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A Tour Of The Gothic Architecture Of Paris

This is the latest in a series of articles on architecture. The last one was regarding Los Angeles.

It’s that time of year when we say farewell to summer and welcome the reason that people say they would never want to live in southern California – the season of fall. Because so many people just love to be home so they can see the “foilage,” it is also the time that airlines decide to have sales for flights to Europe. So, why not pick up a cheap flight and check out the architecture of Paris.

Gothic architecture originated during the Middle Ages in what we know today as France and its main ingredients are a fireproof stone roof and intricate stone carvings as decorations. When looking at Gothic architecture, the most visible characteristics are the flying buttress, the pointed arch and the vaulting rib. The development of the flying buttress made possible the huge stained glass windows that became a much more important art form during this time as well.

Basilique St. Denis

Basilique St. Denis

Once you land at Charles de Gaulle Airport, jump in a taxi (and expect to pay 29 euros, or almost 40 dollars) and head 23 km down the road to Basilique St. Denis (Basilica of Saint Denis) in the northern Paris suburbs. This Gothic cathedral houses the remains of most every French monarch from the 10th century through most of the 18th century. The cathedral is an important Gothic structure because it is the first building to be constructed in the style.

At this point, you can jump on the Metro Line 13 at the Basilique St. Denis station and go to the Champs-Elysees-Clemenceau station, switch to the Metro Line 1 to the Louvre-Rivoli exit, walk toward the Seine River, cross-over the Pont Neuf bridge and head east to La Conciergerie. (If you don’t want to drag your luggage around to the Basilique St. Denis, and want to save money on cab fare, you can spend nine euro each for you and your girl to take the Roissybus from CDG to the Opera Metro station. If you stay at the Intercontinental Paris Le Grand, then you have a short walk to your hotel from the Opera Metro station, a short walk by the Louvre on the way to the Seine and you’re back on track. If you’ve had enough walking, just go back to the Opera Metro station and take the Metro Line 7 to the Pont Neuf station.) La Conciergerie is the former royal palace and an example of a secular Gothic structure. La Conciergerie also served as the prison and last stop for people condemned to the guillotine during the French Revolution.

Also on the Ile de la Cite, and on the same block is the La Sainte-Chapelle (The Holy Chapel). Originally the royal chapel for the palace, King Louis IX built the chapel to house royal relics. The ones that were not looted during the French Revolution are now just across the way in the treasury of the Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris (Notre Dame Cathedral). The most famous example of Gothic architecture, tours are available in English at 2 pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays as well as 2:30 pm on Saturday.

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

Heading south on the Rue de la Cite, it turns to the Rue Saint-Jacques and you will come across the Musee National du Moyen Age (National Museum of the Middle Ages). This Gothic building also houses a number of the carved stone decorations from the Gothic structures of Paris and the rest of life in the Middle Ages, which is a perfect way to conclude the day of looking at the Gothic buildings.

Of course, that is not all that Paris has to offer, with many great museums (the Musee d’Orsay, the Louvre and L’Orangerie top my list) and of course, wonderful cuisine. To me though, a walk through history to see the city in times past through its buildings is the perfect way to start the visit. Have a great time in Paris.

(At this point, I should give a big shout out to “A Concise History of Western Architecture” by R. Furneaux Jordan for supplying me with my knowledge of architecture and a great reference for these essays.)

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About Jason McClain Jason is an aspiring novelist, which means there is a lot of time to put off writing and watch baseball or go fly-fishing, hiking and traveling. By "a lot of time", Jason means "procrastination."


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