Walking in Paris is like walking through history and we're always in awe of the 2000 years worth of landmarks and monuments to be found in every part of the city. Some are well-known, but we love discovering the unexpected artifacts from the past encountered while walking the city.
In the Latin Quarter you might come across vestiges of Roman walls and streets. Across the river stretches of the walls of Philippe Augustus can be seen. There are the medieval churches and archaeological crypts and the grand royal city developments like the Louvre. Here we reveal a few favorite hidden landmarks… although some of them are right in plain sight!
That's right, that Statue of Liberty. It's in Paris. More than once, in fact.
You know that New York's Statue of Liberty came from France, right? So it makes sense that in Paris you'd be able to see scale models of it, cast during the time of the construction of the big sister. There's one version out in front of the entry to the Musée des Arts et Metiers in the 3rd Arrondissement. By the way, that's a fun museum — great for families, too.
But the statue of Ms Liberty we like even better is on a island in the Seine on the diagonally opposite side of Paris. In the middle of the river, between the 15th and 16th Arrondissements, there's a long, thin, straight-as-arrow island named Allée des Cygnes and on its lower end there stands another, taller Liberty.
You reach Allée des Cygnes by crossing at Pont de Grenelle, two bridges downriver from the the Trocadero and the Eiffel Tower. At the middle of the bridge you'll see Lady Liberty's head and flame sticking up above the level of the bridge. You reach the island, and the base of the statue, by stairs that go down from the bridge. You'll also be rewarded with nice views of the Eiffel Tower in the distance.
Since early in its history, and until relatively recently, Paris has been surrounded by walls that both defend and mark the limits of the city. As the city grew, old walls would be abandoned or torn down and a new wall would be built further out. In the 12th century, French king Philippe Auguste built a new wall around his expanded city. He did this just before taking off for the Third Crusade with his then-friend King Richard Lionheart.
While Philippe's wall was later superseded by walls encircling an even larger city, traces of his wall can still be seen today. The most extensive piece of the wall is in the Marais (Right Bank, 4th Arrondissement). It runs along the school Lycée Charlemagne and the wall in incorporated in part of the school, with the school playground in front of the wall.
From Metro Saint-Paul walk east along Saint-Antoine to Rue Saint-Paul and then head south, toward the river, to the small street, Rue Charlemagne. In one short block you come to Rue des Jardins Saint-Paul which runs along a playground for the school. You can't miss the length of stone wall and the remnant of a tower.
Except for a couple of instances (Montmartre comes to mind, of course), Paris is a pretty flat city. So, how can there be waterfalls?
The answer is — because of Emperor Napoleon III and his city planner Baron Haussmann. In the massive renovations of Paris that took place in the 19th century Haussmann not only razed buildings, ploughed through broad boulevards, and created the modern sewer system, he also created and revamped parks throughout the city.
To the west, in the Bois de Boulogne where the emperor had his hunting lodge, Haussmann created an artificial waterfall fed by the springs of Passy. It's still there today and the modest hunting lodge has become one of our fave restaurants, La Grande Cascade, named after the waterfall itself.
Still at it, Haussmann created an entirely new park in the northeast of Paris, Buttes Chaumont, built in a former limestone quarry and brought back to a verdant greenness by dumping in the tons of horse manure produced in Paris every day. Not only is there another waterfall there, but also a lake and a suspension bridge. It's a wonderful park to visit and a great place for kids to run around.
Not many visitors are aware that just in front of Notre Dame is an underground archaeological site that contains remnants of Roman Paris from the first to the third centuries. We don't know about you, but we find this very exciting.
The remains were only discovered during excavations of the place in front of Notre Dame starting in 1965. The archaeological crypt itself was built in to protect the ruins and was opened to the public in 1980. It's a fascinating trip into the twenty centuries of history of Île de la Cité. We love the sense of history and human time we get when we discover things like this.
If you're looking for something a little different consider a trip to the underworld.
Over the centuries millions of the dead were buried in cemeteries in various spots of the city. By the late 1700s Paris was overcrowded with burials and, when corpses from adjacent cemeteries started to tumble into the cellars of houses, something had to be done. That's when the city began to evacuate many of the burial grounds and move the bones to the 14th Arrondissement, using the caverns that had been created by limestone mines as their new resting place.
Nowadays you can explore these labyrinths beneath the city that are the final resting place of perhaps six million Parisians. A tour through the Catacombs is an eerie reminder of the long and sometimes bizarre history of Paris. Check availability of the tour for your dates in Paris.
The égouts (sewers) are another hidden underground attraction and have been since the time they were built during the reign of Napoleon III in the mid-nineteenth century.
This 1300-mile network of tunnels, if laid end to end, would stretch from Paris to Istanbul. At one time, underground boats cruised the sewers but were eventually banned after bank robbers began making their creative getaways via the égouts!
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While we're on an underground theme, let's consider this question — can a Metro station be considered a tourist attraction?
This one can. It serves the national school of Arts et Metiers (Arts and Crafts), as well as the museum of the same name. It's like being inside the submarine Nautilus from Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Designed by a famous graphic novel illustrator it's covered in copper sheeting with portholes, gears and rivets. While you're there, spend some time visiting the fascinating museum "on the surface."
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