Paris Map Tour

Gare d’Orsay

Victor Laloux, 1898

Paris view-stopper: Saint-Thomas-d’Aquin

The melancholy pensioned-off years of a great building, still under seventy; it now seems certain that it will be replaced by some wall-eyed exposition of ‘l ’urbanisme ’. Laloux had a remarkable ability for the piling-on of ornament which chimed in exactly with the spirit of 1900. The outside accepts with comfort the allegorical figures and the grand parade of names from the Loire and Brittany (Nantes … Angers … Vannes … Lorient), without losing the sense of the train-shed inside. And this is magnificent, the best in Paris: a great curved shell with the Beale of St Pancras filled now with railway junk, parked cars and a few wee lines that peter off miserably to the banlieue from a lower level. See it while you can.

Paris Map Tour Photo Gallery

Paris Printable Tourist Map Metal construction: Gare d’Orsay

Palais de la Legion d’Honneur (Hotel de Salm)

Pierre Rousseau, 1786 (reconstructed in 1878 after a fire)

The domed river front is one more stone academician: elegant, precise and petty, especially by comparison with the Gare d’Orsay which for the moment is hoisting up the scale next door. The place to see what Rousseau could make of the classical tradition, newly re-classicized just before the Revolution, is at the back, in the rue de Lille. Here, the building creates its own environment without any interruptions; limited, but memorable. The square-cut nobility matches the grand motto on the pediment, ‘HONNEUR ET PATRIE’, very well – it has been the Palais de la Legion d’Honneur since 1804. Colonnades on three sides, a triumphal arch and screen on the fourth, everything in perfect control. Here are the seeds of the great and so far unacknowledged masterpieces of the nineteenth century in France: markets, town halls and stations. They all depend on this delicate yet rigorous discipline.


Luckily, Britain has very few buildings like this to perplex the topographer. For it is an impeccable copy, which will stand up to a close look, of the style of about 1250; the compact apsed shape dispenses a massive calm unworried by the slightest quirk of personality. That is the French way, or one of them; and it was also the way of the original Rayonnant designers who perpetuated this same style for two hundred years at a time when England was tying itself in decorative knots. So this is the best mid-Gothic church in Paris – seven hundred years late – and if the gorge rises, then there is still a lot of simple fun to be got from the pulpit, which is a kind of spiky pudding slung between a pair of staircases.

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