I Love Touring Paris - The Eighth Arrondissement
I love touring Paris so much that I am doing a series on both the well known and the rarely visited tourist attractions of Paris's twenty arrondissements (districts). This article visits the eighth arrondissement in central Paris. We suggest French wine and food to increase your touring pleasure. The eighth arrondissement on Right Bank of the Seine River is part of the business and tourist center of Paris. Its land area is a tad under 1.5 square miles (about 3.9 square kilometers) and has a population of about forty thousand but hosts over one hundred seventy thousand jobs, the most of any Parisian district.
L'église de la Madeleine, often called la Madeleine is a church built to honor Napoleon’s army. Towards the end of the Twelfth Century the site contained a Jewish synagogue that was seized and consecrated as a Church dedicated to Mary Magdalene. In 1757 construction started on a new church, one demolished prior to completion. Then a new church was started but work ceased during the French Revolution. Napoleon and others got involved and finally the church was consecrated in 1842, almost one hundred years after rebuilding commenced. The building is Neo-Classical but inspired by a Roman temple at Nimes in the south of France. You can’t miss its fifty-two Corinthian columns, each twenty meters (over sixty feet) high.
The Madeleine’s organ is top of the line; the famous composers Camille Saint-Saëns and Gabriel Fauré were church organists. I am told that this is THE place to have your wedding and the list of Madeleine funerals is quite impressive including the likes of Chopin, Saint-Saëns, and Josephine Baker.
The Palais de l'Élysée (Élysée Palace) is the official residence of the President of the French Republic and hosts meetings of the Council of Ministers. The gardens are the site of a presidential party on July 14th. If you manage to wangle an invitation take my advice and don’t talk about storming anything.
The Palais was bought by Louis XV as a residence for his mistress Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, better known by the name Madame de Pompadour. Louis’s political opponents hung signs on the mansion’s gates "Home of the King’s …". Even worse she was blamed for the Seven Year’s War. Later the building went through some hard times serving as a furniture warehouse, a print factory, a dance hall, and finally as home away from home for those Russian Cossacks who occupied Paris in 1814. Let’s just hope that they didn’t put their feet all over everything. Once they cleared out things started looking brighter for the Élysée. Napoléon III used to meet his mistresses there while living at the Tuileries Palace only an underground passage away. A French President died there in the arms of his mistress right before the end of the Nineteenth Century. In a weird incident during World War I a gorilla escaped from a nearby zoo and tried to kidnap the wife of the President of the Republic. Believe it or not a President of the French Republic and member of the Académie Française, Paul Deschanel, was said to jump into trees during state receptions, possibly imitating this unnamed gorilla.
The Élysée remained empty during World War II. Charles de Gaulle lived there from 1959 to 1969 but preferred receiving official state guests at a nearby building. To quote him "I do not like the idea of meeting kings walking around my corridors in their pyjamas." Socialist President François Mitterrand usually returned at night to his Left Bank lodgings or to a friend’s appartment elsewhere. Don’t pity the poor forsaken Élysée; its estimated annual budget for drinks alone is one million euros, well over one million dollars.
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