The Arc de Triomphe is the world's largest traffic roundabout and the meeting point of 12 avenues. It was commissioned in 1806 by Napoleon to commemorate his imperial victories, but remained unfinished until 1836. Since 1920, the body of an unknown soldier from WWI taken from Verdun in Lorraine has lain beneath the arch, his fate and that of countless others like him commemorated by a memorial flame rekindled each evening around 6:30pm. France's national remembrance service is held here annually on Nov 11th. From the viewing platform on top of the arch (284 steps), you can see the 12 avenues - many of them named after illustrious generals - radiating toward every part of Paris. Tickets are sold in the underground passageway - the only sane way to reach the base of the arch - that surfaces on the even-numbered side of Ave des Champs-Élysées.
The avenue des Champs-Elysees is the most famous on the 12 symmetrical avenues radiating from the huge rotary of Place Charles de Gaulle-Etoile. The Champs is lined with chain stores and expensive cafes, both of them frequented by throngs of strolling tourists but often passed by the fast-walking french. Although it has been a fashionable avenue since Marie de Médicis ploughed its first incarnation, the Cours-la-Reine, through fields and marshland in 1616, it remained unkempt until the early 19th century, when the city built sidewalks and installed gas lighting. From that point on, the Champs flourished, and where elegant houses, restaurants, and less subdued bars and panoramas sprung up, the beau monde was guaranteed to see and be seen. The infamous Bal Mabille opened in 1840 at n° 51. At n° 25, visitors have the rare chance of seeing a true hotel particulier from the second Empire - here the marquise de Paiva, adventuress, famous courtesan, and spy, entertained the luminaries of the era. In recent years, the Champs elysees has become thoroughly commercialized. But Jacques Chirac has made a concerted effort to resurrect the avenue, widening the sidewalks, planting more trees, and building underground parking lots. Today, the avenue is an intriguing mixture of old and new, inviting tourists to tramp through the enormous superstores, while managing to preserve pockets of greenery along with timeless glamour. The tree-lined streets merge with park space just past avenue Franklin Roosevelt, one of the sixth avenues that radiate from the Rond Point des Champs-Elysees.
Built for the 1889 Exposition Universelle (World Fair), held to commemorate the centennial of the Revolution, the Tour Eiffel was the world's tallest structure at 320m (1050ft) until Manhattan's Chrysler Building was completed. Initially opposed by the city's artistic and literary elite - who were only affirming their right to disagree with everything - the tower was almost torn down in 1909. Salvation came when it proved an ideal platform for the antennas needed for the new science of radiotelegraphy. Just southeast of the tower is a grassy expanse that was once the site of the world's first balloon flights and is now used by teens as a skateboarding arena or by activists bad-mouthing Chirac. When you're done peering upward through the girders, three levels are open to the public. There are elevators to the top but they have long queues. You can avoid the queues by walking up the stairs in the south pillar to the 1st or 2nd platforms. Guided visits are also available.
Notre-Dame indeed dates back to the 13th century and is one of the masterpieces of Gothic art in Western Europe. Its stainglasses and the huge interior are really stunning artistic experiences of mystical dimension. Located on the Cité island and surrounded by the Seine river, Notre-Dame is a flagship in the Parisian landscape and provides a magnificent view of the city from the top of its towers. The appearance of the interior was radically transformed in the mid-13th century when the small clerestory windows typical of the Early Gothic style were enlarged downward and filled with High Gothic tracery. The enlargement caused the removal of the unusual triforium. Originally the interior had the four-story elevation common to many Early Gothic churches, and the triforium had large round openings instead of the normal arcades. Starting in 1991, a 10 year program of general maintenance and restoration was initiated. While work continues, sections of the structure are likely to be shrouded by scaffolds.
The Palais Royal began as a small and private theater in the residence of Cardinal Richelieu. It was designed by the architect, Jacques Lemercier. This theater became known by the name of the residence, the Palais Cardinal. It was the first theater in France with movable scenery wings and a proscenium arch. Its first production was Jean Desmeret's Mirame in 1641. Following Richelieu's death, the palace became royal property. It was then used for courtly entertainment. In 1660, Moliere and his troupe used the theater for their productions until the death of Moliere in 1673. After Moliere's death, Jean-Baptiste Lully used the Palais Royal for his Academy of Music and their opera productions. The theater burned down in 1763. It was rebuilt but burned down again in 1781. The area was then redeveloped into an amusement area by its owner the Duke de Chartres. It contained a number of theaters, many called the Palais Royal at various times.
Though it was a sacred hill from the Roman Temples period to the Abbey of Montmartre and the political tone of Henri the IV, Montmartre preserved its cultural and artistic identity by offering a home to the greatest painting movements of the XIX and XX centuries. Today, Montmartre remains alive with six million visitors who like to stroll along the narrow cobblestone streets of old Paris while taking in the historical and cultural atmosphere.