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After the death of Louis XIV in 1716 the center of France moved from its long time homes in Saint Germain en Laye and Versailles to Paris. We have not traveled to Saint Germain en Laye as part of our journey’s here but it is a wonderful village easily accessible by train from Paris and well worth a day trip.

During our stop here in Paris we are going to visit several sights that were either built by or became important under the close watch of Louis XV. Louis is responsible more so than any other monarch for making Paris the beautiful city we see today. Napoleon III was more responsible for the Paris we now know but as he was not a monarch we will give Louis credit where it is deserved as king. On this visit we are going to visit the Palais-Royal, Hotel Carnavalet, Hotel de Soubise, Ecole Militaire, the Pantheon and the Place de la Concorde.

As we visit Louis XV’s Paris it is important to remember that Louis was only five when his great-grandfather died, having outlived all of his immediate legitimate heirs. Obviously a five year old is not capable of ruling a nation and therefore Louis XIV left his nephew, the Duke of Orleans, as regent of the young king. This more or less put the Duke in charge and he decided to move the center of France to Paris so he could spend more time at his beloved Palais-Royal. After Louis XV the Duke of Orleans was next in line to be king. This must have had some impact on his oversight of the young royal. Additionally, while the Palais-Royal is exquisite it is also across the street from the far larger and more impressive Louvre which at the time was not the world renowned museum we see today but was the palace of the king in Paris.

While you cannot visit the inside of the Palais-Royal the gardens in the interior courtyard are absolutely amazing and well worth a visit. The residence was originally built by Cardinal Richelieu, that charming man who starved the citizens of La Rochelle to death. It was at the Palais-Royal that the rumblings began of a revolution. Discussion turned from absolute monarchy to a growing dissatisfaction with the status quo. It was also here that the French aristocracy began to propose a constitutional monarchy like that of England.

Our next visit is the Hotel Carnavalet, now the museum of the history of Paris but at the time was the home of Madame de Sevigne whose letters detailing the court of Louis XIV have been of enormous help to historians in mapping out that period of time. The Carnavalet is laid out with paintings and models of what Paris has looked like throughout the centuries. It even has a room dedicated to shop signs going back hundreds of years including a large pair of scissors from the 1700’s that hung in front of an 18th century barber shop. The Hotel Carnavalet, and the Hotel de Soubise where we will visit next, were the homes of the nobility in Paris and were often referred to as Hotel Particuliers. It is in these homes where the famous salons of the time were held and where not only the wealthiest but the most noted and celebrated philosophers of the time, including Voltaire, debated the news of the day. These debates increasingly included the importance of separation and balance of powers in government. It was during these salons in the mid-1700’s that the spark of revolution was not only lit in France but also in the American colonies. Voltaire was apparently inspired to write ‘De l’Esprit des Louis’ through attendance at these salons, a work important in the ideas behind the United States Constitution.

The Hotel de Soubise, another Hotel Particulier, is located not far from the Hotel Carnavalet in the Marais district of Paris. Marais in French means swamp which is what this section, one of the oldest in Paris, originally was. It could take days to wander the streets of this ancient sector of Paris which for thousands of years has been the Jewish section of the city. The Marais houses some of the oldest buildings in Paris, including the oldest house located at 51 rue de Montmorency. In addition to being a marvelous example of an 18th century aristocratic home the Hotel de Soubise is also the home to the National Archives of France. The Hotel de Soubise is actually a great piece of 18th century gossip. Its owner, the Princess of Soubise (Anne de Rohan-Chabot), was part of the court with Madame Mainteon (Louis XIV’s last wife and governess to his illegitimate children) and Athenais de Montespan, Louis mistress and mother to said illegitimate children. These two woman squabbled so much and so frequently that it gave the Princess her opportunity to seduce Louis and therefore become his chief mistress for a time. It was the same year that the Princess found that she and her husband were financially destitute. It is unclear if she began the affair with Louis to gain favour in the court or as a way to gain better financial stability as Louis was known for his generosity. As you will recall he bought the Chateau at Maintenon for the Widow Scarron later known as the above mentioned Madame de Maintenon.

Next stop, the Ecole Militaire is just what it claims to be, the military school of France. It is still in use to this day. It was built in 1750 by Louis XV at the insistence of his mistress Madame de Pompadour. In fact it was her favourite architect, Jacques-Ange Gabriel, that designed the building and was the head of the French Academy of Arts at the time. The school sits at the end of the Champs de Mars which is also where the Eiffel Tower resides.

Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour play a great role in the beautification of Paris. Another building they had built during his reign was the Pantheon. The Pantheon is a beautiful building but a bit sad as I always feel it suffers from an identity crisis due to its timing in history. During the 18th century the French were not only beginning to question absolutism with the monarchy but also the relationship between church and state (for my American friends, sound familiar?). The building was originally constructed as a church and named Saint Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris. The construction took so long that by the time it was completed in 1790 not only had Louis XV died but it had also fallen prey to the French Revolution which was anti-monarchy and anti-Catholic. Its religious relics were thrown into the Seine. The Marquis de Villette made the following suggestion as to what should be done with the exquisite building – “In the tradition of the Greeks and Romans, from whom we have received the maxims of liberty…let us have the courage not to dedicate this temple to a saint. Let it become the Pantheon of France! Let us install statues of our great men and lay their ashes to rest in its underground recesses.” So the Pantheon now stands as a tribute to great French thinkers and houses the sarcophagus of Voltaire.

Our last stop in Paris as we march closer and closer to the Revolution is the Place de la Concorde. To be perfectly honest with you this is one of my least favourite spots in Paris as it is now a giant traffic circle where you take your life in your hands to go anywhere near it. The Place de la Concorde stands between the Champs Elysees (another of my least favourite places in Paris) and the Louvre. Originally the Place Louis XV, the Place de la Concorde was a beautiful square surrounded by such amazing buildings as the Hotel Crillon, the Tuileries gardens and the Seine. I also dislike the Place de la Concorde (briefly named La Place de la Revolution) because it is here that a large number of the beheadings took place after the revolution. The guillotine stood here for the heads of Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette, Philip Egalite, Madame du Barry, Robespierre, Danton and 1,341 others.

As we get closer and closer to the Revolution lets learn a little more about one of the women who unwittingly brought it to a head – Marie-Antoinette.

Next stop – The Petit Trianon at Versailles

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