Andrew Vazquez: Paris 2022


Paris Over Under

Paris is a city of over 2 million people and the primary mode of transportation for these Parisians and those visiting the city is public transportation. Paris is one of the world’s most active cities when it comes to public transportation with 4,680 million journeys in 2019. To accommodate this insane amount of travel Paris has four main forms of public transportation, the Metro with 16 lines, RER with 5 lines, Tramway with 4 tracks, and Buses with 64 routes. After spending a month in Paris, I have used many of these public transportation options but am still not even close to riding them all. For this Over Under project, I focused on getting to know Metro line 6 (the best metro line), this is a collection of my 10 favorite stops, in order from east to west, and why they are interesting.

Nation- The final stop on the eastern end of line 6. The first thing to note about this stop is that it has many connecting lines including the RER A and Metro lines 1,2, and 9. Once you leave the metro station and emerge from the ground you will see the Place de la Nation. The Place de la Nation hosts a massive bronze sculpture called The Triumph of the Republic by Jules Dalou. This sculpture was added to the area to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the Revolution (similarly to the Eiffel Tower). The symbolism found in this monument is vast with a woman representing the republic standing on top of the globe being drawn in a chariot by lions led by liberty. Beside the republic stand Justice and Labor. Aside from the beautiful sculpture which alone is worth a visit, the Nation station is full of history. Formerly known as Place du Trone (Place of the Throne), this area was very active during the French Revolution, especially during the reign of Terror. Over 1300 people lost their lives to the guillotine in this square which at this point was called Place du Trone-Renverse (Place of the Overthrown Throne).

Picpus- This is a small stop with seemingly nothing of note near the eastern end of line 6, but it is a must-see for any American visiting Paris. Just a short walk from the metro station is the Picpus Cemetery. Within this modest cemetery rests one of the most important men in American history Marquis de Lafayette. Lafayette was a Frenchman who believed so strongly in the ideals of liberty that he sailed to America at only 19 years old to join the American Revolution, after the American victory he returned to France and was heavily involved in the lead-up to the French Revolution and the July revolution. Lafayette loved America and on his last visit to the United States, he brought back with him soil from bunker hill as he wished to be buried under American soil. On the day of my visit sat a jar of dirt from bunker hill on his grave as well as many coins to honor his legacy. Above Lafayette’s grave is an American flag placed there originally by American General John Pershing during World War I, and according to legend, it remained flying during World War II even under German occupation. Aside from Lafayette Picpus cemetery hosts two mass graves for those who were guillotined at Place du Nation, after killing those deemed to be a threat to the revolution, they would simply throw their bodies into the churches garden. The cemetery is reserved for those in the mass graves and their families.

Place d’Italie- The first thing to mention about this stop is the green space within the large roundabout that makes up the place d’Italie. While it is intimidating trying to walk to the middle of the roundabout the fountain in the middle is a great place to relax and it feels detached from the busy area surrounding it. Within the green space, there is a statue of Marechal Juin the monument addressed the Tunisian and Italian campaigns which he commanded. On opposing sides of the square, you can find the town hall and a large mall. When I visited, the town hall was packed as there was a party of roughly 30 waiting to get married. Both the town hall and mall have beautiful designs but are starkly different, the mall looks very modern and piques interest as to what it might be blocks away, while the town hall is a more traditionally beautiful building. Another important historical building can be found nearby the Place d’Italie station, The Manufacture des Gobelins, this is a historic tapestry factory created by the Gobelins a family of dyers, stretching back to medieval times. This factory became the supplier for French monarchs when Louis XIV purchased the building. Due to the quality of tapestries produced in the factory and Louis’s pride, he decided that no other tapestries would be imported from other countries. Even today the Manufacture des Gobelins produces tapestries using the same high loom method.

Denfert-Rochereau- Denfert-Rochereau is a stop best known for the catacombs, but even above ground, it has some fantastic things to see. At this stop you are first greeted by a sculpture of a lion, this sculpture is a replica of The Lion of Belfort a sculpture by Bartholdi, who also made the statue of liberty. The statue symbolizes the French resistance to the Prussians in Belfort, 1880 which was led by Colonel Denfert-Rochereau. The symbolism feels extended by The Liberation of Paris Museum just across the street. The Museum of the liberation of Paris, formally known as the Musee Liberation Leclerc Moulin is also near this metro stop. The Museum is partially named after Jean Moulin the most important member of the French resistance during World War II. Moulin never once fired a gun, but his ability to unite others made him irreplaceable. All throughout Paris, you are met with tributes to perseverance and determination, this reminds us of the importance of fighting against evil even when the odds are against you. World War II was the darkest time in human history and this Museum and Paris in many ways is a tribute to those who were brave enough to stand for their beliefs against an overwhelming force.

Raspail- Near Raspail you can find, yet another cemetery that will make an appearance on this list, the Cimetere du Montparnasse. Despite the name of the cemetery belonging to another metro station Raspail is in fact the closest station. While not as grand as the Pere Lachaise cemetery it does have some beautiful and impressive graves. Among the numerous tombs and memorials rest important people in France’s intellectual and cultural history. Some famous philosophers and political thinkers such as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the first self-proclaimed anarchist, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean-Paul Sartre two French existentialists. In addition to intellectuals’ famous artists such as Charles Baudelaire and Serge Gainsburg call Montparnesse their final resting place. It is important to note that not only French people are buried in this cemetery, with former Mexican president/dictator Porfirio Diaz and former Iranian Prime Minister Shapour Bakhtiar have their tombs in Montparnasse.

Montparnasse-Bienvenue– This is one of my favorite stations in Paris, here you can see when Paris chose its identity. Paris is a very large city and as an American large city means high-rises, but the Paris skyline is almost void of the metal behemoths. Montparnasse is home to the exception, the Tour Montparnasse. Construction began in 1969 and the tower became the tallest building in Paris besides the Eiffel Tower. The skyscraper faced massive backlash before, during, and after construction with many claiming it is the ugliest building in Paris. Being the only skyscraper in central Paris and one of the few outside La Defense the Tour Montparnasse is unmistakable for all the wrong reasons. The city of Paris needed to modernize, but because of the will of the people, the modernization did not happen at the expense of the city’s incredible history. Down the street from the Tower are small cafes that just act as a reference to what was lost when the building was made.

Cambronne- The main appeal of the Cambronne station is the World Heritage Centre, the headquarters of UNESCO. UNESCO stands for the United Nation Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. The mission statement of UNESCO is “to contribute to the building of a culture of peace… through education, the sciences, culture, communication, and information” one of the main ways they do this is by creating world heritage sites. A world heritage site is deemed to have a special cultural value to humanity and they are given certain legal protections. Surprisingly there is only one of these sites in the city of Paris, the banks of the Seine River (which can be accessed in multiple line 6 stations). The World Heritage Centre itself is a massive building with its gates lined with photos of world heritage sites and on days when the building all the flags of the member nations are flown in the courtyard. While there are certainly more aesthetic and impressive buildings in the city of Paris the UNESCO World Heritage Centre is impressive for what it does and the mission it is trying to achieve.

Bir-Hakeim- This is the Eiffel Tower stop, that alone is all that needs to be said to draw crowds, but many metro stations around Paris stop near the tower but I can assure you Bir-Hakeim is the best one. No other metro line has a better view of the Eiffel Tower than metro line 6, between the station Passy and Bir-Hakeim the metro goes over the Seine River and has an unobstructed view of the tower. In addition to being close to the Eiffel Tower Bir-Hakeim, it is also next to the Ile aux Cygnes a small island with a beautiful pedestrian walkway that has an incredible view of the Eiffel Tower, the island itself is peaceful and would be a great place for a small picnic. Regardless of how beautiful I find the island the main attraction will always be the Eiffel Tower which was made in 1889 not only the celebrate the centenary of the French Revolution but also for the World’s Fair which was hosted in Paris. The Eiffel Tower was an engineering masterpiece that perfectly complements the theme of progress present in both the revolution and the World’s Fair. At the time of its construction, the Eiffel Tower was the tallest building in the world almost twice the size of the previous tallest building. The tower can be seen as a monument to science with the names of 72 French scientists being listed along its border, albeit no women are listed on the tower. While controversial at the time for its aesthetic, one critic Guy de Maupassant, ate lunch at the tower every day just so he didn’t have to see it. Despite its early critics, the Eiffel Tower is now synonymous with Paris and is perhaps the most famous building in the world.

Trocadero- Trocadero is a stop defined by vast knowledge. This stop contains multiple museums, an aquarium, a theater, and a library. Directly in front of the station sits the Palais de Chaillot designed in a classical style with two wings and a garden in front of it overlooking the Eiffel Tower. Four quotations are placed above its main entrances written by French poet Paul Valery, as the quotations are long, I have not included them here, but they are in the reference section. In the southern wing of the building, you can find the naval museum and museum of mankind. The museum of mankind is particularly interesting, its goal is to compile in one place everything that defines humanity. In the eastern wing of the building, there is the Cite de l’Architecture et du Paris and the Theatre National de Chaillot. Within the museum of architecture are plaster models of sculptures, scale replicas of buildings, as well as stained glass. Aside from the museum multiple statues and memorials can be found in the surrounding area. The palace itself has its own interesting history, in 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations in the Palais de Chaillot. In addition to this, the palace was the original headquarters of NATO. Another area around this station worth seeing for lovers of impressionist art and art history is the Passy Cemetery which holds the tomb of Edouard Manet.

Charles de Gaulle-Etoile- The final stop on the western end of line 6 Charles de Gaulle-Etoile is known for the Arc de Triomphe. The Arch was commissioned by Napoleon to honor those who fought in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, but most importantly to commemorate his many victories. The Arch was commissioned in 1806 but would not be completed within Napoleon’s lifetime finally being completed in 1836. As it was customary for victorious armies to walk through triumphal arches this monument became a symbolic place for the French military. After World War I the French army marched through the arch with even a plane flying through. The tradition of walking under the arch ended after World War I as a memorial to the unknown soldier was added. It is now tradition to take a route around the arch which Charles de Gaulle famously did when the allies liberated Paris in World War II. The arch is interesting as it serves as a constant reminder of war, but it also symbolizes French pride and unity with a parade around the arch happening after the French victory in the 2018 World Cup. The Arc de Triomphe was always meant to unify whether it be the military victories in the time of Napoleon or in its more modern context of unifying through national pride.

History is so important to understanding who we are and with Paris hosting the history not just of France but of other countries around the world it has a responsibility to preserve it. These stops all work in tandem to show this, the history of Paris is the history of the world. World leaders from Mexico to Iran, and musicians from Argentina to Romania all have their final resting places in Paris. The ideals of the enlightenment which spread across the globe originated in this city.  With a vast Museum network, agencies to protect cultural sites, a vocal populace, and statues and monuments to preserve the past people and events. Paris understands the responsibility it has and works to honor it, and for this I love Paris.

References
Bureau, Paris Convention and Visitors. “Cimetière Du Montparnasse – Paris Tourist Office.” En.parisinfo.com, https://en.parisinfo.com/paris-museum-monument/71295/Cimetiere-du-Montparnasse.
Bureau, Paris Convention and Visitors. “Palais De Chaillot – Paris Tourist Office.” En.parisinfo.com, https://en.parisinfo.com/paris-museum-monument/118358/Palais-de-Chaillot.
“Eiffel Tower.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/topic/Eiffel-Tower-Paris-France.
EUtouring.com. “History of the Place De La Nation.” History of Place De La Nation in Paris France, https://www.eutouring.com/place_de_la_nation_history.html.
EUtouring.com. “Place D’italie Square in Paris.” Place D’Italie Square in Paris France, https://www.eutouring.com/place_d_italie.html.
Happ, John E. “Lafayette, the American Experience.” Journal of the American Revolution, 19 Aug. 2017, https://allthingsliberty.com/2017/08/lafayette-american-experience/.
“Home.” Petit Palais, 10 Mar. 2022, https://www.petitpalais.paris.fr/en.
Imboden, Durant. “Île Aux Cygnes, Paris.” (Swan Island) | Paris for Visitors, Paris for Visitors, https://europeforvisitors.com/paris/articles/ile-aux-cygnes.htm.
“Inscriptions for the Palais De Chaillot.” De Gruyter, Princeton University Press, 8 Mar. 2015, https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/9781400872626-001/html?lang=en.
Meier, Allison. “A Tale of Two Revolutions at the Grave of the Marquis De Lafayette.” Atlas Obscura, Atlas Obscura, 10 June 2021, https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/a-tale-of-two-revolutions-in-paris.
“Musée De L’Homme (Museum of Mankind).” Muséum National D’Histoire Naturelle Official Website, https://www.mnhn.fr/en/musee-de-l-homme-museum-of-mankind.
Salas, Erick Burgueño. “France: Public Transport Users in Paris and Île-De-France, by Mode.” Statista, 22 Apr. 2022, https://www.statista.com/statistics/612773/paris-public-transport-users-by-transit-type/.
Unesco, and UNESCO United Nations Department of Global Communications. “UNESCO.” UNESCO.org, https://www.unesco.org/en.

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