Etoile (Arc de Triomphe), Champs-Elysées, Concorde, Tuileries gardens, Louvre
(About 4 km)
Although the reverse of the historical progression, this walk takes us from the Etoile to the Louvre. The starting point for the “must” in Paris promenades is the focal point of 12 Haussmann avenues at the Arc de Triomphe, Place Charles-de-Gaulle. Napoleon I selected a traditional Roman arch design, rather than a pyramid, to honor his Grand Army. It was only completed during the reign of Charles X (1836), but it has served ever since as a military symbol e.g. in 1940 for Hitler, and in 1944 for General de Gaulle and is still revered today with the symbol of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, its eternal flame and 14th July ceremonies. One of the sculptural groups on this arch is worth looking out for: it's the 'Departure of the Volunteers of 1792' (better known as the 'Marseillaise') by François Rude. This work is often cited as one of the few sculptures that could equal Neoclassical painting of the period, thanks to a Romantic inspiration, probably from Delacroix.
From the top of this arch (open daily 10:00 to 17:00) or even standing underneath it (make sure you don’t try to cross this busy traffic circle, but use the underground passage), the spectacle looking east is quite unique. This vista perfectly illustrates the Baroque concept of space, with infinity suggested by the uninterrupted view as far as the eye can see, but it can only be seen from a single axis or viewpoint. It is perhaps the most impressive man-made visual experience in the world: a wide tree-lined avenue interrupted only by fountains, grandiose monuments and distant palaces, all witness to several hundreds of years of the charming passage of time truly an Elysian spectacle.
The view in the opposite direction is a contrast in architectural styles, with post-modern towers in the distanceno longer respecting the 18 meters (59 ft) height limit of central Paris, nor the 37 meters (121 ft) height limit of the outskirts framing Miterrand’s Grand Arch of La Défense. Further to the southwest you'll see the Avenue Foch, formerly known as the Avenue de l'Impératrice, that Haussmann decided should be nearly 400 feet wide (over 120 meters), three times what the architect Hittorff suggested. This was to allow Empress Eugénie and her high-society friends to drive in safety to the new Bois de Boulogne.
Although copied more or less successfully throughout world capitals, the Avenue des Champs Elysées is the reference. And all the tourists know it, so the question is: how to enjoy it without those bothersome crowds? It’s easy for Americans if they want to stay on US time for another day: take your walk after midnight. The Arc de Triomphe and the Concorde obelisk are both illuminated at night; this is, after all, the city of light, and it’s safe enough if you stick to the grand avenue, but don’t wander too far off it. If you're coming from a more easterly longitude you can also try early in the morning sunrise over the obelisk should make a great photo. Apart from that, week-ends are better than week days but avoid, if you can, holiday week-ends when you’ll be in competition with day-trippers from the whole greater Paris area as well as from neighboring countries.
Even if the shops don't continue after the Rond Point, it's well worth continuing down the avenue bordered by multiple rows of elm trees because between this point and the Place de la Concorde you get a more faithful impression of the splendor of the original Champs Elysées. As opposed to the upper part of the avenue designed by Jean-Charles Adoplphe Alphand, this part of the avenue was designed by Le Nôtre for Louis XV, and it was clearly influenced by the gardens at Versailles that also inspired the name (Elysium being Greek mythology's abode for the blessed after death). You can continue past the Grand and Petit Palais, both recently renovated for their centenary (they were built for the International Exhibition of 1900 along with the gare d'Orsay and the Pont Alexandre III in line with the Invalides) until you reach the Place de la Concorde. You might also take in the Avenue Matignon if you’re interested in Art galleries, or the Avenue Montaigne if you get your kicks from Haute Couture fashion.
If you take this promenade for its history and views, it may be worth your while walking to the middle of the great Concorde square (the largest in Paris, inaugurated in 1763) so you can admire another of Paris’ most famous vistas when you get to the rue Royale in line with the center of the square and the obelisk of Luxor.
Egyptian obelisks have aroused the cupidity of Western powers since Roman times. This pink granite obelisk, the oldest monument in Paris (originally erected for Ramses II and Ramses III at Luxor in the 13th Century BC) was one of a pair offered as a gift from the viceroy of Egypt to Louis Philippe (as a result of the French expeditions to upper Egypt from 1798 that led to the rediscovery of ancient Egyptian culture). It was erected here in 1836 and only recently re-gilded for the new millennium. This was intended to be the central point of the city of Emperor Napoleon I, and since he saw Paris and the French Empire as a successor to Rome, it is based on the Roman model, even to the inclusion of Rostral columns that the Romans erected to celebrate naval victories, but which Hittorff used for street lighting. From here, in addition to the east-west axis of the Champs-Elysées and Tuileries you can look north and south to matching monuments. To the north is the Madeleine planned as a vast Roman Corinthian temple to the glory of Napoleon's army, but now a fashionable church despite the absence of bell tower or stained glass. And south across the square and the Pont de la Concorde is the Palais Bourbon, which was meant to be the capitol after the addition of the vast colonnaded porch to match the Madeleine, and despite the irony of the royal Bourbon name, it is now the Assemblée Nationale (the parliament building).
It’s difficult to imagine how much this square has evolved; it was outside the city walls until they were replaced by boulevards under Louis XIV, and was still a waste land until about 1750. At the time of the revolution the square was then known as the 'Place de la Révolution' instead of the former Place Louis XV, and the bridge linking it with the west bank was baptised 'Pont de la Révolution' the equestrian statue of Louis XV dating from 1753 was removed and replaced by a plaster statue of a seated 'Liberty' (later replaced by the obelisk). This is where the guillotine was located and so many heads fell; more than one thousand were beheaded here in the space of 13 months, from Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette (better known as 'Madame déficit') in 1793 until early 1794. The guillotine had been removed to the 'Place du Trône', rebaptised 'Place du Trône-Renversé' and now the 'Place de la Nation', by the time of Robespierre's demise because the scene of about 200 executions a week during the Great Terror was getting too much for Parisians to bear, and especially for the folks living along the rue Saint-Honoré putting up with the incessant passage of tumbrels. The square is decorated with raised statues representing the 8 main cities of France (Bordeaux, Nantes, Brest, Rouen, Lille, Strasbourg, Lyons and Marseilles) as well as two fountains and a famous set of rearing-horse statuary known as 'Chevaux de Marly'. The great Ferris wheel that had become part of the scene for the millennium celebrations has now been removed from the entrance to the Tuileries gardens.
The vista continues as you enter the Tuileries gardens, named after the clay earth here that was used to manufacture tiles until Catherine de' Medici bought the land to make a park to improve the view from her Tuileries Palace. To the right and left of the entrance to the park are two buildings known as the Jeu de Paume and the Orangerie. This latter has been under renovation for six years and now exalts the famous mural paintings by Monet known as the 'Nympheas' or water lilies as well as other works in the basement.
Because the river turns slightly after the Pont Royal, the Tuileries Palace and garden were offset from the plan of the Louvre Palace to follow the alignment of the embankment (since the old city wall separated the two palaces in the middle of the 16th century). This is why the vista from the Champs Elysées through the Place de la Concorde and Tuileries garden is not quite in line with the Louvre Palace. Further improved a century later by André Le Nôtre (the inventor of the geometric 'French garden' who worked closely with Louis XIV, notably at Versailles), the Tuileries garden became very popular with bourgeois and royalty alike. It is still a delight, especially as seen from the central path, but although there is still an octagonal pool and orderly trees, it is a view that has changed considerably over the centuries.
In fact, as part of the fortifications that Philip Augustus built around the city (1190 - 1210), the Louvre was originally a Gothic fortress situated on the outer edge of the wall where the eastern 'Cour Carré' is today, and only became the royal residence after the fortified wall was moved further out. When Charles V consolidated the outer wall of the city against repeated English attacks during the Hundred Years War, it ran through the Place du Carrousel near the current triumphal arch (originally an area for tilting or jousting tournaments). Some vestiges of these walls and the dungeons are still to be seen below ground in the new Carrousel du Louvre.
Building of the Louvre as a palace started around 1546 when Francois I moved his court back to Paris from the Loire. He commissioned Pierre Lescot to modernize the palace in the Renaissance style of the day, and over the years, right up to the time of Napoleon III (1878), improvements and extensions were made by a succesion of about 11 architects to what was soon one of the most imposing palaces in Europe. The French Renaissance style was used throughout, so it takes an expert eye to notice the progression over 300 years.
Yet Henry IV was the last monarch to live in the Louvre Palace (and the only king to die there) as succeeding kings and emperors preferred the 16th century Tuileries Palace, built by Philibert Delorme to the west of the Louvre for Catherine de' Medici (who detested the Tournelles palace after loosing her husband there during a jousting accident in 1559). Moreover, no sooner had Lefuel finished work on the Pavillon de Flore in 1865, finally completing the connection between the Louvre and the Tuileries palaces, than the Communards set fire to what was then the western wing of the palace. The architect then had to repair the damage to both the northern and southern 'pavillons' to the condition we see today. It's a pity we can no longer see the Tuileries palace, which was one of the most luxurious (it used to cross the gardens, between the Pavillon de Flore and the Pavillon de Marsan, and between the Avenue du General Lemonnier and the Carrousel arch, opposite the Pont Royal). It was also rich in history, being associated with the overthrow of the monarchy after the Revolution (1792) and the de-facto residence of the Head of State from the time of Napoleon Bonaparte until the Commune.
The small Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel was added on the Place du Carrousel by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806 to commemorate the victory at Austerlitz a year earlier. Although near where the guillotine stood in 1792-93 until removed to the Place de la Concorde, it was intended to serve as a monumental entrance gate to the planned extension of the Tuileries Palace. But, since the Tuileries Palace was demolished and the Louvre complex devoted to a museum, it is now a western portal to the Carrousel du Louvre, a modern complex where the extended Louvre Museum has become a sort of architectural backdrop for the Pei pyramids, above and below ground. As with the great Arc de Triomphe at the Etoile, with which it is lined up on an axis that must have inspired Haussmann (although the arches were still hidden from each other by the Tuileries Palace at his time, but the central 'pavillon' of the Tuileries Palace was on this axis), this smaller triple-arch is more closely inspired by the Roman model (Arches of Septimius Severus and of Constantine in Rome). In passing you may note that the arch is also a pedestal for a triumphal horse and chariot sculpture that used to be the one Napoleon took a fancy for when he saw it in St Mark’s, Venice and brought back as part of the 'spoils of war' after his successful Italian campaign in July 1798. This was later returned and replaced by the current similar statue by Bosio.