Paris City Tour

Bibliotheque Sainte-Genevieve

Paris Trip Cost Henri Labrouste, 1844-50

This is just about the perfect French building: if I had to choose one thing from which to deduce the French virtues it might well be this. Intelligent, adaptable, concise and well ahead of its time, like the Caravelle (we all carry our engines in the tail now, but France had the engineering guts to do it first). Above all, logical and reasonable. The long upper room is expressed immediately, outside: the iron ties are expressed, too, worked inimitably into the facade. Nothing is overstated; there is no attempt at tickling up emotion by association, which was the besetting fault of the nineteenth century and the reason why the Houses of Parliament are no more than a shattering coup de theatre instead of an international masterpiece.

Paris City Tour Photo Gallery

It is not surprising that with this wisdom the staircase has a free and easy feeling utterly unlike the British Museum; or that the main reading room under its frilly, double-naved iron roof feels relaxed as well as serious. At the British Museum the readers exist to fill the structure. Here and at the Bibliotheque Nationale, the room exists to enhance each person’s study. The roof itself resembles nothing so much as a salad of that spiky kind of French lettuce that discharges all other tastes without imposition and without losing its own identity.

(Immediately north of the Pantheon: visitors are allowed up to the entrance of the main reading room)

Paris Information Saint-Etienne-du-Mont

Church begun 1492 Faqade begun 1610

Afer the sobriety of the Pantheon and its surroundings, the front of Saint-Etienne is like a rascally schoolboy emptying out a satchel full of inky noteblogs, boiled sweets and every kind of mischief. Useless to describe the uninhibited piling-on of Renaissance motifs or the way the tower slides in from one side. Inside, Saint-Etienne is sixteenth-century ‘Gothic’,- like Saint-Eustache: but whereas that has a serious intention which has been misinterpreted in the details, the designer here seems to have said, ‘The hell with it, let’s all go down to Dieppe.’ Saint-Etienne is a jolly hybrid; it is also the church with the jube, a whipped-up froth begun in 1521 which twines round the pillars of the crossing and catches the mood exactly. So does the luminous pictorial Renaissance glass, and so does the remarkable spaciousness – a kind of holiday bonus – produced by using a two-storeyed elevation but leaving out the lower roofs in the aisles, so making aisle and gallery into one space. In a city where many of the monuments are deadly serious, it is a wonderful relief.

Arenes de Lutece

This is a Roman amphitheatre, sacked as early as the third century AD and only rediscovered in 1869. There is nothing much to see in the Roman line, even by the standards of northern Europe. But it has been made into an enchanting public garden, with the restored floor of the amphitheatre become an impromptu stadium – schoolboy football during the day, boules in the evening – and the sides built up into bosky vantage points, all under the towering rear elevations of the rue Monge. Because it has not tried to preserve anything, the amphitheatre spirit has been preserved perfectly, when there isn’t even enough stonework to make a decent measured drawing. Behind this, to the east, is the Square Capitan, part of the gardens, treated with such absurd and self-knowing circumstance that one can only take off one’s shako and shout vive I’Empereur.

(Exciting arched entrance from 49 rue Monge which deflects at the last minute on to the amphitheatre floor and is quite likely to project you into being an involuntary reserve goalkeeper.)

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