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Monuments Marking Paris’ Rich History
Paris is a city with a rich history that stretches back to the third century B.C. It is no surprise, then, that important Paris monuments are so numerous, breathtaking, and varied in terms of period and architectural style. From Roman-era ruins to post-World War II memorials, these famous sites and monuments in the City of Light are essential keys to understanding the city's elaborate and complicated past.
Before you go, also check out which are the 10 most visited tourist attractions and top 10 museums in Paris. Make a plan to visit those sites that appeal to you most.Continue to 2 of 16 below.
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Dating to the 12th century, Notre Dame dramatically towers alongside the banks of the Seine River, beckoning all to come to visit. It's simply breathtaking, with its intricate Gothic architectural details that took workers over a century to complete. Other stunning details are its flying buttresses; its famed bell tower from which one can still imagine Hugo's Quasimodo carrying out his duties; the scary and humorous gargoyles; and the stained-glass rose window inside. If you have extra time, make sure to visit the archaeological crypt at Notre Dame to learn more about the history of its construction and other fascinating elements.Continue to 3 of 16 below.
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When one of the world's most famous landmarks was presented as part of the 1889 World Exposition in Paris, many decried it as an eyesore on the city's horizon and demanded its removal. Who would have thought then, that the Eiffel Tower would become such an enduring and beloved icon of the City of Light? Before you go, learn the about the Eiffel Tower's interesting facts.
If you can, avoid visiting at peak hours and on weekends, so you can make the most of your visit and really enjoy the views from the top. The best times are just after it first opens and in the evenings.Continue to 4 of 16 below.
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The Louvre Palace and Museum
When most think of the Louvre, it's thought of as a museum, but it was a fortress and palace long before it became a world center for art. The palace is a testament to its rich history spanning from the medieval period to the present. Visiting the Louvre's Medieval foundation is fascinating. The adjacent Tuileries Gardens are perfect for a stroll before or after your visit to the museum. There is so much to see at the Louvre, don't try to pack it into just one day.Continue to 5 of 16 below.
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Arc de Triomphe
Looming 164 feet above the bustling traffic circle at the head of the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, the Arc de Triomphe seems to exemplify pomp and circumstance. You just do not get structures like these anymore. The arch is an icon of imperial France under Napoleon I and is a testament to a time when European leaders felt no shame in erecting massive structures in the service of their equally massive egos. Many do not bother to take the tour to the top, but the views over the elegant avenue stretching all the way to the Place de la Concorde, through the Tuileries, and on to the Louvre is more than worthwhile.Continue to 6 of 16 below.
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The Sorbonne and the Latin Quarter
You can almost picture it: a student roaming the halls of the Sorbonne with dusty old books clutched underarm, or, that same student sipping cafe perched in its old square situated in the St-Michel neighborhood in the Latin Quarter. One of Europe's oldest and most esteemed universities, the Sorbonne was founded in 1257, but studies here were initially exclusively theological. This is because, during the Medieval period, scholarship was almost exclusively the domain of monks, scribes, and other figures attached to the Catholic Church. Of course, in later centuries, the Sorbonne would go on to help produce some of Europe's most famous minds, before becoming a site of revolt during the 1968 student movements. After you have had your fill of the school, take a step into the Old Latin Quarter: the Rue Mouffetard district.Continue to 7 of 16 below.
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The Pantheon is a neoclassical-style mausoleum where many of France's great minds like Voltaire, Rousseau, and Victor Hugo are buried. It was built between 1758 and 1790. From the Pantheon, a distant Eiffel Tower can be seen. Stop by the Pantheon during a stroll in the Latin Quarter.Continue to 8 of 16 below.
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Pere Lachaise Cemetery
There are many beautiful cemeteries within Paris, Pere Lachaise is one of most popular and loveliest. In addition to hosting the graves of famous souls from Oscar Wilde, playwright Moliere, and Jim Morrison of the Doors, the cemetery is simply a gorgeous place to stroll and meditate. There are also important war memorials on the site that pay tribute to the many who perished in conflicts and wars.Continue to 9 of 16 below.
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La Sainte Chapelle
Not far from Notre Dame on the Ile de la Cite looms another pinnacle of gothic architecture. Sainte Chapelle was erected in the mid-13th century by King Louis IX. The cathedral features some of the period's best-conceived stained glass, housing a total of 15 glass panels and a prominent large window, whose colors remain surprisingly vibrant. Wall paintings and elaborate carvings place more emphasis on the stunning Medieval beauty of Sainte Chapelle.
To extend your visit, you can tour the adjoining Conciergerie, part of the former Medieval royal palace. It was used as a prison during the Revolutionary “Terror.” Queen Marie Antoinette spent her last days there before being executed.Continue to 10 of 16 below.
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Seating 2,200 people, the imposing Opera Garnier in Paris—also known as the Palais Garnier or simply the Paris Opera—is an architectural treasure and essential spot for the city's ballet and classical music scene.
Designed by Charles Garnier and inaugurated in 1875 as the Academie Nationale de Musique Theatre de l'Opera (National Academy of Music Opera Theater), the neo-baroque style building is the home of the Paris ballet. The city's official opera company relocated to the starkly contemporary Opera Bastille in 1989.Continue to 11 of 16 below.
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Hotel de Cluny and Roman Baths
The Hotel de Cluny is a Medieval residence that now houses the National Medieval Museum. The famous tapestry, “The Lady and the Unicorn,” is displayed there. Situated in the historic Latin Quarter, not far from the Sorbonne, the Hotel de Cluny boasts a Medieval-style aromatic garden that provides a pleasant spot for a stroll or for reading on a bench in the spring or summer.
The ruins of Roman Empire thermal baths can also be seen on-site. One of the museum's rooms, the tepidarium, was originally the “warm room” from the baths.Continue to 12 of 16 below.
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Palais Royal Gardens
Situated between the Louvre and the Opera Garnier is a Renaissance-style palace that was once the residence of the Cardinal Richelieu. Today, occupied by luxury boutiques and restaurants, as well as several government offices, the Palais Royal was for centuries the center of royal amusement. French playwright Moliere occupied a theater that once stood here with his troupe. It has since burned down, twice.
The stately palais and accompanying gardens are a very pleasant place for a stroll, cafe, or whirl around high-end shops, while Daniel Buren's quirky modern sculpture adds an interesting contrast to the old-world charm.Continue to 13 of 16 below.
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Hotel de Ville (City Hall)
Yet another “hotel” that is most certainly not a hotel in the English sense, Paris' Renaissance-style City Hall sits proudly in the center of Paris. It was built in 1873 on the vast plaza that was once called “Place de la Greve,” a site notorious for gory public executions during the Medieval period.
Today, Hôtel de Ville hosts events throughout the year like free exhibits, concerts during the summer, and ice-skating during the winter months. It can be a glorious sight in its lit evening guise.Continue to 14 of 16 below.
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This vast complex was built as a hospital and convalescent home for injured soldiers under the reign of Louis XIV. Part of Les Invalides maintains this role today, but it is most famous for housing the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte. The on-site Musée de l'Armée (Army Museum) boasts a vast collection of military artifacts and an elaborate armory.Continue to 15 of 16 below.
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Saint Denis Basilica
Just north of Paris in a working-class suburb is one of France's oldest sites of Christian worship and its most famous abbey—a burial place for 43 kings and 32 queens. The Saint Denis Basilica, whose current edifice was built sometime between the 11th and 12th centuries, served as a royal burial site from as early as the fifth century. With its sculpted tombs and flamboyant Gothic details, this often-overlooked gem is worth a trip outside the city limits.Continue to 16 of 16 below.
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This sober memorial pays tribute to the 200,000 people (mostly Jews) who were deported to Nazi death camps from France during World War II. Erected in 1962 on the banks of the Seine (across from Notre Dame) and on the site of a former morgue, the Deportation Memorial was designed by architect G.H. Pingusson to evoke a sense of claustrophobia and despair.
One part of the memorial features an “eternal flame of hope” and an inscription reading the following: “Dedicated to the living memory of the 200,000 French deportees sleeping in the night and the fog, exterminated in the Nazi concentration camps.”
Nearby, you can visit the Paris Museum of Jewish Arts and History.