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Paris’ Monumental Discoveries

We started off at the far eastern end of rue de Grenelle in the 7th arrondissement and slowly “licked the windows” (léché les vitrines, or window-shopped) from one beautiful boutique to another until arriving at that stretch of the street that is lined with embassies and foreign residences. This is where many doors were open during “Les Journées du Patrimoine” — “Heritage Days” — enough all in one small area to make it easy to wander from one to the other and visit as many as possible in one afternoon. It was a smart move as a way to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time.

With the rain coming down in spurts, one could time the visits so as to avoid the wet weather while marveling at the interiors of the buildings one never sees. Rue de Grenelle is one of those long narrow gray stone streets with nary a tree or much of anything except these mansions hidden behind tall walls, and an occasional restaurant or shop. The large double doors to these edifices are rarely open to catch a glimpse of what lies beyond them, until these two days every year when the public is invited in.

This is when you realize how much is missed by not having entry to the courtyards, the buildings and their luscious gardens. If you Google the district’s streets “Grenelle,” “Varenne” and “Babylone” in Google Maps, then switch to a satellite view, you will see the large green spaces behind the buildings that rival city parks. These beautiful spaces are enjoyed by only a privileged few who know a different Paris than we do.

Our walk took us to the following buildings which had no queues to enter, unlike the Assemblée Nationale on the Quai d’Orsay and the Prime Minister’s residence in the Hôtel de Matignon on rue de Varenne, which both seemed to indicate at least a one-hour wait to enter. We opted out of that and instead, visited:

* Institut Culturel Italien de Paris in the Hôtel de Galliffetat number 73
* Résidence de l’Ambassadeur de Russie in the Hôtel d’Estrées at number 79
* Résidence de l’Ambassadeur de Pays-Bas in the Hôtel d’Avaray at number 85
* Ministére de l’Education Nationale in the Hôtel de Rochechouart at number 110
* Maire de 7éme in the Hôtel de Villars at number 116
* Ministére du Travail, de l’Emploi et de la Santé in the Hôtel du Châtelet at number 127
* Préfecture de la Région Ile-de-France in the Hôtel de Norimoutier at number 138
* Ambassade de Suisse at the Hôtel Chanac de Pompadour at number 142

Of all the monuments we visited, I’d have to report that the Russian Ambassador’s residence was by far the most beautiful and most elaborate, absolutely gilded from top to bottom for ultimate opulence. Others had been somewhat sadly renovated and detracted from their elegant beginnings, but all in all, it was a small entrée into a world worth knowing more about.

Some of the monuments offered up four-color brochures with which we could walk away and add to our bookshelves of Paris information. In 2002, the Centre des Monuments Nationaux printed up “Le Guide du Patrimoine en France” highlighting 2500 monuments around France which traditionally opens their doors to the public. I was fortunate to obtain a copy at that time, but it’s still available by clicking here: editions.monuments-nationaux.fr/ — it’s a reference guide worth having on your shelf, even if you’re fortunate to be here to experience many of them for yourself.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

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P.S. The Musée d’Orsay is also one of the great monuments of the 7th arrondissement. On Saturday, November 12th, the founders are inviting the American friends of the museum to a Gala at the Nouvel Orsay — an unveiling of the new galleries, which will reopen this Fall following a year of renovation. For more information and to purchase your tickets to this special event, visit http://aforsay.org/events/afmo/

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