Oh La La, La Tour Eiffel!

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I try to report on culture and lesser known tourist spots, but some of the big ones are impossible to avoid.  It’s a bit of a cliché, but I would be remiss if I did not include a post on the Eiffel Tower in my Paris posts.  It’s one of the world’s most famous structures; it’s become iconic, a symbol of Paris.  Today, Paris’s skyline is unimaginable without its iron lattice structure and spire.

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The Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel) is 1000 feet (320 meters) high and was the tallest man-made structure in the world for 40 years.  Named after Alexandre Gustave Eiffel who (along with a team of engineers) designed it.  Built for the 1889 Worlds Fair (which coincidentally was the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution), it was intended to be a temporary structure.  It was so popular (ahem, profitable) that it remained even after the fair.  Elevator ticket sales in recouped almost the entire cost of the structure in just one year. Its popularity was not a given.

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Ironically, pre-construction, critics called Eiffel’s design an eyesore and predicted cost overruns.  What’s more, Eiffel completed the project on time and it quickly became a tourist attraction.  Gustave got the last laugh, he received the Legion of Honor, the highest decoration in France for creating what became a national symbol of France.

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The Eiffel Tower is repainted every seven years with 50 tons of the dark brown paint.  It’s made from 18,000 pieces of iron that create an elegant art nouveau webbed-metal design.   Eiffel recognized the impact wind forces on tall structures. As a result, he made the surface variation minimal with an open lattice of light trusses through which the wind can blow.  That’s why you don’t see any ornamentation on the building.

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It’s not just a sculpture, you can visit the tower’s interior (be ready for crowds and a wait, prebooking tickets may help).    You can get onto the three platforms by elevators and stairs.  From the top one, there are views of up to 37 miles (60 km). Since there’s wheelchair access to only the 1st and 2nd levels, we didn’t go up.  If I’d planned better, we would have gotten a reservation at the second level Le Jules Verne restaurant and snuck up with him to the higher Bar à Champagne.
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By the way, if you’re climbing the seemingly countless stairs to the first platform, look out for the names of 72 French scientists and other luminaries just beneath the first platform.

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Notre Dame (The One In Paris, Not The One We Beat In Football)

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Notre Dame is a huge Gothic masterpiece.  Built in the middle ages (construction started in 1163), it has seen a lot.  It survived the French Revolution, allegedly housed the Crown of Thorns, saw many coronations including Napoleons and inspired Victor Hugo‘s story of a hunchbacked bell-ringer (Quasimodo), The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

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Construction began in 12th century.  Two centuries passed before it was competed in 1345, spanning almost the entire Gothic period.  At the time, it was an engineering feat; it was one of the world’s first buildings to use “flying buttress” (the support arches attached to the exterior at the garden end of the cathedral that help support the weight of the enormous roof).

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The church is known for its size.  It is massive and can hold 6000.  It is also known for its large stained glass rose window.  Like an idiot, I used to look for pink in rose windows.  It was awhile before I learned that rose window is a generic term applied to the large circular windows, particularly those found in Gothic churches.  They are divided into segments by stone mullions and tracery, the color pink is in no way a prerequisite.  Go figure.

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I was especially smitten with the hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of humorous gargoyles.  The rooftop has amazing views of the city, but we were with older family who couldn’t make the trip up the stairs.  Please feel free to comment and tell us what we missed.

Breaking The Law In France

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It looks like your average vacation shot, but apparently, this was illegal activity.  Just like the Judas Priest song, I was “Breakin the Law.”  I’ve done it too (but the photos are just too bad to post). It wasn’t intentional.  I didn’t have drugs, wasn’t intoxicated or carrying stolen goods.

The problem is what the girl on the left is wearing.  In 1799, post-Revolution France enacted a law banning women from wearing pants in Paris, the French capital.  Female renegades wore (gasp) long trousers to show their to the wealthy who wore fashionable knee-length culottes.  This began a political movement named ‘sans-culottes’ (which translates literally to no underwear).

For women, wearing any form of menswear in public required government permission in order to be legal.  Often, obtaining permission required a medical reason.  I’m guessing that “I didn’t feel like shaving my legs this morning” just wouldn’t have passed muster.  Ironically, the law didn’t seem to stop Parisian fashion houses from starting the military look, suits or menswear fashion trends every decade or so.

 

Royalists In France

French Royalists gather each January 21st, the date King Louis XVI was beheaded.  For 1600 years, France had a Catholic monarchy (remember the Avignon Papacy).  His death marked the end of the French monarchy and beginning of the French Republics.

Lafayette visits George Washington after the A...

Royalists like to point out that the French president is a political figure and believe that  as a result, doesn’t represent all the citizens.  According to them, only a king could represent all French and unify the country.  I find it hard to understand how a king that involves himself with the running of the country wouldn’t become a political figure?  I freely admit that I have a hard time wrapping my brain around concepts associated with modern monarchies.  To repeat, I’m American and so its a really foreign concept for me.

At present, Royalists don’t have any real political power (the Alliance Royale, a group that wants to choose a king by referendum, got just 0.031% of the vote in the 2004 European elections).  Nevertheless, they disagree over who is the rightful successor to the French throne.   The two most often named potential kings of France are Prince Jean d’Orléans the Duke of Vendôme, Prince Louis Alphonse Duke of Anjou, who is a descendent of the Bourbon dynasty.

Not surprisingly, there’s bad blood between these rivals and it goes back generations.  It’s good to be king and, well, there’s only one king.   Also not surprisingly, there’s a third claimant, Napoléon VII, Charles Marie Jérôme Victor Napoléon, who descends from Emperor Napoléon I.

Reims Cathedral, It’s History Has More Drama Than A Telenovela

When I visited Champagne, I had to stop by and see the cathedral in Reims.  I’d heard so much about it and had to see it in person.  Yeah, from a distance, it might look a lot like many other French cathedrals, but this one is different.  It’s beautiful, light and airy, but that’s only scratching the surface.  It’s fascinating because of its dramatic history.

The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims is considered by many to be the world’s most perfect Gothic church.   Located in eastern France (an hour or so away from the WWI battlefield of Verdun),  it was almost completely destroyed during the First World War.    On September 19-20, 1914, 25 German shells struck the cathedral which then caught on fire, causing massive damage.  It became known as  the “Martyred Cathedral” a symbol of destruction during the Great War and brought out strong emotions in the French.  Strong emotions are an understatement.  Several injured German prisoners found refuge in the cathedral but were killed outraged French.

In 1924, billionaire American John D. Rockefeller, gave money to restore the cathedral.  Fabulously wealthy Andrew Carnegie kicked in some money too.    Today, it’s mostly restored, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and definitely worth the few million they poured into it.

Reims has been a town since Roman times. In 498, Clovis was baptized as the first Catholic French king at the church.  This was a big deal.  If you don’t believe me, Pope John Paul II visited for the 1500th anniversary of the event.  I can pretty much guarantee that no world leader will mark the 1500th anniversary of anything I have done or anywhere I have been.  Monkey see, monkey do.  All the cool kings wanted to do it like Clovis did and it became the site for coronations of French kings (until the revolution).   Joan of Arc famously knelt in front of Charles VII when he was crowned King of France there.  Today, they have a Gallery of Kings, statues of the famous kings who were crowned there.

Here Saint Remy Baptized Clovis King of France

In 1211, when the existing church burned down, the built a bigger better one on the site of an earlier church (just like Geneva’s Cathedral St. Pierre).  Part of what makes Reims Cathedral such an amazing building is the amount of light inside (particularly in comparison with others constructed around the same time).  The architects designed the windows so that they would let in as much light as possible.

Notre-Dame de Reims did not escape the French Revolution unscathed. Fleur-de-lys and clovers were removed because they had been symbols of the monarchy.   They were replaced during the restoration.  Thanks Mr. Rockefeller.

Large circular windows at the ends of the cathedrals are known as the “Rose Window.”  It took me a few cathedrals to figure that one out.  Luckily, we’ve seen a few this year (Toledo, Milan). The church is known throughout France for its impressive stained glass windows.  During the restoration, some more contemporary have been used.  I like the one depicting Champagne making from the 1950’s.  Who would have thought church windows would depict hooch? The windows designed by Marc Chagall from the 1970’s (above) were my favorites because they were ethereal and dreamy.  You wouldn’t expect something so massive to look so light.   They plan on continuing with the different windows, making it interesting to for visitors compare and contrast the different styles.

By the way, if you go there, hunt out the “Smiling Angel” (also known as  “Smile of Reims”  and “L’Ange au Sourire”).  Decapitated by a burning beam in 1914,, during the fire of September 19, 1914 it the destruction and then with the restoration of the city. 

 

Italian Unification

 

Although Italy has a long and storied history, think the Etruscans, the Romans, etc., it is easy to forget that it has been an independent nation for less time than the United States.  We learned some about Italian unification at the Risorgimento Museum in Milan. Since it was all in Italian, we could do some research after returning home.  Being history buffs, we found it interesting and liked the museum anyway.

Napoleon Bonaparte kicked out the Austrians and the Spanish out of Italy in 1796.  Until then, Italy had not existed a under a central power since the Romans.  It was a collection of city states that had been, for the most part, ruled by foreign powers (Austria, Spain, France).

Initially, Milan welcomed Napolean and built the triumphal arch, the Arco della Pace, for him.  They hoped that he would bring the ideals of the French Revolution (liberty, equality and brotherhood) to them.  In their eyes, he turned out to be just another narcissistic megalomaniac.  To express their dissatisfaction and disappointment, they turned the horses around.  Nevertheless, under Napoleon, Italy experienced it’s first taste of unification and it proved impossible to unring that bell.  It awakened hopes for Italy to become an independent nation.

The movement toward unification grew in the 50 years following Napoleon.  It started out as a revolutionionary movement on the fringes of society.  Since membership in this group (the Carbonari) was punishable by death, it was a secret society.  Understandable.

Giuseppe Mazzini led this professional revolutionary group.  Mazzini traveled extensively, spreading revolutionary propaganda, influencing Italian radicals and revolutionaries throughout Europe.  He was involved in the failed revolution 1848–49.

Giuseppe Garibaldi had a long military career before Victor Emmanuel convinced him to conquer Sicily.  In 1860 with 1,000 volunteers known as the Red Shirts, Garibaldi landed in Sicily, (which had rebelled against Francis II the king of the Two Sicilies), and conquered the island in a spectacular, daring campaign.  He then took Naples, and won a decisive battle on the Volturno River.  This led Victor Emmanuel’s proclamation as king of a united Italy.

Vittorio Emanuele II, king of Sardinia and the first king of united Italy.  He was the rallying point around which the movement coalesced.  These men were so fundamental to the formation of Italy that in virtually every Italian town, you find streets, squares, piazzas and buildings named after Victor Emanuel, Mazzini, Garibaldi and Cavour.

Camillo Cavour (statesman, premier of the Kingdom of Sardinia), pulled a fast one on France.  In a brilliant sleight of hand, he convinced them to drive Austria out of Italy (Franco-Austrian War).  One occupier down, one to go.   He convinced France to take part of Savoy and Nice in exchange for getting out of the rest of Italy.   Clever.

After Garibaldi’s victories and Victor Emmanuel’s coronation, when Tuscany, Parma, Modena, and the Romagna voted for annexation to Sardinia, Cavour sent Sardinian troops into the Papal States, which, with the exception of Latium and Rome, were soon annexed.  And presto, you have Italy.

 

The Swiss Guard In Revolutionary France

As you know from yesterday’s post, Switzerland was well know for sending mercenaries abroad.  Popes weren’t the only people who hired them.  France‘s King Louis the 11th started a group to protect him called the Hundred Swiss (Cent Suisses) in 1480.  Swiss worked for the kings of France on up to the revolution.

When the French Revolution started, about nine hundred Swiss Guards were protecting the Tuileries Palace.   They didn’t fare well; they ran low on ammunition and were overwhelmed by the larger opposition.

  • Approximately 600 of them were killed during fighting or after the surrender
  • 60 were taken to city hall and killed in front of the crowd there
  • Around 160 died in prison of their wounds in prison or in further revolutionary violence

Their bravery is commemorated by Bertel Thorvaldsen’s Lion Monument in Lucerne.*  The lion is shown collapsing on the symbols of the French monarchy.

* Lucerne is one of the highlights of any trip to Switzerland and one of the most beautiful places in the world.

 

Burgundy Part Un – A Geology Lesson?

See this guy.  His name is Jean-Michel.  He has ruined wine for us. Before we took the best wine tour ever with him, we were happy drinking almost anything.*  The other night after a long day of work, he passed on a (free) red because he didn’t like the smell. I rest my case.

Jean-Michel (a tour guide par excellence) said that to understand Burgundy, we must understand its geology.  Burgundy doesn’t produce tons of wine, but it produces very good wines and some outstanding (ridiculously expensive) ones.  Why? Geology.

Millions of years ago, Burgundy was the seaside.  Over time, as pressure from the African and European plates, caused the layers of soil to bend and fracture.  Glaciers further shattered them.  The vineyards still follow this fault line.  There is a narrow strip with great soil (for growing wine) whose diversity is due to the breakup of these layers.

The shakeup of the seaside yielded the  perfect mix for growing wine in certain really specific areas (the dispersed bits and pieces combined with microclimates are the main reasons for Burgandy’s notorious complexity).

Burgundy is in France.  As a result, it didn’t take long for people to realize and exploit its wine growing potential.  Jean-Michel explained that the monastic orders became the first major vineyard owners.  With land, time to study and a dedication to physical labor, they quickly learned how different vineyard plots consistently gave different wines.  When popes took a liking to their wines, the monks had a powerful bargaining chip that they used and keenly protected (keeping the quality high).

Making a valuable commodity like good wine made the monks rich and powerful.  This is just one of their several wine presses.  they meant business.  The monk’s summer residence.  Clearly, they weren’t hurting.

After Burgundy became part of the France, the power of the church decreased and many vineyards were sold.  During the French Revolution, the church’s remaining vineyards were seized and sold.  Napoleonic inheritance laws caused the continual subdivision of the most precious vineyard land.  As a result, many modern day growers only hold a row or two of vines!  The different colors, stakes and markers at the end of the rows below differentiate the rows of different owners!

*Except for maybe Boone’s Farm.