We made our way to the Eiffel Tower by catching the Metro to Bir Hakeim Station which enabled us to alight on the edge of the Seine River opposite the Pont de Bir Hakeim. Like any walk around Paris, we were distracted by other sights of the city before we were able to move on down river to the Tower. The bridge in front of us marked the end of a long, narrow, artificial island in the centre of the river that linked three bridges across the Seine. It was called the Ile aux Cygnes and was built in 1827 to protect the Pont de Grenelle further down river. The first thing that attracted our attention was on the pediment supporting the bridge in the middle of the river was a powerful statue that originally was designed with Joan of Arc as the rider on the wild horse leading her troops into battle. It was cast in 1948 by Dutch artist Holger Wederkinch but its name was changed to the ‘Monument de la France Renaissante’
The Ile aux Cygnes is a very ‘well-balanced’ islet as on the opposite end of the walkway leading down its centre is another Statue of Liberty. Installed next to the Pont de Grenelle, this was one of the working models when the ‘real statue’ was being built for presentation to the USA. It was given to the city in 1889 by the American community in Paris to celebrate the centennial off the French Revolution.
It was an easy walk down the river side to the site of the Eiffel Tower in its huge park. However, distraction set in again and we noticed the huge ‘palace’ complex on the other side of the river, the Palais de Chaillot.
It was not just the view of the huge palace on the other side of the river that caught our attention, the Pont d’Lena with its impressive statues of four equestrian warriors from history at each corner of the bridge also called for inspection. The image on the left is of one of these, the Roman Warrior by Louis-Joseph Daumas. The area on the right bank of the Seine here is called the Trocadero area, named after the old Palais de Trocadero that was built here for the 1878 World’s Fair. It lasted only 58 years before it was partly demolished and rebuilt to create the Palais de Chaillot for the 1937 Exposition Nationale
On another occasion when we visited the Palais de Chaillot, it was late in the day and we were surprised by the large number of locals who had come to grace the lawns of this beautiful spot and enjoy the views that it gave down over the Champ de Mars and the Eiffel Tower. The area between the Palais and the long fountain is the site of a famous photo of Adolf Hitler and his infamous architect Albert Speer when they visited here for the views in 1940 during the Battle of France. It seems appropriate that three years after the end of the war, the United Nations General Assembly met in the Pailais de Chaillot to adopt the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’.
From the grand surrounds of the Palais de Chaillot we strolled back across the Pont d’Lena to inspect the Eiffel Tower. The tower is generally described as a wrought-iron, lattice tower and named the Eiffel Tower after the owner of the company who built the tower. He wasn’t the original designer but the person who ensured that his company’s design won the competition to construct the centerpiece for the 1889 World’s Fair. The poster on the right is one example of Eiffel’s promotion of his tower concept, comparing its projected height in comparison to the Egyptian pyramids. It originally was criticized for its design (eg. Its height!) but it has become one of the most recognisable structures in the world and is visited by huge numbers of visitors; for example in 2015, nearly 7 million people ascended the tower in its heavy-lifting lifts. Today it’s status is recognised by being a ‘Monument Historique’ in France and a ‘World Heritage site by UNESCO.
We decided that it wasn’t the day for ascending the Eiffel Tower so we explored the underside of the structure before moving on down through the huge park, the Champ de Mars. We were always surprised by the number of locals who gathered in the public parks of Paris on the weekend, not to gaze at the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower, but to enjoy the open space and the sunshine and to catch up with friends. We decided to sit down and enjoy the sun in this lovely park and were entertained by a couple of locals demonstrating their acrobatic skills. Another family group nearby included two young children who attempted to emulate the feats of the neighbouring acrobats.
Looking back at our tour of Les Invalides area of the 7th Arrondissement, I have to admit disappointment with our pre-planning for the visit. The first issue with our planning was that we arrived here late Sunday afternoon so the grounds were closed so we had to be happy with the walk around the area set out in the map on the left below. Due to being distracted earlier in the day with the other sites along the Seinne River, we hadn’t realised that this would impact on our visit to the spectacular setting of the ‘Hotel national des Invalides’, its official title. Our poor planning also meant that my desire to visit the famous Dome des Invalides and visit Napoleon’s tomb also had to be put off for another day. The beautiful front door of this building was closed to me.
Today Les Invalides is a large complex of many buildings housing monuments and museums of the military history of France. As its name suggests, it was originally started as a home for war veterans. The project started as long ago as 1670 when the Louis XIV started the project as a home for aged and disabled soldiers. The site continued to house a retirement home for veterans up until the early 20th century.
The impressive north façade of Les Invalides captured in the photo below gave us our introduction to the buildings that we were sadly too late to enter.
The most significant building within the grounds of Les Invalides is the Dome Church, the tallest church building in Paris. Whilst the complex was initiated as a place to house the veterans of Louis XIV’s wars, the king decided that it needed a ‘chapel’ where he could go to mass if he was visiting the area. Of course it was just not possible for him to mingle with the actual veterans so it was designed as a royal chapel and was rarely used for this purpose. Its dome stands out in the Paris landscape, shining brightly in the sun with its over 12 kilograms of gold leaf covering the dome’s decorations.
There are some significant similarities between the Le Dome and the Pantheon situated in the 5th arrondissement. Initially built as Catholic churches, both buildings fell victim to the mayhem of the French revolution. Parisian rioters on the day the Bastille was stormed also broke into Les Invalides and seized canons and muskets for use in their attack on the old Paris prison. Le Dome’s role as a religious building faded when it became a military necropolis in the 1840s. The most significant figure buried here, but not the first interred French military hero here, was Napoleon, his remains brought back from the island of St Helena in 1840.
By the time we had completed our walk set out in the map above, it was definitely time to find a Metro station and head back to our accommodation. It was a wonderful day of sightseeing in this district of Paris, the only disappointment being to have failed in our desire to inspect the inside of Le Dome des Invalides.
The Sights of Septieme, the 7th district of Paris
Of course our own small tour of this district only covered a couple of the major attractions. For example, when strolling down the west side of Les Invalides we didn’t give the Musee Rodin a second thought when passing. The Metro map of the seventh arrondissement below gives a clear outline of some of the other attractions of this district. The Official website of the Convention and Visitors Bureau has a very informative outline of a walking tour of this district.