Paris Free Walks: 2 cultural strolls about town
In preparation for the “Journées Européens du Patrimoine” (European Heritage Days), the Mairie of Paris has put together 27 balades, or “strolls,” highlighting cultural and historical themes throughout the city.
Although the descriptions of these self-guided walking tours are only available in French, the easy-to-read maps make it possible for anyone to follow the trail.
Here are two of the tours we liked, along with some Cheapo translation and commentary. The maps also show the locations of all the nearest Vélib stations, so you can hop on a bike if you prefer.
Tour One: The Republic and the Great Men
This tour starts at the Pantheon, the impressive mausoleum for France’s honored citizens. If you’d like to visit the resting place of all the great men (and women), entry costs €8.
On the south side of the monument in the Place de Pantheon, you’ll find a statue of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the writer and philosopher whose works were instrumental in shaping the French Revolution.
Next stop is the Place de la Sorbonne and the statue of Auguste Comte, a philosopher whose works “incarnated the republican ideas that the Third Republic tried to institute.” Comte once lived on this Place and also on the nearby Rue Monsieur le Prince.
Follow that road to the Odeon Metro station to get to the next landmark, a statue of Georges Danton, a Revolutionary figure who like many fell to the guillotine during the Reign of Terror. The statue was one of the few bronze works spared from destruction during the Occupation.
Another bronze, this one of writer and philosopher Denis Diderot, sits across from the church St. Germain des Prés. A plaster model was erected for the centennial of Diderot’s death in 1884, while the final copy appeared two years later; it was also saved under the Occupation.
The sculpture of the writer Voltaire that is the next stop on the walk originally caused controversy because those who commissioned it couldn’t agree on where to put it. The statue finally found its current home at the Square Honoré Champion in 1962 – after the death of the sculptor who created it.
A number of symbols adorn the statue of “La République” across the way on the Quai Malaquais: a bundle of arms entwining the broken royal crown (denoting republican unity and liberty); the sword and triangle (justice and equality); the beehive (work); and the star on the crown of oak (reason and wisdom).
Last stop is Nicolas de Condorcet, a philosopher, mathematician and politician, on the Quai Conti. Its location is fitting, between the Hôtel de la Monnaie, where Condorcet was the director, and the Palais de l’Institut, of which Condorcet was a member.
The walk lasts about an hour on foot, not including a visit to the Pantheon. Download the pdf of the map here.
Tour Two: Myths and Realities
Start out at the St. Michel fountain, dedicated to the patron saint of warriors, the archangel Michael, with the two dragons at his feet representing the unsuccessful forces of evil. It was Michael who appeared to Joan of Arc and told her to liberate France from the English.
In the shadow of Notre Dame, it’s easy to overlook the statue of Charlemagne and his Squires. The sculptors incorporated several of the legendary aspects of the historic king, including the crown used by the Holy Roman Emperors and his nephew Roland’s mythical sword Durandal. If you have time, climb the tower of Notre Dame for a view of the entire parvis and beyond.
A little further east down the Seine on the Pont de la Tournelle, an imposing statue of Saint Genevieve watches over the city. According to legend, it was Genevieve who saved Paris from the invasion of Attila and the Huns.
All manner of birds and beasts adorn the Fountain of Natural History, located at 20 Rue Cuvier. A woman personifying natural history sits surrounded by Minerva’s owl, a lion, a crocodile and even a walrus.
The final stop is actually inside the menagerie in the Jardin des Plantes, for which entry costs 8 €. Next to the reptile section, the Snake Charmer sweetly plays his flute to keep a viper from nipping at his toes.
This walk also lasts about an hour. Find the pdf of the map here.
Looking for a guided tour? Read our post about three free guided walking tours in Paris.