What is it about Paris that captivates the world? Is it the sweeping skylines? The atmosphere de l’amour? Or the iconic architecture? In truth, it’s all this and more, but the thing that unites all these aspects is the past behind the cultural capital. To get the best of a vacation in la Ville Lumière, head to the historic sites at the heart of the city. Here are our top 5 Centre des Monuments Nationaux in Paris…
Star of the show
Shining brightly against the skyline from the top of the Champs-Élysées, the Arc de Triomphe stands in the center of l’Étoile (or ‘the star’) of 12 avenues. Commissioned by Napoléon in 1806 to mark the French victory in the Battle of Austerlitz, it shouts its triumph proudly from a height of 50 meters. Visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, honoring all those who have fallen for France in conflict since WW1. Then avoid the queues and get straight to the top to see the city in all its breathtaking splendor. La view est belle, n’est-ce pas ?
Marvel at the Marine
Explorers sont d’accord in Place de la Concorde: the Hôtel de la Marine is not to be missed. Built between 1757 and 1774, the stunning neoclassical architecture commands the whole square. No surprise there, as Ange-Jacques Gabriel (the king’s chief architect) designed both the building and the Place it overlooks. Originally housing the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne, all of France’s state furnishings were stored there until the Revolution. Skip the lines to the stately salons and luxurious loggia of France’s naval headquarters, and see the newly-restored 18th Century apartments in all their glory.
A mountain of French history
In the heart of le cinquième (the 5th arrondissement), one of Paris’ oldest districts, is the Latin Quarter, known for its universities and Roman ruins. Here you’ll find the incredible edifice that is Soufflot’s Panthéon. Its dome dominating the horizon from the top of Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, it was built between 1758 and 1759 to house the relics of that same saint. During the Revolution it became a mausoleum for notable French citizens. Skip the lines with a self-guided tour of the tombs of Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Voltaire, Louis Braille and Marie Curie amongst others, and find out about the figures who’ve shaped France. Ça vous dit ?
Windows to the past
Explore the Île de la Cité in the middle of the Seine and you’ll find the Sainte-Chapelle, commissioned by Louis IX around 1238 to house his Christian relic collection. Part of the Palais de la Cité, the medieval royal residence until the 14th Century, this holy haven is one of its earliest surviving buildings. Gaze at the awesome Gothic architecture and staggering 13th Century stained glass collection – one of the most extensive anywhere in the world. No rush, take it all in with a 1-day ticket – sans queue merci beaucoup.
Allez ! Au palais !
Next door to Sainte-Chapelle is the former palace of the medieval monarch, the Conciergerie. Until the 14th Century, kings of France would hold assemblies and ceremonies from the large halls, which you can still visit today. Charles V changed the place from palace to prison, with its most infamous inhabitant being Marie Antoinette in 1793. See her cell – or, even better, step back in time with a HistoPad to explore it as it once looked. Fun fact: it was known as ‘the antechamber to the guillotine’ at the time. Don’t lose your head!
Been before? Which is your favorite national monument in Paris? Let us know in the comments!