In essence, I was late and the free walking tour left without me.
Have no fear! There was another free walking tour taking place. This one was with Be Together Tour of Paris instead of Discover Walks. And it covered places on Ile de la Cite instead of the Left Bank. And it was led by a lovely 25-year-old from Mexico instead of a local Parisian. Her age came up when she shared with us the tidbit that European students under the age of 26 can visit most museums in Paris for free. Though she is from Mexico, she is a permanent resident of France and takes advantage of that deal as often as possible.
I joined the group a little late. We were a small group, less than 10. At two hours, this was my longest walking tour. So long, our guide had us sit down and take a break at the halfway point.
When I joined the group she was telling them about this not very well-known author who wrote a story and saved Notre Dame single-handed. His name, of course, was Victor Hugo. He was paid 40,000 francs to write "Notre Dame de Paris" in 1831, which we refer to as "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" today. Based on his story, Parisians set about in the 1840s to restore the cathedral.
The tour started at a place called Paris Point Zero -- the place from which every other place in Paris, and in all of France, is measured. It is this unassuming block. Myth has it if you step over this point (as millions do daily without even noticing it) you will return to Paris. I managed to only pose for this picture with it, hope that is close enough to let me return.
Across the street from Notre Dame, but still on the island, we paused in front of Hotel Dieu, which is not a hotel, nor does it have anything to do with God (as the name Dieu would imply). Dating back to 936, it is the oldest building on the island. It is also a public
hospital free and open to the public. I made note of this since two days before I left for France I went to the emergency room with stomach pains (which, thankfully, disappeared).
The tour continued to Place de Louis Lapin, which brings up nothing on Ile de la Cite in Google search. Here we talked about Napoleon III who was the first president of France in the 1840s. He wanted to be as great as his famous uncle (Napoleon Bonaparte) and enlisted the help of the Baron Haussmann to completely redevelop Paris -- a 17-year urban development program, possibly the first one by choice (instead of to recover after a war). Most of the tours I took on this trip talked about Haussmann, either to point out what he did do, or what he didn't do (he did order massive destruction, resulting in large boulevards like the Champs Elysees; he did not destroy the Left Bank or Le Marais).
The plan was to create a city like London, with wide avenues and lots of parks. So what if there were already a bunch of houses in the way, knock them down. He believed Paris should only be known by foot, that Medieval era buildings were ugly, and that the city should have a uniformed look -- buildings no taller than six stories, facades in light tones with darker rooftops. This was also the era when the 20 arrondisments (districts) were created. Even now, 170 years later, there are very few buildings that do not conform to the look. New buildings, even those made of glass, have to be designed in a way that they blend in with the rest of the city.
Next door is the Palace of Justice, a former royal palace, now the courts. The plan is by 2020 to move the business aspect of the Palace of Justice into the suburbs, and turn this historic building into a museum. This building was built in the 1760s, making it 500 years newer than St. Chapelle.
The third building is the Concierge. It was the palace for French kings from the 7th-14th centuries. During the Revolution it was a prison, housing up to 1000 people. It was conveniently located near the guillotine, which was in Tuileries Garden in Place de la Concorde. Marie Antoinette was the most famous prisoner. It is said she aged significantly while in prison and her last words were to apologize for stepping on a guard's foot by mistake.
As we neared the corner we passed the first public clock in the city of Paris. It
was installed in 948 as a gift to King Henry III. Later King Louis XIII added the symbols of justice. With the addition of the public clock it became easier for commoners to be able to tell time. Hard to go by the sun when there are days the sun does not shine. The clock only chimes when the king dies, or when an heir is born. As they have no more kings, I suspect that means the clock no longer chimes.
We stepped onto Pont Neuf, which means New Bridge. Built between 1578 and 1607 this name is even less accurate than New Residence Hall at my alma mater (built in the late 1980s, newer residence halls have since been built and named). The bridge was to connect the right and left banks with the island in-between. Catherine de Medici, King Henri II's wife, moved to France from Florence in 1533 and brought with her the love of art and beauty. She wanted to turn Paris into the most magnificent city, and Henri wanted his wife to be happy. She was the first to say "Paris should be enjoyed by foot," a sentiment echoed by Haussmann two centuries later. The former bridges were made out of wood, people lived in them, and businesses took place in them. They were seen as a places for houses and shops, and not as a means for getting from one side of the water to another.
The next bridge is the Bridge of Locks, or Bridge of Sighs. It was built in 1899 for the Exposition of Paris as the first metal bridge. It is most famous for being the place where people put their initials along with the initials of who they love, snap the padlock shut, and throw the key into the Seine as a sign that their love with endure forever. In 2015 in an effort to save the bridge, the French government took all of the locks off of the bridge, and added glass panels making it difficult (though
not impossible) to add your lock to the collection. People have made new places to show their love through their padlocks. Every few months they snip off the locks that do make it. Locks can be seen all over Paris (and many other cities). Our guide said they now use the Pont d'Ilena near the Eiffel Tower instead. I did not walk that far to check it out.
We continued our tour to the Louvre Museum. Back in the beginning of the tour we learned the kings lived in the Palace of Justice until the 14th century. King Louis XIV changed that. He believed the palace was too small, or he was paranoid after a failed kidnapping attempt when he was six and did not want to live there. At the time of his reign, he was not respected. He moved the French government into different castles through France, and settled in Versailles. At the time the Louvre was much
smaller than it is today, and it is only a block away from the Palace of Justice, but that is where Louis XIV decided to live while in the city.
The fate of the Louvre was changed when in the 1830s it became a palace for the people, and was therefore saved during the 1789 Revolution.
Rumor has it if you spent one minute looking at each work of art (and doing nothing else) it would take you five months to get out of the musuem.
President Mitterand had the glass pyramids installed in the 1980s as a present to his mistress. They are still controversial.
We ended our tour at the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in the Garden of Tuileries. This is the scene of where "Les Miserables" took place when the Prussians invaded Paris. Walking under the arch gives you the blessings of the Gods. We can all use more blessings. It depicts scenes from Napoleon's triumphant Battle of Austerlitz.
Our guide ended with telling us about the obelisk, an 1831 gift from Egypt to France dating back 2,300 years. At the time France gave Egypt a copper clock. Egypt wants it back.
The tour was good, but I learned my lesson and arrived early for every tour after that.