Former 'Bottle House'
is Now Respectable

Trocadéro - Four Museums, Parvis and a Theatre

Paris:- Wednesday, 19. June 1996:- When you first get to Trocadéro, when you come out of one of the half-dozen métro exits - if that is how you got here - I think the first thing you will look for is a sight of the Tour Eiffel; and be surprised when you see other big buildings instead. Maybe you got off at the wrong stop?

At least, that's what I think I thought, the first time I was there. I hope I am not spoiling the first surprise of not seeing the Tour Eiffel right away.

At any rate, you arrive at the place du Trocadéro and when you look over towards the east, you see the Chaillot Palace - le Palais Chaillot - with its two museum buildings and its flat place, the Parvis, between them.

These buildings look very '30s 'monumental.' They are heavy, solid and imposing - because of all the greenery and trees at this time of year, you do not see that they are merely parts of the whole Chaillot Palace - but you can see this from the Seine, or avenue du New York side, and then the breadth of the wings of the palace reduce the physical importance of the museums and the harmony is better.

Until today I have never given the Chaillot Palace much thought. I assumed it was a leftover from the Universal Exhibition of 1889, but a glance at my secret source book reveals that Catherine de Médicis, Henri II's wife, had a country house built for her on the heights of Chaillot in 1583 - 306 years earlier!

After Catherine's death in 1589, the building, called Beauregard, was given away, sold, bought, traded and bandied about by a lot of French historical names - in 1630 it was bought by Maréchal de Bassompierre for 80,425 livres and Mairie de Médicis remarked that it was nothing but a 'bottle house' to which he replied, respectfully, that he even though he was German and had been a long time in the field, he now liked Paris ladies. Too much; for he was reported to have burnt 6,000 love letters in 1631 in the nick of time before the good Cardinal Richelieu had him locked up in the Bastille for 12 years; but managed all the same to be buried at home in 1646. The rest of the history goes rolling on in a typical French manner that is stranger and more interesting than fiction. Bonaparte intended to, with one word! "Create a Kremlin 100 times better than Moscow's" - but history was against this, and the next nonsense was the business of the cardboard replica of the little fortress at Cadiz of Trocadéro.

Baron Haussmann finally got around to flattening the hill off and the Palais du Trocadéro was constructed for the exposition of 1878, and was replaced by the present structure in 1937, which explains its architecture.

The parvis of the Palace Chaillot is 60 metres wide and the palace wings, Paris side and Passy side, are each 195 metres long, curving away from the place du Trocadéro towards the Seine.

trocmarine.jpg (9k)

trocmonu.jpg (12k)

If you stand on the place, the 'Passy' wing is on the right and it contains the Musée de la Homme and the Musée de la Marine - the maritime museum. (I am only describing their locations today - because I have a neighbor who has offered to guide me through the maritime museum, and I will write about this later.)

The 'Paris' wing is on the left and it contains the entrance to the National Chaillot Theatre, plus the Musée National des Monuments Français and the Musée du Cinéma Henri Langlois which is also known as the Cinémathèque Française.

Now, you might be standing on the parvis between the two buildings, gawking at the Tour Eiffel - which is pretty nifty - but if you look down you should see the inscription, "Les Hommes Naissent et Demeurent Libres et Egaux en Droits. Art. 1 de la Déclaration de 1789. Le 30. Mai 1985 François Mitterrand a donné le nom de Parvis des Libertés et des Droits de l'Homme à l'Esplanade du Palais de Chaillot." In short, this is where Human Rights groups demonstrate, fairly regularly.

If you have not looked down and realized that 'Parvis' is only the short form of the name where you are standing, and you are still gawking at the Tour Eiffel - stop what you are doing, and think: there are two important museums to your right and two to the left and under your feet there is a theatre that has up to 3,000 seats. Before you go to take a close look at the lacy iron lady across the way, you should at least pay a proper visit to the attractions right where you are.

If this seems to be too cultural, both museum buildings contain terrace restaurants facing the Seine, where you can sit down and gawk. On the way in to the restaurants you will have to pass the entrances to the museums, and it is cool and quiet inside - and there are a lot of pretty interesting things to see.
trocparvis.jpg (8k) Back outside on the Parvis, there will likely be some skateboarders - no - they are roller-bladers now - doing their daredevil stuff. Today I did not see the usual gang of hawkers and trinket sellers. Maybe I was too early; maybe they are no longer permitted to ply their trade here - but they used to be a colorful lot. The visitors come in waves from the tour buses and watching them pose for photos and videos can be fun, and if you have not much to do you can offer to help so they don't have one odd man or lady left out. You can meet people from pretty far away this way too, and speaking a few words of Japanese will do no harm either.
Access to Trocadéro: métro station Trocadéro on the lines six and nine; bus numbers 22, 30, 32, 63, 72 and 82. For museum times and entry prices, consult your guidebook, or take a look at the Web site, The Paris Pages.

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