Musée de l’Orangerie

France

Located in the west corner of the Tuileries Gardens next to Place de la Concorde in Paris stands Musée de l’Orangerie, an art museum most famous for its exhibition of Claude Monet’s Water Lilies; an impressive series of giant panels full of colours and brushstrokes that depict Monet’s flower garden in Giverny. The masterpiece spans eight panels, each two metres high and a total length of 91 metres. The panels are arranged in two oval rooms that form the infinity symbol and allows natural light to enter through the ceiling; a technique Monet suggested that will immerse visitors in a state of grace. The oval rooms were strategically situated on an east-west orientation to place them along the historical axis of Paris which runs from the Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre.

The building was first built as a winter shelter for the orange trees in the garden of the Tuileries Palace in 1852. The building was built like a greenhouse as the southern façade is made of glass to let the light enter, while the opposite side has almost no windows to block the northern winds. Then, from 1871 to 1922, the building was used to host cultural events like music shows, art exhibitions, banquets and contests. Eventually, Georges Clemenceau, former president of the council for the Fine Arts, suggested installing the Water Lilies panels Monet was painting.

Various masterpieces collected by French architect Jean Walter and French art dealer Paul Guillaume are in the basement level of the museum and include works by Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri Rousseau, Alfred Sisley, Chaim Soutine and Maurice Utrillo.

Musée d’Orsay

France

On the Left Bank of the Seine River in Paris rest the Musée d’Orsay, a museum devoted to arts between 1848-1914. The museum is housed in a former train station, Gare d’Orsay, that was constructed by Victor Laloux for the 1900 World Fair and was booming with commuters. During and after World War II, the station became deserted and was no longer used, which led the city to have plans to tear it down in 1960. The building, however, was saved as the city decided to convert it into a museum to showcase Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings and collections of sculptures and decorative arts.

Musée d’Orsay is one of the largest art museums in Europe and hosts the most extensive collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces in the world. Notable artists whose works rest in the Orsay are Claude Monet, Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Georges Seurat, Alfred Sisley, Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh.

The Orsay is also recognized for its colossal clocks that double as windows giving the museum an overall allegorical theme of a window through time to the Age of Liberalism when impressionism was taking a stand.

Arc de Triomphe

France

In the centre of Place Charles de Gaulle in Paris where a dozen radiating avenues intersect stands the largest and most widely known triumphal arch in the world. The intricately sculpted Arc de Triomphe has a 50-metre viewing platform, which you can climb via 284 steps to see an exploding 12-point star composed of popular Parisian avenues.

Napoleon commissioned the arch in 1806 to celebrate his victory at Austerlitz, which was one of the most important and decisive battles of the Napoleonic Wars. He gave the project to Chalgrin and Jean-Arnaud Raymond who modelled the design after the first century AD Arch of Titus in Rome. The first stone of the arch was laid to coincide with Napolean’s birthday on August 15.

There are four main sculptural groups on each pillar of the arch, which include: Le Départ de 1792, or La Marseillaise, by Françoise Rude, which shows an allegorical representation of winged war volunteers; Le Triomphe de 1810 by Jean-Pierre Cortot, which celebrates the Treaty of Schöhbrunn and shows Napoleon being crowned by the goddess of victory; La Résistance de 1814 by Antoine Étex, which commemorates the French defense during the War of the Sixth Coalition; and La Paix de 1815 by Antoine Étex, which commemorates the Treaty of Paris. The arch also includes six sculpted reliefs representing important moments of the French Revolution and Napoleonic era.

Within the inner walls of the arch is a list of 558 French generals with the names of those who died in battle underlined. Beneath these walls lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which honours over 1.3 million soldiers who fought and died for France during the French Revolution, Napoleon Wars and World War I. Every evening at 6:30 p.m., the eternal flame that rests on the tomb is rekindled.

The Parisian Arc de Triomphe is a physical commemoration that holds the history of important French battles and that honours all of the people who fought for France’s liberty.

Notre-Dame Cathedral

France

At the eastern end of the Île de la Cité in Paris stands the most famous Gothic cathedral of the Middle Ages whose gleaming gargoyles and pointed steeples inspired the famous French writer, Victor Hugo, to write The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Once you enter through the cumbersome doors of Notre-Dame Cathedral, you will be transported to a time where high ceilings and arches tower over you and where three large, intricate rose stain-glass windows bring sunlight into the darkest corners.

The first stone of the cathedral was laid in 1163 by Pope Alexander II and took until 1345 to complete; a whopping total of 182 years. The cathedral received severe damage by revolutionists during the French Revolution but was later restored in 1845 by French architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.

Notre-Dame Cathedral is widely distinguished for its size, antiquity and architecture. The cathedral is among the first buildings in the world to use the flying buttress architectural style, which is when an inclined bar, in the shape of a half arch, extends from the upper part of a wall to a far away pier. The cathedral is widely identified for its steeple; gargoyles, which are used for water run-off; and two Gothic towers that crown the western facade. The Notre-Dame Treasury carries some of Catholicism’s most important relics, including the Crown of Thorns, a fragment of the True Cross and one of the Holy Nails.

A spectacular experience of this historic building is to climb the spiral staircase in the towers of 422 steps to get outstanding views of the heart of Paris. Although my legs were shaking after climbing and descending so many stairs, the panorama scene was well worth it.

The Louvre

France

At the right bank of the Seine River in Paris sits the world’s largest museum and one of the most popular with 8 million visitors a year. Enter the museum through a massive glass pyramid in the courtyard that takes you underground to the museum’s central lobby. The famous glass pyramid elegantly combines traditional style with modern architecture to show the timelessness of the museum. The Louvre is housed in the 60,600 square metre Louvre Palace with approximately 38,000 objects from the 6th century B.C. to the 19th century A.D. The Louvre Palace was originally built as a fortress in 1190, but when it lost its defensive function, it was reconstructed in 1546 by Francis I, a former king of France, into a royal palace for the French kings.

Through the years the palace became a display for the royal collection and a place for art academies and institutions. The museum officially opened to the public on August 10, 1793, and at the time, only had 537 paintings. Only three years later, in 1796, the museum was closed due to structural problems, but in 1801 it was reopened by Napolean who renamed the museum Museé Napoléan and expanded the collection. Eventually, in 1815, when Napolean was renounced from his throne, around 5,000 artworks were returned to their original country and the museum reverted back to its original name; the Louvre.

The Louvre is massive and it is nearly impossible to see the entirety of the works in a single visit. The museum is divided into eight departments, which include: Egyptian Antiques; Near Eastern Antiques; Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiques; Islamic Art; Sculpture; Decorative Art; Paintings; Prints and Drawings. Within these departments, you can find Egyptian artifacts, Greek and Roman sculptures, paintings by historic European artists and crown jewels from French royalty. Of course, the most famous work in the museum is the Mona Lisa by Leonard da Vinic; a 55 cm by 77 cm portrait of a subtle smiling plain female covered by bullet-proof glass and surrounded by guards. The extra protection is the result of the precious portrait being stolen in 1911. Fortunately, it was shortly recovered in 1913.

The Louvre is unquestionably one of the most impressive art galleries in the world as it is full of life, history and character.