“We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.”
- John Hope Franklin

Friday, September 23, 2011

Les Journées du Patrimoine

A gargoyle sits perched atop Notre-Dame de Paris, surveying the square below
So it's been a few days since my last post, but I've been busy getting ready for school to start & trying my best not to get sick like everyone else here that I know. Only my classes through Sweet Briar (the school I'm here studying abroad with) have started already, and the ones through Université de Paris III don't start until the week of October 3. I had the History of Paris through its Monuments today, which is half classroom lecture, half visit to monuments, so it's a nice way to break up a 3 hour long class. The professor is really nice and it looks like we'll be learning a lot and seeing many sites off the beaten path through the course of the semester - we had the second part of our class at Notre-Dame today, not a bad way to start off!

But enough talk about school. As I had mentioned earlier, this past weekend included Journées du Patrimoine ("Heritage Days") here in Paris where all sorts of cultural attractions are free. My Sunday was full of sight-seeing, with stops at Notre-Dame de Paris, l'Arc de Triomphe, and l’Opéra Garnier. Although it was a bit windy, the sky was nice and sunny and made for yet another very pleasant day of exploring.

Basilica of Sacre-Coeur as seen from the top of Notre-Dame
I started my morning off with a quick stroll down Ile St-Louis, the island in the middle of the Seine right next to Ile de la Cité, where Notre-Dame stands. My host family knew I was headed to Notre-Dame that morning and told me that Ile St-Louis is a great, peaceful place free of tourists to see on a Sunday morning. And they were right. While there isn't any famous attraction on this small island, it was just nice to be able to walk around in the early morning sunshine, and I happened upon a locally-famous ice cream shop, Chez Berthillon, which I'll be sure to return to when it's a socially-acceptable time to have ice cream, as 10am on a Sunday morning just wasn't cutting it for me.

"Emmanuel," the bell in Notre-Dame's southern tower
I then met up with my friend Kasey over at Notre-Dame and we waited in line forever to get to climb up to the top of Notre-Dame's bell towers. 46 meters (151 feet) off the ground, we reached "La Galerie des Chimères" where you can walk around and check out the cathedral's gargoyles face-to-face, as well as see some awesome views of the city below. Up here, we had access to the souther tower which shelters the church's giant 17th century bell, "Emmanuel." Weighing over 13 tons, it takes 16 people to ring - proving that there's no way Quasimodo lived up here and rang it by himself every day.... While this bell no longer rings, as it would completely deafen the tourists circulating around it, four other bells in the northern tower ring throughout the day, and we found out how loud they really were while walking around right next to them when they began to chime! 
Pretending I'm Quasimodo
After a few more stairs, we were finally on top of the bell tower and had an awesome vantage point of the entire city...
Looking out across the city
As if all those stairs at Notre-Dame weren't enough, we then met up with more friends and headed over to l'Arc de Triomphe to climb up to the top of it as well - guess we were on a roll with stairs that day! Built by Napoleon from 1806 to 1836 to celebrate his victory at Austerlitz, the monument sits in the middle of Place Charles de Gaulle, from which 12 broad avenues radiate.

Wide avenues radiate out from Place Charles de Gaulle
Inside the attic level, there is a memorial to all of France's unknown soldiers (as the tomb of the Unknown Soldier lies below the arch) as well as exhibits about the l'Arc de Triomphe's construction, complete with models of Francois Rude's sculptures which adorn the exterior.

Plaster cast of "La Marseillaise" statue
Of course, the main motivation for anyone to climb all the way up there is for the view...

La Tour Eiffel always dominates the Parisian skyline
Roomie photo! My housemate Eric & I atop L'Arc de Triomphe
View of La Defense & the Champs-Elysées
From the top, you can see how the Champs-Elysees stretches all the way down to La Défense, the more modern business sector of Paris. Right at the end of the street you can see yet another arch, l'Arc de la Défense, but since I haven't actually ventured down there yet, I'll have to report my findings another day.

L’Opéra Garnier
And our last stop of the weekend was l’Opéra Garnier, Paris' most famous opera house. We were hoping to go for a tour inside, but arrived right after it had closed for the day. Guess I'll have to save that adventure for later!

Overall, I really enjoyed the Journées du Patrimoine and the whole idea behind them. Cultural heritage is something important that everyone should be aware of, and what better way to bolster this knowledge than  by hosting days where it won't cost you a cent to check out what's in your own backyard!


  1. Hi Rach,
    You realize that you are a walking history book of Paris! All that $$ at PC is really paying off. Keep the pictures and the lessons coming and we are looking forward to seeing you in 4 short weeks.
    Love you tons :)

  2. Great pics Rach! You look so happy, Paris suits you.

  3. Boy...all we did was go to camp this weekend!
    Love ya kid!