The Next Best Thing to a Beach in Paris

Paris Poster and Ferris wheel in the Tuileries
There is sand and there are rides; but there is no sea-side.

And What's Missing in the Tuileries Garden

Paris:- Wednesday, 23. July 1997:- Last week I wrote about 'Paris-Plage,' the imaginary dream that Paris has a seaside and a beach-front. The reality is located 150 kms away in Dieppe, on the Channel coast. As a bird flies, Deauville is about 20 kms further away than Dieppe.

Since the Piscine Deligny sank a few years ago, Paris has really been high and dry. This public pool, built in 1840, and anchored to the left-bank Quai Anatole France across from the Musée de l'Orangerie, had unheated water from the Seine and 1,500 square metres of floating beach around its 50-metre pool. It was a great place not to recognize famous Parisians who were without much in the way of clothes.

Which leaves... yes, right across the Seine again - to the right bank and the oasis in the middle of the city, called the Jardin des Tuileries. It has no beach, but it does have pools - shallow ones - sand, and chairs to sit on and trees to sit under; places to get refreshments, and a few sights to see.

If you are a walker, you may become a great one by starting at the Arc de Triomphe and walking down the Champs-Elysées, down its entire length, past the Rond Point, to the place de la Concorde.

On the way you will pass the Palais de l'Elysée on the left and the Théâtre du Rond Point, the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais, on your right.

This is not an unpleasant walk but the whole thing is 1,910 metres in length. If you survive the traffic while crossing to the other side of the place de la Concorde, you can do a treat for your feet by getting off them in the Tuileries.

I skipped the walk part today and emerged into daylight from the Concorde métro exit. You can skip the walk too, and get out at métro Tuileries or Palais-Royal or even Louvre-Rivoli; or come across the Pont Royal, Carrousel or the Pont des Arts from the left bank.

If the Ile de la Cité is too hectic, just head for the Pont Neuf and follow the quais downstream and come into the gardens by way of the Louvre's Cour Carrée, and head west past the Pyramid's fanciers. Once past the modest Arc du Carrousel, you are in the Tuileries and it won't even cost a métro ticket.

Now you are here and sitting down. Besides treating your feet nice, you can imagine all sorts of things. For example:

In 1564 the queen mother, Catherine de Médicis, decided to have a house built for herself, to the west beyond the Louvre, in a sort of sheep pasture cum butcher's slop dump, which also had a couple of tile factories - tuileries.

Before this, around 1518, François 1st, had a country house built here for his mother, Louise de Savoie. She couldn't stand living in the château des Tourelles as it was too close to the Sainte-Catherine sewer outlet into the Seine.

Catherine de Médicis chose Philibert Delorme as architect, but he was replaced after his death in 1570 by Jean Bullant. Bullant reduced the original plan to one wing and if it still existed, it would have occupied two-thirds of Octagonal pond and Concorde Obelisk the length between the present Louvre's Pavillon de Flore by the Seine and Pavillon de Marsan on the rue de Rivoli.

On sunny days, people with tired feet are stretched out here like sardines. The chairs are free.

A central block had a dome and there were square blocks at each end with pitched roofs, joined to the centre by two-story wings. By the time it occurred to her to join her château to the Pavillon de Flore with a 'grand-gallery,' the work on the château had advanced by two years - and it was built on an axis different to that of the Louvre.

I always thought the line was straight from the centre of the Arc de Triomphe, through the Rond-Point on the Champs-Elysées, through the Obelisk at Concorde, through the Tuileries Gardens and the Arc du Carrousel, to the centre of the Pyramid in the Louvre's Cour Napoléon.

But it is not straight. It seems to reach to a statue within the Cour Napoléon near the place du Carrousel, and then the axis shifts slightly to the left, passing the south edge of the glass and steel Pyramid.

Catherine de Médicis got a disturbing horoscope reading from Ruggieri and gave up the idea of living in the new château, and moved instead to the nearby Hôtel de la Reine built for her, also by Bullant.

This was followed by religious wars and assorted mayhem and it wasn't until 1595 that construction resumed under Henri IV. The Pavillon de Flore was built from 1607 to 1610 and this was joined to the Château de Tuileries by the Petite-Gallerie. In fact, Henri IV did more for the Louvre than five of his predecessors and all of his followers, except Napoléon III.

After Henri IV died, Mairie de Médicis busied herself with building her own palace in the Luxembourg, and the Château de Tuileries sat around unfinished for 50 years.

From 1659 to 1666 Louis XIV had Le Vau work on it and he added a 'Pavillon du Théâtre' to one end and a 'Salle de Machines' to the other. The original parts were also enlarged and the ensemble was 260 metres long and stayed essentially the same for the following 200 years.

On 17. January 1671, the premier of 'Phyché,' by Corneille, Molière, Lulli and Quinault, played in the 'Salle de Machines.'

While all this was going on in fits and starts, the development of the gardens went ahead in tandem. At first this garden was separated from the château by a high wall and a crummy alley, called 'Tuileries,' which ran down to the Seine.

Pierre Le Nôtre was the first to put a hand to this, and it was in an Italian style. It had trees, quinconces, mazes, a fountain, a grotto and enameled potteries by Bernard Palissy. Henri IV had mulberry bushes planted along the north side, for feeding silk worms.

Others added their little touches over time until Colbert commissioned André Le Nôtre (the grandson), in 1664, to make the garden as grand as Le Vau and d'Orbay were making the château.

Le Nôtre made a vast staircase to replace the little alley, which gave a good point of view of the château, and in the opposite direction, a view over the garden. He put in the round pond and the octagonal pool. By putting up terraces on either side he was able to level the garden itself, and put in two curved ramps up to the terraces. To finish off, he drew a line straight off the centre of the Tuileries, running off to nowhere - which is now the Champs-Elysées.

Quite early on, at the suggestion of Charles Perrault, an author, the garden was made public.

Meanwhile, back at the château, its first occupant, the Duchess of Montpensier - La Grande Mademoiselle - lived in it for 14 years until she got mixed up with the Fronde, shot at the Bastille to save Condé and thereby ruined her chances to marry her cousin, Louis XIV.

This also got her kicked out of the Château de Tuileries, putting her first on a long list of tenants who had to leave it in a hurry. Louis himself lived in it for three years while the Louvre was being remodeled - again - and Statue and quiet pond in Tuileries after he left it was empty for 50 years until Louis XV lodged in it for over six years from 1715. On 15. June 1722 he left to move into Versailles; when he was 12 years old.

Off the main axis, there are pools of calm, within the oasis.

For the next 67 years it was occupied by squatters - nobles, artisans, pensioners and artists; who subdivided it into apartments, added staircases, added extra floors under high ceilings, and there was garbage everywhere and laundry dried in the windows. The Countess de Marsan stayed so long in the Pomone pavillon that it was named after her.

The Opéra moved into the Théâtre and was followed by the Comedie-Française. The 'Barber of Seville' had its debut here In 1755.

All this was turned upsidedown on 6. October 1789 when the inhabitants were given a half-day to clean the joint up and Louis XVI and family arrived to stay around 10 in the evening. The next day, another 677 court-groupies showed up to camp in the place too.

The royal family fled on 20. June 1791 and a year later the château-palace was invaded. Same thing on 10. August 1792, when the Swiss Guard were massacred and the royals fled again.

On 10. May 1793, the Convention took possession of the Château des Tuileries. A two-metre high Phrygian cap representing the state was placed on the dome. Things got a bit chaotic. The Convention was replaced by the Council of Old Guys and they lasted until 1799.

On 19. February 1800, the first consul, Citizen Bonaparte moved in. The next morning, he is reported to have said to Bourienne, "Well, here we are in the Tuileries; the hardest part will be to stay here!" The Pope came in 1804 and stayed four months. By 1806 remodeling was going on again.

Joséphine was booted out on 15. December 1809. Four months later, the Emperor Napoléon and the brand-new Empress arrived from Saint-Cloud, by way of the full-size model of the Arc de Triomphe at Etoile. Their cortege passed through Concorde, through the Palace de Tuileries, to the Salon Carré of the Louvre, where their marriage was celebrated.

Almost exactly five years later, Napoléon and Marie-Louise had to leave the palace and Paris, to never return as a couple. Two weeks later the Count of Artois took it over for Louis XVIII and the Duchess of Angoulême, who arrived on 3. May. At 23:00 on 19. March, 1815, they left in a hurry. Twenty-four hours later Napoléon repossessed his apartments - for 100 days. Louis XVIII was back on 8. July.

It turned out that Louis XVIII lived there longest; a whole nine years, until his death in 1824. His brother, Charles X, made it to six years before he had to leave in a hurry because of the revolution of July 1830. And it was pillaged again.

This caused Louis-Philippe to think it over for 15 months before moving in. A new departure was called for on the occasion of the revolution of 1848, and the Palace de Tuileries was sacked yet again.

Four years later, a new coup d'etat, a new prince-president and a year later he was proclaimed emperor; married to Countess Eugénie de Montijo on 29. January 1853, and the parties began again. I left out all the royal and imperial births so far, but here is one: on 16. March 1856.

Another revolution came and the Empress left in a hurry on 4. September 1870, headed east.

This was the first time the place wasn't sacked. Care was taken to preserve its contents; paintings were covered and windows shut tight.

The following March, the Commune de Paris was proclaimed. The pillage could begin. Two months later, five wagons, heavy with powder, tar, turpentine and kerosene, were wheeled into the Cour du Carrousel and the contents were distributed around the palace. It was lit and it burned for three days.

Sergeant Boudin, a butcher's apprentice named Bénot (shot respectively in May 1872 and January 1873) and a informally-promoted general named Bergeret, did the placing and lighting.

The Louvre was about to go with the Palace de Tuileries, but was saved in the nick of time. Plans were made to restore the Tuileries monument - the walls were still sound - but the Chambre des Députés voted against it. On 4. December 1882 it was sold to Achille Picard for scrap, for 33,000 francs. By 1884 it was gone.

Le Figaro bought pieces of it and gave them away as paper-weights to its subscribers. The Duke Pozzo di Borgo, long-time enemy of the Bonapartes, bought most of the remainder and used it for the construction of his Château de la Punta Ice cream stands at top of steps in Ajaccio. The state bought some pieces too, and these are scattered around Paris; some of them even in the Tuileries Garden.

Besides ice cream stands like these, there are informal cafés under the trees.

There is a plaque at the Concorde entry to the garden commemorating a balloon flight, on 1. December 1783. 400,000 Parisians showed up for the take-off at 13:40. Other important, but disappeared, historical sites around Paris have their marble plaques - but not the Château or Palais des Tuileries.

If you have been sitting by the smaller, round pond while reading this, I suggest you wake up your feet and walk over to the Flore wing on the Louvre. If you look across to the Marsan wing opposite, you are looking at where a great château stood for 300 years.

Another good place to view this, would be from the top of the big ferris wheel by the Terrace des Feuillants. The first people to see it from this angle were the balloon guys and that was 214 years ago.

While up there, you can get get a good look of all the garden - this oasis in the centre of Paris. No beach, but a pretty good oasis.

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