The Alphabet of Paris: The City of Light from A to Z

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The Alphabet of Paris: The City of Light from A to Z
The unique charm of Paris is based upon its savoir-vivre, that je ne sais quoi… the indescribable, yet completely recognizable, way of life which has become embedded in our subconscious. To “think Paris”, as the writer Paul Valéry noted, is to know the true insider history of what makes this city a mélange of mortar and myth. Arrondissement In 1795 Paris was originally divided into 12 arrondissements (municipal districts), 1-9 on the Right Bank and 10-12 on the Left Bank. During the reconstruction of Paris in 1859 by Napoléon III and the inestimable Baron Haussmann, eight more districts were added. The city’s map was redrawn in the form of a snail’s shell beginning with the 1st arrondissement at the Île de la Cité and ending with the 20th at its eastern boundary. Bistro A bistro, or bistrot in its original Parisian incarnation, is a small restaurant serving moderately priced simple meals in a modest setting. Bistros are defined mostly by the foods and wines they serve. French home-style cooking is typical. A bistro has different menus for lunch and dinner. No one knows the definitive etymology of this word, but the most popular version is that the term originated during the Russian Occupation of Paris in 1915. Whereas its kin, the brasserie (brewery), is a type of restaurant that evolved in Alsace, the leading French brewing region. Champs-Élysées Elysian Fields in French, the final resting place of the Gods in Greek mythology. The entire area encompassing the Champs-Élysées was originally fields for the farmers who sold their produce to local Parisian markets. In 1616, Marie de Medici, wife of King Henry IV, decided to clear most of the fields to extend the garden of the Palais des Tuileries. However in 1716, Guillaume de L’Isle’s map of Paris (the French cartographer known for his accurate maps of Europe and the newly explored Americas) still showed a short stretch of roads, fields, and market garden plots separating the grand axes of the Tuileries gardens from the planted avenue that was originally known as the Avenue des Tuileries. But in 1724, the Tuileries garden axis and the avenue were connected and extended, leading beyond the Place de l’Etoile (renamed Place Charles de Gaulle). The Palais du Louvre, then situated in open farmland (now the Place de la Concorde) flanked it on both sides. Place Dauphine The Place Dauphine is a public square located near the western end of the Île de la Cité in the first arrondissement of Paris. It was created by King Henry IV in 1607, the second of his projects for public squares in Paris, the first being the Place Royale (now the Place des Vosges). He named it for his son, the Dauphin of France and future Louis XIII, who had been born in 1601. The square, actually triangular in shape, can be accessed in the middle of the Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris which connects the left and right banks of the Seine by passing over the Île de la Cité. Eiffel Tower What would Paris be like without the iconic Tour Eiffel? Though never supposed to stay on the Champ de Mars, Gustave Eiffel designed the tower as a temporary construction for the 1889 Universal Exposition. It took two years, two months and five days to build. It looked so strange and became so popular that it fortunately wasn’t destroyed as planned. The tower’s ungainly appearance, that “disfigured” the cityscape, has 18,038 metal parts: 2,500,000 rivets, and 7,300 tons of iron, and is covered by 60 tons of paint. Flying Buttresses One of the greatest innovations of the Gothic era was the “flying buttress” system of structural support as seen on the cathedral, Notre Dame de Paris. This system allowed stone masons to erect soaring cathedrals with massive interior spaces, while allowing interior walls to exhibit massive stained glass windows. Hector Guimard His Art Nouveau entrances for the Métro (the brand new Parisian means of transport that was put in service for the 1900 World’s Fair) have become emblems of Paris. Violently criticized by his contemporaries who found his style too busy, Hector Guimard nevertheless created 141 metro entrances of which 86 still exist. They are now protected as monuments historiques, Édicule Guimard, by National Heritage of France. Baron Haussmann Everything we love and hold dear about the City of Light today we owe to the singular brilliance of Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann (1809-1891). Working in collaboration with Napoleon III, he was the city’s innovative and daring planner who gave us the Gare de Lyon, Gare du Nord, Gare de l’Est, Les Halles, Hötel Dieu Hospital, The Paris Opéra, the Fountain and Place Saint-Michel, the Rue de Rivoli; boulevards Raspail, Haussman, Saint-Germain, Voltaire and countless others; avenues des Gobelins, Mouffetard, Soufflot, Malesherbes, Victor Hugo, Kleber and Georges V; the Bois de Boulogne, Bois de Vincennes, Parc des Buttes Chaumont, Parc Montsouris, Parc Monceau, Jardin du Luxembourg, The Grande Hôtel du Louvre, the “modern” Champs-Elysées, and Père Lachaise Cemetery, where…
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Lead photo credit : The 20 arrondissements of Paris. Image: The Promenader/ Wikipedia

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Sue Aran lives in the Gers department of southwest France. She is the owner of French Country Adventures, which provides private, personally-guided, small-group food & wine adventures into Gascony, the Pays Basque and Provence. She writes a monthly blog about her life in France and is a contributor to Bonjour Paris and France Today magazines.

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Comments

  • David Mulligan
    2020-01-03 07:06:32
    David Mulligan
    Wonderfully done!!!

    REPLY

  • Ken Orski
    2020-01-02 16:33:47
    Ken Orski
    Each of us has his/her list of Paris favorites. I would add Opera Garnier, Pont Neuf, the Louvre and Jardin Luxembourg to mine

    REPLY

  • Stephan
    2019-07-25 11:48:05
    Stephan
    A wonderful way to learn about Paris!

    REPLY

  • Stewart Stirling
    2018-11-25 06:49:42
    Stewart Stirling
    Fabulous overview Sue -thanks very much. I have visited Paris many times but learned quite a bit from your article.

    REPLY

  • Tom Scuderi
    2018-11-23 15:12:16
    Tom Scuderi
    Sums it up quite well.

    REPLY

  • Brenda
    2018-11-23 14:54:28
    Brenda
    Thank you for a fascinating article. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    REPLY

  • Janine Cortell
    2018-11-23 12:41:28
    Janine Cortell
    Thank you Sue for this wonderful alphabetical journey through Paris! It reminded me of all the reasons I love Paris(also born there)and keep going back.

    REPLY