not really a blog -- just a few pictures

Sunday, April 29, 2012


The obelisk marks the Place de la Concorde, formerly the Place de la Revolution where Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and Robespierre were guillotined.  The gold dome is the Dome Church, which houses Napoleon's sarcophagus.

The Louvre.

In the late 18th century Paris’s cemeteries overflowed and became unsanitary.  So, their remains were moved to former mines under the city, which are now a creepy tourist attraction.  There are remains of 6 millions people there.

French gothic cathedrals

The Eglise (Church) of Saint-Germain-des-Pres is the oldest church in Paris, originally built under King Childebert between 550 and 558.  It is pre-gothic but shares many features with the gothic cathedrals, including the radiating chapels at the rear.  My picture shows the Chapel of Saint Germain at the rear, which “gives an accurate idea of the original construction of the radiating chapels.”

The Chapel of Saint Benedict in the same building, and includes Rene Descartes’ tomb.

In contrast to earlier Romanesque cathedrals, the gothic cathedrals moved the building’s structural support from the solid walls to a skeleton of pointed arches and ribbed vaults inside and flying buttresses outside.  So, the ceiling could be raised and large (stained glass) windows added in the walls, creating height and lightness inside.  The Saint Denis basilica/cathedral was the first gothic cathedral, built on the site of a previous abbey starting in 1135.  It’s in a suburb north of Paris -- I took the metro there.

In addition to being the first gothic cathedral, Saint Denis was also the main necropolis for French kings and queens, and many queens were crowned there.  42 kings and 32 queens were buried there, including nearly all from the 10th to the 18th centuries.  (During the French Revolution, the remains were exhumed, dumped into a mass grave, and probably lost, although the Saint Denis ossuary now purports to hold them.)  Pepin the Short, the first Carolingian king, was anointed by the pope there in 754.  

My picture is the recumbent statue for Clovis, the first French King (Clovis ruled 481-509, statue is from around 1263).

The cathedral in Laon was started in 1160 and is another example of an early gothic cathedral.  The walls of the nave (central corridor of the interior) is distinctive for its four levels: nave arcade, gallery, triforium, and clerestory, “...all features found in Romanesque architecture but never together in the same building....”  It was pouring rain when I got to Laon, so I had the cathedral almost to myself.

The cathedral in Amiens, begun in 1220, is the largest in France.

The interior of the Amiens cathedral: “The High Gothic style...reaches its the interior of the Amiens Cathedral....The breathtaking the dominant achievement both technically and aesthetically....[the height of the nave arcade] alone is almost as high (70 feet) as the entire four-story elevation of Laon (78 feet).”

The impetus for building the Amiens cathedral was to house a relic taken from Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade, the supposed head of John the Baptist.

The first king of France, Clovis, was baptized at the site of the Reims cathedral in 496, and French kings were crowned there, with Joan of Arc famously attending the coronation of Charles VII in 1429.  The cathedral has thousands of sculptures: “Gothic classicism reached its climax in some of these Reims statues.  The most famous of them is the Visitation group, which was carved between 1230 and 1233.  It depicts the Virgin Mary announcing the news of her pregnancy to her cousin Elizabeth.”  The Visitation group are the two figures on the right in my picture, while the two figures on the left are the Annunciation group, the angel Gabriel and Mary again.

The Rouen cathedral.  Although the gothic cathedrals are all similar, the Rouen facade is more complex and irregular than the others I saw.  The site was visited by Charlemagne in 769 A.D.; captured by the english Henry V in 1419; Joan of Arc was burned by the English a few blocks away in 1431; Monet famously painted the cathedral facade more than 30 times in 1892-3. :)

French battlefields

Verdun (1916 February 21 to 1916 December 18) was the largest battle between the French and Germans in WWI: about 350,000 casualties on each side.  Several small villages around Verdun were completely obliterated by shelling, including Fleury, shown here.  My picture shows the post-war chapel in the center, and ground on the left and right with the telltale wavy shape of ground that’s been obliterated by shelling.

To alleviate German pressure on Verdun, the British attacked in the Somme Valley from 1916 July 1 to 1916 November 18.  The carnage was even worse than Verdun: about 420K British casualties, 200K French, and 465K German, with 60K British casualties on just July 1.  My picture shows a British trench at Newfoundland Memorial Park, where Newfoundlanders suffered 90% casualties trying to cross no man’s land on July 1.

Allied forces landed in Normandy on 1944 June 6 to begin the liberation of Nazi-occupied France.  American, British, and Canadian forces landed on five beaches, with the Americans landing at Omaha and Utah beaches.  This picture is Omaha Beach.

Utah Beach.

View from a German bunker at Pointe Du Hoc, between Omaha and Utah beaches.


The town hall in Brussels’ central square.  Construction started in 1402 and the tower was added in 1455.  The town hall was a main target when Louis XIV bombarded Brussels in 1695 -- the interior was gutted by the resulting fire but the exterior survived.

The building exterior has hundreds of sculptures, which date from the 1840’s onward.  The arch over the town hall entrance shows the archangel Michael, the patron saint of Brussels, killing a devil.


The Koninklijk Paleis (Royal Palace) was built in 1648-1655 as Amsterdam’s town hall.  King Louis I of Holland, Napoleon's brother, adopted it as the palace in 1806.  The palace is on Dam Square, the site of the original Amstel River dam that Amsterdam is named for.

The Oude Kerk (Old Church) is from 1306.  Holland and the Oude Kerk switched from Catholic to Calvinist in 1578.  The floor is made up of metal burial slabs, some decorative like this one.

The Oude Kerk’s stained glass window celebrating the Treaty of Munster, from 1655.

The medieval center of Amsterdam, including the Koninklijk Paleis and the Oude Kerk, is surrounded by a ring of three canals, dug during the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century.

Canal houses were taxed by the width of the house, so they are narrow, tall, and deep.  Eyewitness Travel says of this house that Russian tsar Peter the Great “...sailed up Keizergracht to No. 317, the home of his friend Christoffel Brants.  Legend says the tsar got drunk and kept the mayor waiting while at a civic reception.” :)