Situated a short walk from Gustave Eiffel’s majestic tower, the Avenue des Champs-Elysées lives up to its reputation as the 'world’s most beautiful avenue' more and more each year. Around it and between the Arc de Triomphe and the Place de la Concorde are luxury stores, the most prominent restaurants, four-star hotels, prestigious entertainment venues (Lido, Queen, Théâtre des Champs-Elysées … ) and the most popular museums and monuments (Arc de Triomphe, Grand Palais … )
At the top of the Champs-Élysées, directly in line with the Arc du Carrousel and the Arche de la Défense, is Napoleon’s triumphant antique arch. Commissioned in 1806 to celebrate the victories of the Great Army, it was completed in 1836. Its huge proportions – 50 metres high and 45 wide – are decorated with fine sculpture by Cortot and Étex, along with Rude’s famous Marseillaise. Described by Victor Hugo as 'a heap of glory', the arch became a national symbol and the centre of any parade. A flame is rekindled each evening at 6.30pm and the inscription 'Here lies a French soldier, who died for his country' is written on the tomb of an unknown soldier laid to rest here in 1921.
Between Concorde and Étoile, is the emblematic section of a perspective that extends from the Louvre Pyramid to La Défense. The first steps of this 'glorious way', an obligatory passage for patriotic parades, were however modest. Lined with undergrowth, the avenue reached the current site of place de l’Étoile in 1724. A fashionable place to walk, the gardens were devastated at the fall of the Empire. They regained their splendour around 1840: candelabras, fountains, creamy pavilions, landscaping with flowers and copses date from this period of balls and theatres. It was one hundred years later that rapid development occurred when affluence spread to the west of the capital. The avenue was then adorned with prestigious palaces, cafes, and restaurant terraces and cinemas – joined today by ready-to-wear fashion stores and high-tech showrooms. Everything can be found on the Champs Elysées: films, dresses, lunch, cotton and compresses, racing cars, yoghurts and fresh vegetables, books, CDs, perfume … from morning to midnight, sometimes 24 hours a day, often 7 days a week.
How does a light bulb light up? Do animals speak? What is out there in space? To answer these questions, the Palais de la Découverte, a scientific museum, is equipped with ultra-modern tools. Scientists carry out spectacular experiments on four themes (the Earth and the Universe, matter PASS PASS and energy, mathematics, and living things), which provide the focus for the permanent and temporary exhibitions. Visitors will discover 'science in motion' and the planetarium which offers a journey through the universe.
This majestic stone building with its floral decoration, crowned with a splendid metallic-framed glass roof, was constructed for the Universal Exposition in 1900. Architecturally daring in its time, the Grand Palais houses the Palais de la Découverte science museum in one of its wings, while its nave and galleries offer a dream-like setting… for dream exhibitions!
Like its ‘Grand’ neighbour, the Petit (little) Palais is an example of the eclectic splendour of the Exposition of 1900. The building alternates white and coloured marble, moulding and garlands, painted ceilings, mosaic flooring and opal stained-glass windows around an interior garden. The city’s Fine Arts museum since 1902, the Petit Palais has had a complete makeover, and displays collections of painting, sculpture and art objects from antiquity to 1918. Amongst other marvels, visitors will admire Greek amphora, orthodox icons, Gothic ivories, Italian Madonnas, paintings by Rubens, Saxe porcelain and blown-crystal glass vases.
Work began on place Louis XV in 1755. It broke with the tradition of enclosed royal squares, to open up the perspective to the Tuileries gardens. The fine mansion houses – the Hôtel de la Marine and the Hôtel Crillon underlined the axis of the statue of the monarch – were demolished after thirty years. Place de la Revolution is where Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette, Danton and Robespierre were guillotined. However, place de la Concorde spells reconciliation. Louis-Philippe sought a monument that would cool revolutionary and royalist passions, which he found in the 3,300-year-old Obelisk, a gift from the pasha of Egypt. Erected in 1836, its 23 metres and 230 tons of pink granite took four years to travel from Luxor! Two fountains, embellished with golden mermaids and fish, enliven the grey, green and golden decor of the square.