France is a country full of history and its monuments are one beautiful aspect of that history. In fact France has over 40,000 official monuments, making it the European country with the most historic monuments overall. It's hard to make a list of all the ones that are "must sees" but there's definitely a short list of the most popular and most visited ones.
Arc de Triomphe
Located at Place Charles de Gaulle (also known as the Place de l'Étoile) at the Champs-Élysées, the Arc de Triomphe is a massive celebration of Roman architecture. The Arc was dedicated in 1836 to the soldiers who gave their lives to protect France during both the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a memorial for World War I, is located underneath the Arc and debuted in 1921. The Arc is also the site of the Memorial Flame (La Flamme sous L'Arc de Triomphe), added in 1923, which is lit every evening to honor the soldiers killed in World War I.
Arc de Triomphe Facts
- The Arc features the names of 128 battles and their generals.
- The Arc is well known for its intricate sculpture work by artists James Pradier, Antoine Etex, Jean-Pierre Cortot and Francois Rude.
- The monument stands approximately 162 feet high, 150 feet wide and 72 feet deep.
- The Arc was designed by the architect Jean-François-Thérèse Chalgrin.
- Approximately 1.5 million people visit the Arc de Triomphe annually.
Place de la Bastille
This square was once the site of the notorious Bastille prison until it was razed to the ground during the revolution from 1789 to 1790. A column now sits on the square, known as the Colonne du Juillet or July column, and atop it sits the Génie de la Liberté (Spirit of Freedom) statue. The Opéra Bastille sits where the Bastille Fort once stood, and there's a marina as well.
Place de la Bastille Facts
- The July column takes its name from the month of the revolution in 1830 when King Louis Philippe replaced King Charles X. The column is a memorial to the people who died during the three-day revolution.
- The Opéra Bastille was designed by Carlos Ott who won a competition of 744 international architects.
- The Colonne du Juillet was designed by Jean-Antoine Alavoine based on Corinthian architecture.
- The column is about 171 feet high and the monument was finished in 1840.
- The July column has a stairway inside with 238 steps to the top. It has been closed to visitors since 1985 but is expected to reopen in 2020.
The Louvre Museum, also known simply as "the Louvre," is the largest and most visited art museum in the world. The museum was built starting in 1546 by King Francis I and was originally designed as a castle for the royal family. With each successive king more work was done to the building, particularly during the reign of Louix XIII and Louix XIV and under Napoleon. Versailles became the home of the king in 1682 and eventually the Louvre became a museum in 1793. One of the most recent and controversial additions to the Louvre is the Pyramid, a steel and glass structure at the entrance built in 1984 by famous architect I.M. Pei.
Facts About the Louvre
- The Louvre has approximately 380,000 items in its collection with about 35,000 on display at any time.
- Some more famous pieces found in the Louvre are the statues the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Venus de Milo and the paintings Liberty Leading the People, the Grande Odalisque, and the Mona Lisa.
- The Louvre is also home to the Hammurabi's Code from Ancient Babylonian. It's one of the oldest examples of written laws and texts in the world.
- In 2019, approximately 10.2 million people visited the Louvre.
Palais du Luxembourg
The Palais du Luxembourg, or Luxembourg Palace, was built in the 17th century as a home for Marie de' Medicis, the mother of King Louis XIII. The palace is currently the home of the French Senate. The stately palace is a beautiful example of both French classical and Renaissance architecture, designed by architect Salomon de Brosse. The grounds surrounding the palace are the Jardins du Luxembourg, or Luxembourg Gardens, which are cover 25 hectares (about 61 acres).
Palais du Luxembourg Facts
- From 1750 to 1780, the palace was an art museum and later during the French Revolution became a prison. In 1795 it became a national palace and eventually the building of the Senate during Napoleon's time.
- The gardens have both French and English gardens, as well as a pond, forest, apple orchard, 106 statues and the Medici fountain.
- The library in the palace contains approximately 450,000 books.
Notre-Dame de Paris
The beautiful Notre-Dame cathedral suffered a terrible fire in 2019 that caused severe damage. The cathedral is closed to the public while renovations are underway and it's not certain when it will be reopened or if it even can be saved from the damage. The French government hopes to have it done by 2024 in time for the Summer Olympics. The Catholic cathedral is one of the best known examples of French gothic architecture. Notre-Dame was first built in 1160 and it took about 100 years for construction to be finished.
Facts About Notre-Dame de Paris
- The cathedral was the home of one of the largest organs in the world.
- The name translates to "Our Lady of Paris."
- The famous spire on top of the cathedral that was lost to the fire was almost 300 feet tall.
- Prior to the fire, Notre-Dame was visited by about 14 million people annually and was considered the historical monument in Europe with the most visitors every year.
- The site of the cathedral is considered "kilometre zero" which means when one calculates the distance between Paris and other cities in France, Notre-Dame is the starting point.
- Aside from being one of the most recognizable symbols of France, it's also famous as the location of the classic novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo.
Basilique du Sacré-Coeur
This Roman Catholic church and minor basilica began construction in 1875 and was finished in 1914, although its formal consecration did not happen until 1919 due to World War I. It's known in English as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris. In addition to the building, there is a garden and fountain, crypt and tourists can see a panoramic view all of Paris from the top of the highest dome. It's located on top of the hill Montmartre which has the highest elevation in Paris. The name means Mount of the Martyrs.
Facts About the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur
- There is a mosaic in the Basilica, the Mosaic of Christ in Glory, that is one of the largest in the world. It's 475 square metres, or about 1,558 square feet.
- The belfry houses several bells, one of which is the largest in the country, known as the Savoyarde. The bell weighs approximately 19 tons.
- The Basilique is built in the Roman-Byzantine style of architecture.
- Sacré-Coeur is the second most visited church in France although it is likely now the most visited with the destruction and closure of Notre-Dame.
La Tour Eiffel
The Eiffel Tower is one of the most well known monuments in France and the world. The tower is named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel whose company was responsible for the design and construction, although it was Maruice Koechlin and Emile Nougier who actually designed it. The tower was built for the 1889 World's Fair and stands 1,063 feet tall. It was considered the tallest structure in the world until 1930 when the New York City Chrysler Building was finished. Visitors can see all of Paris from the observation deck at 906 feet.
Eiffel Tower Facts
- The Eiffel Tower is one of the most visited monuments in France, with a little over 6 million visitors in 2018. It also is the tourist site that has the highest number of appearances on Instagram.
- The tower is constructed of 7,500 tons of wrought iron and 2.5 million rivets and 60 tons of paint. It weighs a total of 10,000 tons.
- The tower serves as a memorial for some of history's greatest scientists, with the names of 72 engraved on the tower.
- When the tower was first built, it was controversial, and many thought it was "the ugliest building in Paris" and a "ridiculous tower," but now it's a much loved landmark.
- The French called La Tour Eiffel "La Dame de Fer" which means "the iron lady" in English.
Château de Versailles
The stunning Château de Versailles, or Palace of Versailles, was the home of the king of France, starting with Louis XIV in 1682. After the French Revolution in 1789, the palace no longer served as the residence and eventually became a historical monument after it was restored from the damage and looting during the revolution. Versailles is composed of the Château, a set of apartments, the Grand Gallery including the Galerie des Glaces, or Hall of Mirrors, a chapel, opera, and an immense garden. The garden has several pools with sculpted fountains, bosquets or groves in English and two smaller palaces, the Trianon Châteaux. One of these, the Petit Trianon, became the palace of Marie Antoinette.
- Versailles is a UNESCO World heritage site because for a century, it was le modèle de ce que devait être une résidence royale (translated as "the epitome of a royal home or palace").
- Versailles began as a hunting lodge for Louis XIV but truly reached its peak with Louis XIV, the "Sun King" who renovated and added to it to make it the palatial marvel that it is today. His goal was to make it so extravagant that it symbolized his power as the ultimate King of France.
- There are approximately 530 living areas and decorative arts and paintings throughout. The Galerie des Glaces alone has 30 tableaux. The artwork heavily features the Sun King and his accomplishments as a way to bolster his presence.
- The Château de Versailles is an important part of U.S. history, as the Treaty of Paris was signed there which brought the Revolutionary War to an end and began the young country's independence from England.
- Approximately 7 million tourists visit Versailles each year.
Obélisque de Louxor
The oldest monument in France actually comes from Egypt. The Obélisque de Louxor, or Luxor Obelisk, is more than 3,300 years old. It came to Paris in 1833 due to a trade from the ruler of Egypt for a large French clock which can now be found at the Citadel of Cairo. There is another Obelisk still in Egypt that matches the one in France situated at the temple in Luxor. The Obelisk resides at the Place de la Concorde next to two fountains.
Facts About the Obélisque de Louxor
- The Obélisque is made from red granite and weighs about 227 tons. It is about 74 feet high.
- The base of the Obélisque features four baboon sculptures shown praising the sun. The base is no longer a part of the monument but is featured in the Louvre.
- The cap of the Obélisque, called a pyramidion, was stolen in the 6th century. It was replaced by a gold leaf cap by the French in 1998.
Grande Arche de la Défense
La Grande Arche de la Défense is also known as the La Grande Arche de la Fraternité or La Grande Arche. The English translation is the Great Arch of the Defense or the Great Arch of the Fraternity. The monument is located in Puteaux, France. The Great Arch is one of the newest monuments, built as part of a national competition in 1982 to honor the bicentennial of the French Revolution. It was designed by Johan Otto V. Spreckelsen and construction was finished in 1989. It can be found at the end of the Axe Historique ("historical axis"), a "line" of monuments that stretches through Paris and ends at the Louvre.
Facts About La Grande Arche de la Défense
- La Grande Arche de la Défense is equal to 30 times the Eiffel Tower's weight.
- It stands 110 meters or about 360 feet high and about 348 feet, or 106 meters, wide.
- The Arche is made from concrete, marble, granite and glass.
- It gets its name from the business district of Paris, La Défense, which it overlooks.
Monuments of France
There are many more iconic monuments to be found in France. From ancient abbeys, luxurious castles, to elaborate cathedrals and historic cemeteries, there's sure to be a wealth of choices for the intrepid tourist visiting France.