Article by Levi Reiss
The seventh arrondissement is located on the Left Bank of the Seine River. It hosts several major government institutions and some very important tourist attractions. This district occupies about 1.6 square miles (slightly over 4 square kilometers) and has a population of almost 57 thousand people while providing more than 76 thousand jobs.
Some of the best jobs in this arrondissement are in the Assemblee Nationale (National Assembly), the lower house of the French Parliament which consists of 577 elected members known as deputes (deputies), each elected to represent a single-member constituency. The official seat of the National Assembly is the Palais Bourbon (Bourbon Palace) on the banks of the Seine River as well as some neighboring buildings.
The Eiffel Tower is perhaps Paris’s best-known landmark, recognized all over the world. This thousand foot (three hundred twenty meter) building, as tall as an eighty-story building, annually attracts over six million paying visitors. Once the tallest structure in the world it is now only the fifth tallest building in France. And yet every year more visitors pay to see this structure than any other monument in the world.
The Eiffel Tower was erected between 1887 and 1889 as the entrance arch to the Exposition Universelle (World’s Fair) honoring the centennial of the French Revolution. It was not immediately popular. The French writer Guy de Maupassant supposedly ate lunch there every day. When asked why, since everyone knew that he hated the tower, he simply replied ‘ that was the only Paris location where he couldn’t see the tower. The original plans were to demolish the tower after twenty years but happily plans changed. The tower is used for radio transmission and served for German television broadcasts during the occupation of Paris in World War II and again since 1957.
There’s a fancy restaurant with a private elevator on the second floor and another restaurant on the first floor. The Eiffel Tower was struck by lightning in 1902 and in 1910 helped scientists discover cosmic rays. And con men have succeeded in selling it for scrap metal. The tower shifts up to 7 inches (18 centimeters) because of the sun and sways about a third as much in the wind. You can climb the first two levels but going higher requires an elevator. Once every seven years it’s painted in three different colors to keep up appearances.
During the German occupation Nazi soldiers climbed to the top and hoisted the swastika but after a few hours the wind blew that rag away. Later during the war the tower proudly flew the French flag. During the winter the first floor hosts a free ice skating rink. Its night-time image has been copyrighted. Many, many buildings are taller, but none are as recognizable or perhaps as well loved.
The Hotel Matignon, which was completed in 1725, is one of Paris’s most elegant mansions. At that time, the owners authorized any “well-dressed” person to visit the mansion in their absence. Too bad for me that I was unaware of this little slice of history when I last set foot in the neighborhood. The building had seen a lot including the signing of the famous Matignon Accords in 1936 that established the forty-hour work week and paid vacations for French workers. During World War II it was used by the collaborationist government. Legend has it that the French Resistance leaders who seized the premises were confused between Hotel Matignon and the Matignon Avenue across the Seine River. In all fairness, these heros did have a lot on their mind. General de Gaulle convened the government there in 1944 and once again in 1958. Its park is the largest private garden in Paris.
The Champ de Mars (Field of Mars) is named for the Roman war god and was once used for military training. It’s not far from the military school described below. During the French Revolution it was the site of both a festival and a massacre. The Musee d’Orsay (Orsay Museum) was once a railway station, the world’s first electrified urban one. Charles de Gaulle spoke there in 1958 before taking power. It is now a museum specializing in French art from 1848 to 1914. Its collection includes impressionist works by Monet, Renoir, and many others.
The Ecole Militaire (Military School) was founded in 1750 by Louis XV. Madame de Pompadour was part of this project whose objective was to enable poor boys to become cadet officers. Napoleon Bonaparte was such a good student that he graduated from a two-year program in a single year but he had already frequented (from age nine) another French military school. Be sure to visit the nearby Les Invalides (The Invalides) complex, built in 1670 as a retirement home for war veterans that has expanded to include a soldiers’ hospital, war monuments, and war museums. Many of France’s war heroes are buried there including France’s greatest war hero of them all, Napoleon Bonaparte and his family.
The Musee Rodin (Rodin Museum) was opened in 1919 in the Hotel Biron where the artist lived from 1908. It contains most of his greatest works including The Thinker and The Kiss. You’ll see many of his sculptures in the gardens. Other great artists and sculptors including Van Gogh, Rodin, and Claudel are represented in the museum.
The Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (Paris Institute of Political Studies), often called Sciences Po is one of France’s greatest educational institutions. Among its subjects of choice are political science, economics, business, communications, finance, journalism, law, management, and urban studies. It was established in 1872 by French businessmen, intellectuals, and politicians in the wake of France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 and the Paris Commune of the following year. In the last few years Sciences Po has taken on a few students from the poor suburban areas outside Paris; a French version of the inner city. This is in contrast to their usually elitist student body. The undergraduate program is usually three years with the third year spent abroad or in an internship. Of course there are Master’s and Doctoral programs. Students are expected to be proficient in at least two foreign languages and fluent in French. Many French leaders such as Chirac and Mitterand, thirteen former prime ministers and a whole slew of world leaders are former students, teachers or both.
Of course you don’t want to tour Paris without sampling excellent French wine and food. In my article I Love French Wine and Food ‘ A Bordeaux Merlot I reviewed such a wine and suggested a sample menu: Start with Gravette Huitres (Oysters from the Arcachon Bay). For your second course savor Lamproie au Pomerol (Eels cooked in Red Wine and Chocolate). And as dessert indulge yourself with Cannelles de Bordeaux (Portable CrÃªme Brulee). Your Parisian sommelier (wine steward) will be happy to suggest appropriate wines to accompany each course.
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