• Mari Bruno

4 historic places to visit in Paris



With thousands of famous sights, museums, parks, the Seine and the Eiffel Tower itself, Paris is a complete destination that appeals to everyone: from those who like to taste gastronomy to those who like to walk through ancient streets and appreciate works of art. But, in addition to the more traditional tourist places, there are four historical tours that are unique experiences and worth the visit.


Below, discover the Catacombs, where millions of Parisians are “buried”; the Panthéon, home to eminent personalities who shaped France's national identity; the Sainte-Chapelle, a chapel built for King Louis IX in the 13th century; and the Conciergerie, one of the main prisons during the French Revolution and where Marie-Antoinette was imprisoned.


The Paris Catacombes



At 20 meters deep, underground in the city's streets, the municipal ossuary of the Catacombs of Paris is one of the largest in the world. The galleries, which now house the bones of all cemeteries in central Paris until 1860, were created centuries earlier, during the Merovingian dynasty (5th to mid 8th century), for the extraction of limestone.


Labyrinthine, the galleries are part of the 8 km2 of quarries. In the Middle Ages, limestone extraction started again for the construction of several buildings in the city - that's why this specific type of stone is known as “Paris stone”.


At the end of the 18th century, two events were decisive for the creation of the Catacombs: several parts of the galleries collapsed and the cemeteries presented risks to public health. The deactivated quarries then underwent protection and consolidation works and were consecrated as the Municipal Ossuary of Paris in 1786.


Opened to the public in 1809, the Catacombs, as they became known (in reference to the catacombs of Rome) underwent a “bone organization” shortly thereafter. The layout is the same today: rows of tibias and skulls hide the other bones deposited in the back.


Useful info:

  • The Paris Catacombs are 20 meters deep, equivalent to a five-story building.

  • There are 131 steps to go down and 112 to go up - there is no elevator.

  • The route is 1.5 km long and takes approximately one hour.

  • In the galleries, the average temperature is 14°C and the humidity rate can be high.

  • It's imperative to buy a ticket online by appointment before you go - the queue outside is scary.

  • Take a virtual tour.




Panthéon



Known as architect Soufflot's masterpiece, the Panthéon began as a Catholic church, built by King Clovis in the early 6th century to house his remains and those of his wife. Patron of Paris, Santa Genoveva led the resistance to the Hun Empire in the 450s and was also initially buried there.


In 1744, after crediting the Saint for her recovery from a serious illness, King Louis XV decided to honor her with a large building. Eleven years later, Soufflot was in charge of the work and wanted the construction to surpass St Peter's Basilica in Rome and St Paul's Church in London. Neither architect nor Louis XV saw the finished building.


With a style inspired by the Pantheon of Rome, the monument combines different styles, with columns, a plan centered in the shape of a Greek cross, vaults, and 45 tall windows. Named Panthéon in 1791, it continued to function as a Catholic sanctuary while being used as a temple designed to bestow honor on the great personalities of France such as Voltaire, Rousseau and Marat.


In 1885, Victor Hugo's funeral marked the final civic fate of the building, which now houses eminent personalities who shaped France's national identity. Inside, Foucault's pendulum, installed in 1851 and reinstalled in 1995, demonstrates the Earth's rotation. The paintings illustrate the life of Santa Genoveva and the history of the beginnings of Christianity and the French monarchy.


In the crypts, you can find names such as Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Alexandre Dumas, Victor Schoelcher, Jean Jaurès, Aimé Césaire, and Pierre and Marie Curie. The northern corridor contains the an inscription for those who helped to hide Jews during World War II.


Useful info:

  • The visit lasts, on average, 1h30.




Sainte-Chapelle



On Ile-de-la-Cité, on the banks of the Seine, the Palais de la Cité was the royal residence between the 6th and 14th centuries. In Gothic style, the palace gained a chapel - the Sainte-Chapelle -, built in the mid 1200s to receive, at the request of King Louis IX, the relics of the Passion of Christ.


There are two shrines, one on top of the other. At first, the relics were displayed in the upper sanctuary, exclusively used by the king, his family, friends and religious. The space is, even today, bathed in light, which enters through the 15 stained glass windows, creating an almost kaleidoscopic effect. In the glass, 1113 scenes tell the story of humanity - from the genesis to the resurrection of Christ.


The lower chapel, as we can imagine, was used by the palace employees and had a simpler layout. From 1846 onwards, Sainte-Chapelle underwent extensive restoration to remedy the damage caused during the revolutionary period. With the exception of the stained glass (which remained intact), these alterations shaped the chapel as it is seen today.


Along with the Conciergerie, the Sainte-Chapelle currently forms part of the Palace of Justice and, together with the lower parts of the building, are the last vestiges of the Palais de la Cité. There you can also find the oldest wall painting in Paris: a 13th century fresco.


Useful info:

  • The visit lasts approximately one hour.

  • There is a combined ticket to visit Sainte-Chapelle and Conciergerie (no queue at the second).

  • There is usually a queue to enter the complex and to enter the Chapel.

  • Stairs must be climbed to access the upper sanctuary.

  • The Sainte-Chapelle Windows app allows visitors to zoom in on stained glass and learn more about its meanings. To access all windows there is a cost of €0.99.




Conciergerie



Today part of the Palace of Justice, the Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie - as well as the lower parts of the Palais - are the last vestiges of the Palais de la Cité, royal residence during medieval times.


While the Sainte-Chapelle was a place of worship, the Conciergerie was the guardhouse of the king and everyone in the service of the royal family - about 2,000 people. But at the end of the 14th century, royalty moved to the Louvre and Vincennes, and part of the palace gained new functions, such as the Paris Parliament and prison cells.


There were trials of the Revolutionary Court, instituted by the National Convention during the French Revolution, and of the First French Republic, installed after the fall of the monarchy. Marie-Antoinette, the then Queen, remained imprisoned there before receiving the death penalty.


In the Conciergerie you can visit: the salle des Gens d’Armes, with Gothic civil architecture a fragment of the original black marble table; the kitchens; the prisoners' corridor (with reenactments); the prisoners' chapel; the salle des Gardes, where the Revolutionary Court was installed; the salle des Noms, with the names of more than 4,000 people judged between 1793 and 1795; Marie-Antoinette's chapelle expiatoire, built in 1815 in her cell; the prisoners' courtyard; and four rooms that tell the story of the Revolution.


Useful info:

  • The visit lasts approximately one hour.

  • There is a combined ticket to visit Sainte-Chapelle and Conciergerie (no queue at the second).

  • There is usually a queue to enter the complex, due to the metal detectors.

  • It is necessary to climb some stairs.



 

Where to stay in Paris: classic vs. modern


We visited the French capital in April and, as we divided our ticket into two different moments (two days at the beginning of the trip and three at the end), we stayed in two hotels: Jules et Jim and Le Littré.


On opposite sides of the River Seine and in excellent neighborhoods, the hotels offer two opposite experiences (the first is modern and cool and the second is classic and luxurious), but together they bring together some of the best qualities of French hospitality.



photos: Mariana Bruno


article originally published in Follow The Colours