The Most Famous Buildings in Paris
We look at the history and architecture of some of the most famous buildings in Paris, France, from the Palace of Versailles to the Eiffel Tower.
The Palace of Versailles
The Palace of Versailles was the seat of political power in France for a century. Originally a hunting lodge in the village of Versailles, the spectacular palace is now in a suburb of Paris. Louis XIV, the Sun King, began expanding the building around 1661. It was completed around 1715 after the input of 6 architects and interior designers including architect Louis Le Vau and famous cabinetmaker Andre Charles Boulle. King Louis moved his court to Versailles in 1682 and it ultimately became a symbol of the French monarchy. It’s unknown exactly how much the Palace of Versailles cost to build or maintain, but estimations start at about $2 billion!
Now a museum open to visitors, Versailles has 2,300 rooms including the Hall of Mirrors (containing 357 mirrors) several ornate state apartments and the Gallery of Great Battles which depicts nearly 15 centuries of French military victories. You can also view the spectacular chapel, Royal Opera and ballroom and numerous gardens. Learn more about the history of Versailles and how to plan a visit here.
The Louvre Museum
The Louvre in Paris is one of France’s most famous buildings and the world’s largest, most-visited art museum. It houses Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, amongst many others: there are 38,000 objects exhibited in the Louvre, over an area of 72,735 square metres! Originally a Norman fortress, the Louvre was converted to a royal residence by Charles V in the 14th century and renovated in the 16th century by Francis I. It was King Francis who acquired the Mona Lisa. After Charles XIV moved the royal residence to Versailles, the Louvre became an artists’ residence. The Louvre gradually became a public gallery and museum from the 18th century onwards, with rulers including Napolean expanding the building and art collection over the years.
In 1983, French President François Mitterrand proposed renovations to allow art displays throughout the entire building. Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei designed a glass pyramid as a new entrance in the main court, with three smaller satellite pyramids in the courtyard. All four pyramids were completed by 1993. The addition of such modern buildings was highly controversial. Although designed to ease the flow of people into the museum, they have been criticised as detracting from the original beauty of the Louvre.
Arc de Triomphe
Commissioned in 1806 by Napoleon, the Arc de Triomphe was designed by Jean Chalgrin. It’s a Neoclassical version of Ancient Roman architecture (first-century monument The Arch of Titus in Rome is said to be the inspiration behind it). Although the building took several years to complete, it measures an impressive 50m high, 45m long and 22m wide. The main sculptures on the walls of the arc, depicting French history, are ‘independent trophies’ separate from the main arch, applied to the masonry like applique. Inside the arc, shields are engraved with the names of major French victories and the names of soldiers.
Inaugurated in 1836 by King Louis-Phillipe, the Arc De Triomphe is now a war memorial; the Unknown Soldier was buried at the base of the arch in 1921 and an eternal flame has been alight since then.
Find out more about visiting the Arc de Triomphe here.
The Eiffel Tower
Although very controversial when it was first built for the Great Exhibition, the Eiffel Tower is now an icon of France and the most-visited paid monument in the world. Unlike other buildings on this list, the Eiffel Tower was chiefly designed by engineers: Gustave Eiffel was a civil engineer and architect, but the original design was by Eiffel’s colleagues, Maurice Koechlin and Émile Nouguier, two senior engineers.
Learn more about the Eiffel Tower here.