Today was gorgeous – I mean breathtakingly lovely. The kind of day that epitomizes the term “Spring in Paris” – the birds are singing, the sun is warm and bright, the sky clear blue, and the air soft and warm. There was just no way that I was going to stay inside and do chores and laundry! So I decided to walk through the Tuileries – I haven’t done that since we moved here and it has always been one of my favorite walks. The path from Place de la Concorde all the way to the Louvre lets me pretend that I am walking back in time.
The land was once occupied by tile manufacturers back in the 13th century – hence the name “tuileries” – Catherine Medici was the first to have a palace built there in 1564, complete with Italian style gardens. However, she stopped construction in 1571, probably because of expenses and lack of security (it was located outside of the protective medieval city walls.
During the next 20 years civil war raged in Paris and the beautiful gardens were destroyed. Work did not resume until Henri IV in 1594.
The first permanent resident was the Duchesse de Montpensier,niece of Louis XIII. She was also the first person to be evicted by her cousin Louis XIV. He then had the palace completed and finished, to the standards of a royal residence. In 1664 he decided to open the Tuileries to the public for “honest people” to walk inside – thus creating the first public park in Paris.
Under Louis XIV, finance minister Colbert hired Le Nôtre to update the gardens and make them worthy of the new royal residence. This gentleman is famous for his gardens – Vaux le Vicomte, Versailles, Port St. Cloud, just to name a few. He believed that the gardens and the palace should harmonize – he is also credited with the notion of vistas and perspective in regards to landscaping.
The whole Tuileries garden project took from 1666 to 1672 – but Louis XIV hated Paris so much that he decided to move to Versailles and move the entire court there. It remained empty for 40 years, until Louis XV moved there in 1715, only to stay until 1722.
Louis XVI was brought back, unwillingly with his family, in October 1789. They were prisoners there and the public often came to watch them go about their daily life, as if they were animals in the zoo. In August of 1792, the populace invaded the palace and massacred the Swiss Guards. The king and queen were imprisoned and ultimately executed. The gardens and the palace became national property.
When Napoleon Bonaparte took over the government he wanted a residence befitting an emperor. He moved into the Tuileries in February 1800. Not only did he renovate the Tuileries but he also reorganized the Louvre, installed its collections, and built a street cutting through the Old Louvre and Place du Carrousel. He opened up a new street on the north side of the gardens and christened it rue Rivoli, after a victory won in 1797. Only the gardens remained the same.
In 1806 Napoleon wanted to give the Tuileries a monumental entrance. He had a triumphal arch designed to pay tribute to his Austerlitz campaign. Inspired by the Septimus Severus arch in Rome, the monument was completed in 1809 – crowned by chariot drawn by four horses, which were taken from St. Mark’s basilica in Venice! They were ultimately returned and in 1828 replaced with a new bronze sculpture, which is still there.
in 1851 Napoleon III took power and the Louvre and Tuileries became his pet project. He finished the Louvre and joined it to the Tuileries and this became one of the grand settings for the 1867 Universal Exhibition. The Orangerie and Jeu de Paume were built in 1859. The Empire fell in 1870 and the Commune emptied the palaces of furniture and objets d’art in order to use the spaces for mobile hospitals and military units. In May of 1871, as the regular army was entering the capital, the Commune set fire to the palace, the Louvre library and Palais Royale. The burned ruins remained until 1883. The site of the palace was reworked into the gardens in 1889.
The Tuileries and Louvre have survived wars, occupation, illnesses and neglect. Unfortunately the storms of 1999 caused tremendous damage and knocked down some of the oldest trees. But replantation and restoration still occur and the type of trees that existed during Henri IV’s time can be seen now.
The gardens aren’t yet in their full glory – Spring is just now arriving. But I love to visit when everything is green and the flowers are blooming. And I still didn’t want to go home – so I didn’t.
I walked past the Louvre and down to the river – I have never walked on the edge of the Seine but today seemed to be a good day to do so! I decided to head towards Pont Neuf and Place Dauphine.
People were out enjoying the sunshine – students and office workers picnicking on the cobblestones. Lovers with limbs entwined, kissing on park benches, oblivious to the world around them.
It was so peaceful – the sounds of the city were faint, the sun was warm and the breezes were soft. The day was perfect for a long stroll so I just kept going!
Just past the back of the Louvre, Pont Neuf is the oldest standing bridge in Paris – the tip of the island is the Square du Vert-Galant, a park named after Henry IV, whose nickname was the “Green Gallant”.
At the top of the island, on the side of the street is a bronze statue of Henri IV, initially erected in 1618. It was destroyed in 1792 during the Revolution but rebuilt in 1818.
Place Dauphin is a little hidden square just off Pont Neuf – the statue of Henri IV is looking at it. The small park is actually a triangle shape. It was created in 1607 and is the second of public squares, right after Place des Vosges. The square is named in honor of his son, the Dauphin of France, Louis XIII, born in 1601.
The red brick with white stone facade is from this period – a tell-tale sign of the age of the buildings! Place des Vosges has the same facades and is the oldest planned square in Paris.
Place Dauphin ends at the Palais de Justice, where justice of the state has been since medieval times. From the 16th century to the French Revolution the Parlement de Paris has been located here. The Prefecture is here also – it’s where I picked up my Carte de Sejour. Because of the “vigipirate” plan in place, no photos are allowed. Don’t ask about what that is – closest thing I can explain it to is a terror alert and security measures. The name alone makes me think “be vigilant for pirates” – gotta ask one of my French friends what exactly it means and how they came up with such a term!
And then Notre Dame! I never get tired of seeing this church – despite the hoards of tourists and the bicycle taxi drivers catcalling at you. There is just something about this monument that never fails to make one feel small and insignificant before God and Time.
I had been walking for a couple of hours and since I was in the neighborhood, I decided to make a quick pitstop – to celebrate the beautiful day and the beautiful walk. If you are standing in front of Notre Dame, facing the church, take a left down that side street and then turn on the first street to your right – should be rue Chanoinesse, a very old and charming street. Bertie’s Cupcakery is there – and yes, I had a cupcake. Perfect way to end my adventure!