Neighborhood Walk: Tour Eiffel & Les Invalides
1. Musée d’Orsay: The Musée d’Orsay features European painting, sculpture, drawing, decorative arts, and photography made between 1848 and 1914. Formed in the 1980s from the holdings of other major French museums, the collection is a greatest-hits feast of Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, and other superstars alongside equally magnificent works by their lesser-known contemporaries. The museum also has a fascinating design collection and temporary exhibitions.
2. Musée du Quai Branly: In a city chock-full of age-old structures and museums, it is unusual to discover a 21st-century museum that blends with its surroundings. At the Musée du Quai Branly, architect Jean Nouvel has achieved this feat through the use of tall glass panels and tiers of multicolored boxes on the exterior and one wall that has been embedded with lush foliage to create a vertical garden. The Branly features indigenous art from Asia, Oceania, Africa, and the Americas, including headdresses, masks, statues, totems, costumes, textiles, and musical instruments. As you wander through the exhibits, which are arranged by region, watch for headdresses from Alaska, sculptures from Mexico, feather tunics from Peru, chest ornaments from India, frescoes from Ethiopia, and a tenth-century Dogon statue from Mali. The reservation-only Les Ombres restaurant on the top (fifth) floor embraces views of the Seine and the Tour Eiffel.
3. Tour Eiffel: French engineer Gustave Eiffel built his lofty, cast-iron structure for the 1889 Universal Exhibition on the centenary of the French Revolution. Constructed from more than 18,000 pieces of iron held together with 2.5 million rivets, it was due to be taken down after 20 years. The advent of radio transmission saved it in the early 20th century, as it provided an ideal location for radio antennae. More than 120 years after it was built, the 1,063-foot-high (324 m) tower has become one of the world’s most recognized structures. The tower has three viewing platforms: You can reach the first two by stairways—there are more than 300 steps to each level—or elevator. Once there, you’ll find restaurants— including the Michelin-starred Jules Verne restaurant on the second level—and panoramic views over Paris. The top platform is reached by elevator only. From here, you can see for 40 miles (64 km) on a clear day, although in bad weather, you may not even be able to see the ground. At night the Eiffel shines like a beacon, and for five minutes each hour on the hour 20,000 lights mounted on the tower sparkle like twinkling stars.
4. Champ de Mars: After the École Militaire (Military Academy) was built in the mid-18th century, the land between it and the Seine was named the Champ de Mars and used for military parades and maneuvers. Now, the lovely green space lined with elm trees and benches is used for festivals and special events, such as Bastille Day fireworks displays, and by picnickers and walkers relishing the gardens and views. 5.
École Militaire: King Louis XV started the Military Academy in 1751. An outstanding example of French classical architecture, its central section, with eight Corinthian columns and a quadrangular dome, was constructed in 1773. In 1785, Napoleon Bonaparte trained here and graduated as a second lieutenant. During the Second Empire, the addition of two wings made for a sprawling complex. From Place de Fontenoy, you can see the Cour d’Honneur flanked by porticoes with twinned columns. The buildings now house military training facilities. 6.
UNESCO: In a true international meeting of minds, a group of three architects—from France, Italy, and the United States—designed the UNESCO Headquarters building. Opened in November 1958, the main building’s layout is based on a Y, or three-pointed star. Sculptor Isamu Noguchi created the Peace Garden, donated by the Japanese government. Paths meander past dwarf trees, stands of bamboo, flower beds, and ponds all designed to resemble Japan’s natural landscape. Wandering through the grounds, you come across large works of art, such as “The Fall of Icarus” by Pablo Picasso, painted on wood panels mounted on a large wall. The Russian Federation gifted Zurab Tseretell’s egg-shaped sculpture “The Birth of a New Man” to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s discovery of America.
7. Les Invalides and Musée de l’Armée: In 1670, King Louis XIV founded the Hôtel des Invalides as a hospital and home for invalid soldiers, and commissioned the gold-domed chapel, the Église du Dôme, for the use of the royal family. Completed in 1706, the chapel is a masterpiece of French classical architecture and houses Napoleon’s tomb. Napoleon’s ashes were brought from St. Helena in 1840, and in 1861 they were placed in six nested coffins inside a massive red quartzite encasement, which stands on a pedestal of dark green granite. Twelve giant figures, representing Napoleon’s military victories, surround the tomb. Les Invalides once housed 7,000 veterans. Far fewer live there now, and most of the rooms are given over to a group of military museums. In the Musée de l’Armée, which traces the history of armies from medieval times to today, look for medieval armor and artillery models. The Musée de l’Ordre de la Libération has displays devoted to the work of the Resistance from 1940 to 1944. The Musée des Plan-Reliefs shows relief maps and model fortresses.
8. Musée Rodin: The naturalism, flowing lines, and emotion of Auguste Rodin’s sculptures have shocked and delighted audiences in equal measure, and many of these great works now fill the rooms and grounds of the 18th-century Hôtel Biron. At the turn of the 20th century, this rococo-style château provided a temporary residence and workplace for artists Henri Matisse and Jean Cocteau, dancer Isadora Duncan, and Rodin himself. The building now houses works from all stages of his career, plaster models of many of his best-known sculptures, and a display on the bronze casting process. Highlights include one of his first major works, “The Bronze Age,” a figure of a youth that is so lifelike it scandalized the public of the day, a version of “The Kiss,” and the unfinished “Thought.”