A triangular space begun in 1607 in the same style as the Place des Vosges, wedged into the western end of the Ile de la Cite. Most of the old houses have gone, but the shape is happily unexpected and free of through traffic. What now makes it special is the majestic backside of the Palais de Justice. Unlike any of the other nineteenth-century public buildings near by – and my God, there are enough of them – it has thrown fussy details overboard. There is just one giant Doric order which runs the whole height of the building. Nobility walks in and brings a realization of how much the rest of Paris depends on atmosphere, how little on architecture.
This building was put up by (or under) Monsieur Duc in 1857-68; but so were the fussy designs facing the quai de l’Horloge. The empty hall behind it is a strange and absent place: but, at that, it is far better than the vast Salle des Pas Perdus, which is just copywork wearing a slack grin and depending for effect on the black-gowned animation of the lawyers. They look a lot less like boiled sweets than their English counterparts.
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It should be a brazen, barefaced, million-times photographed cliche: the Pont-Neuf, split by the tiny triangular park on the end of the Ile de la Cite. In fact the solidity and serenity of both – the trees in the park act like an outsize vegetable cutwater – are strong enough to absorb all repetition. The Pont-Neuf is an extraordinary personality, like a vast collective mother that sends everyone off to school with bright shoes. It was begun by Baptiste du Cerceau in 1578: the outline medieval, the detail classical, the result an eloquent grafting on of balance to the springing rhythm – neatly epitomized by the corbels, finely poised between grotesque and allegory. In elevation or photographs it looks heavy: in fact it is massive yet weightless.
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Memorial de la Deportation
G. H. Pingusson, 1963
This doesn’t move me; it should, and I wish it did. But it ought to be seen anyway, as one of the few deliberate acts of twentieth-century man in a nineteenth-century city. It is let into the eastern tip of the Ile de la Cite: first of all a sunken, open space with an oubliette out to the river, then an enclosed memorial. Very symbolic; and, alas, this abstract symbolism is no more effective than Rude’s demonstrative symbolism on the Arc de Triomphe. What do strike home are the inscriptions: the fact that in one decade, people as diverse as Aragon, Sartre, Vercors, and Saint-Exupery could put a nation’s anguish into words, and that less than twenty years later the nation should feel proud enough to record them
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Place Louis Lepine
The kind of atmosphere that Paris so ofen creates by mixing together half a dozen objects, maybe ordinary in themselves, and waving a conjuror’s wand. Here the basis is a flower market, with furry and gentle shrubs under unpretentious iron roofs. Add one of the best of Guimard’s Metro entrances (Cite) and two Wallace fountains – the kind where four muscular ladies support a dome without much pleasure – and hey presto! This bit of magic is especially welcome here, to take away the international-tourist flavour of the rest of the Ile.