Arago Medallions, Ancient Graffiti: Hidden Treasures of Paris in Plain Sight

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Arago Medallions, Ancient Graffiti: Hidden Treasures of Paris in Plain Sight
You plan your trip to Paris and have all the big things on your list to see. The Eiffel Tower, Musée d’Orsay, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre and– if you are brave– maybe even the Catacombs. While Paris is filled with beautiful architecture, monuments and museums there are also a few treasures that are hidden in plain sight just waiting for you to discover. Let’s take a little stroll through Paris and discover their secrets. Marking the sidewalks of Paris are a set of brass medallions imprinted with the name Arago. The markers that run over 9km through Paris mark the ancient Paris meridian. In 1994 the Arago Association commissioned artist Jan Dibbets to create a memorial to François Arago, a 19th century French astronomer and mathematician who mapped out the meridian: I hate to tell you, but he had nothing to do with the Da Vinci Code. You will come across these markers in the Palais Royal, Jardin du Luxembourg and along the Seine. However, did you know you could find them INSIDE the Musée du Louvre? There are a few outside in the Cour Napoleon but it is the ones inside the Louvre that sent my heart racing as soon as I spotted one. You will find them in the Richelieu and the Denon wings and even people that work there do not know they are walking among them every day. In the Richelieu wing between the Cour Marly and Cour Puget as you come down the stairs and through the passage between them, look down. Head back into the Cour Puget and walk up the stairs to your right. When you see the Thomas Regnaudin statue of Saturne enlevant Cybèle, look just behind it, et voila. A third in the wing lies just between the escalators. Over in the Denon wing, in the Etruscan and Roman Antiquities rooms, three more can be discovered by the avid hunter; some are hidden due to renovation but if the rooms are open keep your eyes to the ground. The lower level of the Musée du Louvre holds the remnants  of the original medieval fortress. Dating back to the 12th century and the Louvre of Philippe Auguste, the original moat of the Louvre can be found with all its secrets it unleashed in 1984. During the construction of the “Grand Louvre”, an archaeological dig unearthed the moat and over 100,000 objects including pottery, jewelry, and medieval armor. They also found the base of the staircase to the tower that held Charles the V’s library. As you walk among the ruins you will notice marks on many of the stones– hearts, circles and slashes– but fear not these are not wayward annoying love lockers looking for a new place to vandalize the city of love. The stone carvers that painstakingly cut each stone in the 12th century made these marks. The way they would receive their wages was by counting the amount of stones they cut. From the looks of it, the guy that had the heart symbol was a pretty hard worker. Many visitors walk right past not noticing, nor knowing what these symbols mean, but it is one of the amazing stories of the Louvre that date back hundreds of years. Sticking with the Musée du Louvre, this time let’s head outside to the very end known as the Colonnade de Perrault. It’s named for the architect Claude Perrault whom Louis XIV selected to design the eastern end of the Palais du Louvre. The Sun King wanted to add his own mark onto the Louvre like the kings before him but decided to move his court to Versailles and left the entire wing unfinished without a roof. It would take almost a hundred years for the Colonnade to get its roof and it was Napoleon Bonaparte that would finally made it happen. The Emperor wanted to leave a lasting impression and François-Frédéric Lemont did just that for him. On the outward side, facing Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois at the top of the pavilion, there’s the bust of a man with a long curly wig. Look closely at the face; it is the face of Napoleon with a much different hairstyle. During the Restoration in 1815 Louis XVIII and the Bourbons were back in power and he tried to scrub all traces of Napoleon from the city. He ordered a wig to be carved and placed on the bust and just like that, it is now Louis XIV. Hidden on a pillar amongst the many Parisian sunbathers at the Place des Vosges hides the oldest graffiti in Paris. Just outside No 11 Place de Vosges, halfway up the pillar, the faintest of markings can still be found. For it was here on this stone pillar that in 1764 a man from Burgundy, Nicolas Restif de la Bretonne, left a little something behind. Restif de la Bretonne (1734-1806) was a print maker and typographer that moved to Paris and later became a controversial author who would stroll the city streets for inspiration leaving behind hundreds of markings on the city walls. He was given the very fitting nickname “the griffon” (the scribbler) by the residents of Paris. Today only one…

Lead photo credit : The mysterious Arago medallion in Paris. Photo: Claudine Hemingway

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Claudine Hemingway had a deep love of Paris instilled in her at an early age from her beloved grandparents. Following in their footsteps, she is happiest strolling the historic cobblestones soaking in the architecture, art and history. Highly sought after to plan your Parisian adventure that ventures off the beaten path and digs deeper into the historic and secret Paris. Contact her at [email protected] to plan your trip. You can follow her adventure and daily Paris history lesson on Instagram @claudinebleublonderouge


  • Cathy Grafton
    2019-03-21 18:58:38
    Cathy Grafton
    I was once very excited to find an official meter measurement just across the street from the Luxembourg Gardens. Such a surprise, I have taken several people to see it.