The elegance and romance of Paris stay with you wherever you go for the rest of your life. It’s why Ernest Hemingway called the City of Light a “moveable feast.” And why Discovery Tours makes it a point to introduce you to its glories as your Treasures of Provence trip gets underway. Here are some little-known facts about the sites you’ll see during your stay in this most beautiful of cities.
Arc de Triomphe – Home of France’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, this massive arch was built between 1806 and 1836 to commemorate lives lost in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. All of France’s victories and names of its generals are etched on its façade. Twelve roads converge here into a roundabout that surrounds the arch. But perhaps the most memorable piece of transportation history here occurred after World War I, in 1919, when during the nation’s victory parade a pilot flew his biplane under the arch.
Eiffel Tower – Built for the World’s Fair of 1889, Gustave Eiffel’s tower was greeted with scorn by most Parisians. They looked forward to the disassembly of the “metal asparagus” at fair’s end, but the now-beloved structure was saved because it was deemed useful as a radio tower. During the Nazi occupation of Paris, the French cut its elevator cables so that Germans would have to climb the 1,710 stairs to the top if they wanted to plant their flag at Paris’s highest point.
Notre Dame Cathedral – Celebrated as one of the world’s most splendid examples of French Gothic architecture, Notre Dame is one of the largest churches in the world. Generations committed themselves to its construction over almost 200 years, which started in 1163 and finished in 1345. Within its treasury are kept the Crown of Thorns said to be worn by Jesus, a piece of the Cross, and one of the Holy Nails.
The Louvre and the Mona Lisa – Breathtaking in scope and elegant in appearance, the Louvre occupies what was once the largest royal palace in the world, stretching a half mile along the Right Bank of the Seine. Of its 380,000 pieces, some 35,000 are on display. The museum’s centerpiece is the Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci’s renowned painting of the woman with the mysterious smile. Throughout its 500-year history, the painting has spent time hanging at Louis XIV’s Versailles and in the bedroom of Napoleon in his Tuileries Palace.
Basilica Sacre Coeur – Perched atop Montmartre Hill, with some of the best views of Paris, the Sacred Heart Basilica was built to assuage the humiliations of the French after their defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. This magnificent gleaming wonder was completed in 1914 and features one of the largest mosaics in the world, an artful rendering of Christ with open arms. It was no mistake that this symbol of conservative morality was built to oversee Montmartre, the city’s bohemian district of artists and hedonists.
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