in style, the painstakingly decorated chapel features some of the finest stained glass of its type, as well as intricately painted stonework and a ceiling that resembles the sky at night. The upper chapel’s rose windows were a later 15th century addition. After suffering heavy damage during the Revolution, Sainte Chapelle’s important holy relics were transferred to the treasury of the Cathedral Notre Dame. The building was restored back to its former glory in 1855 by architect Viollet-Le-Duc.

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Paris Galleries: Pompidou Centre

Pompidou Centre ParisConceived by President Georges Pompidou, this unique museum was intended as a cultural meeting place dedicated to the modern and contemporay arts. The Centre was constructed during the 1970s, famously featuring a bold exoskeletal structure made of brightly coloured pipes, tubes and crisscrossing ducts. Dreamt up by Italian/British architect team Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, this groundbreaking design, made to ‘capture the spirit of the 20th century’, was utterly contoversial in its time. The Centre’s blatant ‘insideoutness’ and obvious lack of harmony with surrounding architectural environment prompted descriptions as varied as ‘Oil Refinery’ and ‘Avant-garde Wart’. Today the centre’s outward appearance may still make heads turn and jowls quiver, but it is widely held as a precursor of modern innovative museums, where stuffiness is sidelined and cultural exchange and interaction encouraged.

The principal draw to the Centre is the National Museum of Modern Art (Musee d’Art Moderne), which contains a vast collection of more than 50 000 works of art dating from 1905 onwards. Items on display relate to a whole range of artforms including photography, design, cinema, architecture, painting and sculpture. Important works from 20th century artists including Dali, Duchamp, Pollock and Picasso are displayed on the 4th floor.

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Paris Monuments: Sacre Coeur Basilica

Sacre Coeur Basilica ParisDedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the stunning Sacre Coeur basilica crowns Montmatre, the highest point in Paris. Built from 1875 onwards, the church was constructed as an act of penitence after France was defeated in the Franco-Prussian war. Having plunged into a period of internal dissent, it was believed that the answer to the French peoples’ unrest was a ‘spiritual renewal’. Sacre Coeur is lasting embodiment of this sentiment.

Constructed in the Romanesque-Byzantine style, the gleaming white domes of Sacre Coeur are a result of the architect’s choice of buildng material, in this case ‘travertine’ – a type of rock rich in calcite that bleaches with age. The finished church was consecrated in 1919, having been funded by public donations from across France. Sacre Coeur is open every day from 10.00-17.00 and 10.00-18.00 from April – September.

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Paris Monuments: Opera Garnier

Opera Garnier ParisBuilt on the orders of Napoleon III, the lavish velevet and gold leaf decked halls of the Opera Garnier (also known as Palais Garnier or simply Opera de Paris) have hosted the National Opera of Paris since 1875. Neo-Baroque in style, the Opera takes its name from architect Charles Garnier, whose design won first place in an competition launched as part of Paris’s great self-makeover project of the Second Empire. Construction took a long 15 years due to interruptions by war, the fall of the Empire and the uprising of the Commune. The subsequent discovery of an underground lake (famously featured in ‘Phantom of the Opera’) also put the project on hold until sufficient water had been pumped out to allow the process to continue. Among the Opera’s most noted features are the 8 tonne chandelier suspended from Marc Chagal’s painted ceiling in the auditorium, and the multicoloured marble ‘grand staircase’ of the central foyer.

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Paris Galleries: Musee Picasso

Musee Picasso ParisOccupying the grand Hotel Sale (Sale mansion) in the historic Marais district of Paris, Musee Picasso contains one of the largest and most important collections of Picasso’s work in the world.

In total, more than 200 paintings, 150 sculptures, 80 ceramics and 1500 sketches belonging to Picasso’s own personal collection are on display here, with examples from every major phase, spanning nearly 75 years.

Alongside, you will also find pieces by his friends and contemporaries Cezanne, Matisse and Degas. The majority of the collection was acquired by the French state after Picasso passed away in place of tens of millions of pounds worth of death duties.

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Paris Monuments: Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral ParisBuilt between 1163 and 1345, Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris (‘Our Lady of Paris’) is widely held to be one of the finest examples of religious Gothic architecture to be found in France. The cathedral sits on the eastern corner of Ile de la Cite, the historical centre of Paris and site of two earlier churches, themselves predated by a series of Gallo-Roman structures and a Pagan temple. After suffering heavy damage during the Revolution, the Notre Dame underwent extensive restoration – a job that was completed by controversial French architect, Viollet-le-Duc. Le Duc was responsible for the addition of a number of the cathedral’s most noted features, including its tall octagonal spire and the scary looking gargoyles immortalised by Victor Hugo’s tales of Quasimodo and Esmeralda. The great flying butresses, best viewed from the cathedral’s rear, were also a later addition, built to support the walls of the choir and nave. The rose windows, numbering three in total, date back to the mid 1200s; the south rose window was a gift from Louis IX. The cathedral’s treasury, open on a daily basis, contains multiple revered relics including what Notre Dame believes is the Crown of Thorns placed on Jesus’s head before crucifiction.

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Paris Monuments: Grande Arche de la Defense

Grande Arche de la Defense ParisThe 21st century version of the Arc de Triomphe, the Grande Arche de la Defense (Great Arch) was commissioned by president Mitterand as the modern antithesis of the older monument. Standing for peace and humanitarian ideals instead of war victories, the cube like structure, designed by Danish architect Johann Otto von Spreckelsen, was completed in 1989 and inaugurated on the bicentennial of the French Revolution. The Grande Arche, which contains 95 000 square metres of office space, sits at the heart of la Defense, a hi-tech modern business district. A self-guided visit will take you up to the roof via panoramic lifts, from where you can enjoy outstanding views across the Paris.

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Paris Galleries: Musee du Louvre

Musee du Louvre ParisOne of the world’s greatest museums, the Louvre contains some 35 000 works of art displayed across a floor space of over 60 000 square metres. Varied and exquisite collections include Egyptian, Greek and Etruscan and Roman antiquities; sculpture from the Middle Ages; Islamic Art; and paintings representing every European school from the 13th century up until 1848. Among the Louvre’s most celebrated works of art are Greek sculptures Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of Samothrace; and paintings including Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People. Renowned masters Raphael, Botticelli, Fragonard, Michelangelo, Constable and Gainsborough also feature prominently in the museum’s collection of Western Art.

All the Louvre’s collections are housed within the magnificent wings of a Renaissance palace, constructed by various French monarchs from the reign of Francis I (1494-1547) onwards. This current building sits on the foundations of an earlier 13th century fortress, the spooky vestiges of which you can still explore in the Louvre’s basement. Entry to the museum is via a striking glass pyramid controversially comissioned by President Mitterand in 1984.

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