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Architects of Paris

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The rulers of France, historically a frugal lot, are remembered for having sacrificed their fortunes for the betterment of their people. Have I got your attention yet? Sounds pretty, but actually this statement couldn't be farther from the truth.

The truth is that, well, Kings will be Kings, and the legendary Kings of France were no different.

They embraced their stature in Life with great gusto, and went about constructing the most extravagant palaces and chapels, citadels of wealth and power. Their residences screamed out, "Hey this guy who lives here, he's the greatest!"

Imagine being invited to a dinner at The Louvre, or the Place des Vosges (formerly Place Royale), or let's get real, Versailles. Royals had license to bankrupt the country if necessary in order to prove that France was the center of the Universe.
These residences of Kings and Queens belong to us today, transformed into grand public spaces overflowing with art and history. We walk through gardens filled with sculpture and lined with chestnut trees, and enter the great churches of Paris with a sense of wonderment. Who designed and built them? I did a little research.

1. Pierre de Montreuil (c1200-1266)
Pierre de Montreuil worked on some pretty cool stuff. He must have been quite the Gothic master builder, for he was commissioned with the design and redesign of some very important sites.

Circa 1231, he was constructing the apse in the Basilique Saint-Denis, the burial place of the Kings of France. He was also responsible for the Chapel of the Virgin, at the abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Pres (1250). Here he was buried along with his wife, and on his tomb was carved the title, "Doctor of Stone". This chapel was destroyed during the French Revolution, in 1794. De Montreuil's name is also connected to the work in progress, and today one of Paris's most beloved sites, the Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris (1260).

When Louis IX needed a royal chapel in which to house his recently acquired holy relics, De Montreuil began work on Sainte-Chapelle, revered for its magnificent stained glass.

Basilique Saint-Denis, 2 Rue de Strasbourg, Metro: St-Denis-Basilique
Notre Dame de Paris, Place Parvis-Notre Dame, Metro: Cite
Sainte-Chapelle, 2 Blvd. du Palais, Metro: Cite

2. Pierre Lescot (c1510-1578)
Pierre Lescot 's French Renaissance style still dazzles. In 1515 Francois I was crowned King of France and launched into the great challenge of turning the Medieval fortress called Le Louvre, into a residence fit for a king. Lescot is credited with
having worked on the palace between the years of 1546 and 1551.

His ingeniously simple, yet regal design has awarded him the title, Father of French Classicism. The Southwest corner of the Cour Carre, the Lescot Wing, is his masterpiece.

Jean Goujon embellished the façade with his sculpture and the overall effect is stunning. The symmetry of it, the delicate stonework and placement of windows, the sloping mansard roof and the intricacy of detail, all work together in stately harmony. Inside, the Salle Caryatides and Henri II Stairs also attest to his genius. Great art inside, great art outside.

Cour Carre, Musee du Louvre, Metro: Palais Royal, Musee du Louvre

3. Salomon de Brosse (1571-1626)
In the year 1608, when Salomon de Brosse was appointed Court Architect, Henri IV was King. His Queen was Marie de Medici of Florence, Italy and she bore him a son, the future King Louis XIII. After Henri's assassination in 1610, Marie was determined to throw herself into a project, and in 1615, de Brosse began construction on the Palais du Luxembourg.

Marie was homesick for the palazzos of Florence, and Salomon de Brosse obliged by building her a palace of her very own. The court painter at the time was the master, Peter Paul Rubens. One can only imagine opulence and grace reigning supreme at this royal residence.

Palais du Luxembourg, 15 Rue de Vaugirard, Metro: Odeon Open For Group Tours By Reservation Only

4. Jacques Lemercier (1585-1654)
Jacques Lemercier had as his patron, the powerful Cardinal Richelieu, for whom he built the regal residence, the Palais Royal.

Lemercier began his career studying in Italy and his most outstanding remaining work in Paris, is the Church of the Sorbonne. Its round dome resting upon an octagonal chapel was the first of its kind in Paris.

Cardinal Richelieu, who was the President of the Sorbonne was buried in the church in 1642. Lemercier left his mark upon Le Louvre as well, adding to the West side of Lescot's Cour Carre, an addition known as the Pavillon de l'Horloge.

Remarkably, the home of Jacques Lemercier still exists at 46 Rue de l'Arbre Sec (Metro:Pont Neuf).

Palais Royal, Place du Palais Royal Metro: Palais Royal
Church of the Sorbonne, 47 Rue des Ecoles, Metro: Cluny la Sorbonne
Pavillon de l'Horloge, Musee du Louvre, Metro: Palais Royal, Musee du Louvre

5. Louis Le Vau (1612-1670)
If you happened to be an aristocrat living in France in the 17th century, life was just one splendor-fest after another. Assuming your royal connections were well-honed, genius architects with grandiose plans were more than willing to build you the maison of your dreams in the city or a vast Baroque chateau far from it. Louis Le Vau would be your go-to man. Greatly influenced by Italian architecture, Le Vau challenged the status quo with inventive ideas drawing from Classicism, but with new purpose. The purpose was to blow everyone's mind, including the King, whose mind was not easily blown.

Le Vau was anointed Premier Architecte in 1653 by Louis XIV and added his name to the list of men who had a hand in the ongoing reformation of the Louvre. Between 1657 and 1661, he built a chateaux in the country for the Finance Minister, Nicolas Fouquet , called Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte. With the aid of painter Charles Le Brun and landscape archtitect, Andre Le Notre, Le Vau created a masterpiece. In 1661, the King attended a wildly extravagant affair at the chateau, reputed to be one of the most costly, flamboyant parties ever thrown in the history of France. Louis XIV could hardly contain his displeasure at having been surpassed in the art of decadent living. He soon employed Le Vau, who embarked upon turning the hunting lodge at Versailles into the pleasure palace of the Sun King. Finance Minister Fouquet was soon stripped of all privilege, dying in prison after falling from grace. Was it the king's jealousy that sparked Fouquet's demise? Was Architecte Le Vau that good? You bet he was. Visit the Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte and decide for yourself.

Across the Seine from the Louvre, another jewel of Louis Le Vau can be found. Today it is known as the Institut de France, but it was founded by Cardinal Mazarin, designed by Le Vau, and originally named College Quatre-Nations.
How fortunate we are that a few of the palaces and churches and private residences bearing the ingenious stamp of Louis Le Vau have survived.

Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte, southeast of Paris, by train: Gare de Lyon to Melun or RER D from Chatelet
Arrive Melun (approx. 30 minutes) and either take a shuttle (Chateaubus on weekends) or taxi, to chateau
Hours: March 15th to November 9, 10am-6pm with weekday closings from 1pm-2pm
Check for summertime candelight visits
Restaurant: l'Ecureuil, self-service with patio dining in warm weather
www.vaux-le-vicomte.comInstitut de France (former Ecole Quatre-Nations), 23 Quai de Conti, Metro: Pont Neuf, St-Germain-des-Pres

6. Liberal Bruand (1635-1697)
Liberal Bruand's high Baroque style of architecture is best exemplified in his stunning work, the design of the Hotel des Invalides. Louis XIV signed a decree in 1670 that a home and hospital for wounded and elderly soldiers would be built. Five years later it was completed.

On July 14, 1789, an angry mob seized 28,000 rifles from the underground strorehouse of the Invalides, and then went on to storm the Bastille. Invalides is also the final resting place of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, whose body was brought back from St. Helena (exiled there) and laid to rest in the crypt beneath the dome, in 1861. His body is protected by six coffins, one inside the other.
You can check out Invalides and then pay a visit to the house that Bruand built for himself in 1685 in the Marais. It is now home to the Musee Bricard, the "lock" museum. What a treat for us, that these fantastic creations of the 17th century have found their way into the 21st.

Hotel des Invalides, Metro: La Tour Maubourg lets you out right there
Hours: 10am-6pm except for 5pm closing in winter; closed 1st Monday of each month
Hotel Liberal Bruand, Musee de la Serrure (Lock Museum) 1 Rue de la Perle
Metro: Saint-Paul, Chemin Vert

7. Jules Hardouin Mansart (1646-1708)
Jules Hardouin's great uncle, Francois Mansart (1598-1666) was an esteemed architect of his time. Jules trained with him, inherited his collection of architectural plans, and took his last name as well. As Louis XIV's Superintendent of Royal Works, Jules Hardouin Mansart, began work on the Chateau of Versailles, constructing new wings and designing the Grand Trianon and the Orangerie, as well.

His Hall of Mirrors, which was decorated by Charles Le Brun, is still a captivating space, one of the most remarkable rooms in a chateaux filled with marvels.

The main attraction of the Hall of Mirrors (1678) is its 17 windows, each window arch decorated with the rare commodity of mirrors. In the 17th century, mirrors were considered to be a great luxury and best craftsmen were Italian. Louis was committed to employing only French artisans in the construction of Versailles and he sent for Italian mirror-makers, who set up shop at the Gobelin factory for the production of the mirrors.

The Place des Victoires, Place Vendome (Frederic Chopin died at #8), Eglise Saint-Roch and the Pont Royal were also the handiwork of this great archictect.

The bridge, Pont Royal, was originally constructed in 1632. It succumbed to fire in 1654 and was completely destroyed by flood in 1684. In 1685, Mansart, along with some of his contemporaries began to rebuild, and in 1939, the bridge was classified as an historic monument. It still provides a lovely crossing of the River Seine.

Chateau de Versailles, Metro: RER C Rive Gauche, closed Monday
www.chateauversailles.frPlace des Victoires, Metro: Palais Royal
Place Vendome, Metro: Tuileries
Pont Royal, Metro: Rue du Bac (Left Bank), Palais Royal or Tuileries(right Bank)

8. Eugene Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc (1814-1879)
Viollet-le-Duc is best known for the monuments he restored. The French Revolution was not kind to the ancient architecture of Paris. Angry mobs destroyed or pillaged many great sites and by the mid 19th century, it was necessary to campaign for the renovation of some of the city's most impressive relics. Victor Hugo was very influential as an advocate for major restoration of Paris monuments.

In 1845, Viollet-le-Duc, under the auspices of the Office of Historic Monuments, began work on Notre Dame de Paris. The cathedral had been vandalized and desecrated to such an extent during the Revolution, that at one point it had been reduced to a depository for the storage of food.
Another unfortunate victim of the French Revolution was the royal chapel, Sainte-Chapelle. which was also undertaken as a restoration project by Le Duc. In 1862 it was placed on the list of National Historic Monuments.

Although the history of the town of Carcassone dates back to 3500b.c., the Romans began to fortify the site around 100b.c. and it gained strategic importance. In 1853, the beautiful walled city was in such disrepair, that a decree was issued to demolish it.

In steps Eugend Viollet-le-Duc, and a plan to rebuild (1853). Although strict attention was not paid to the use of original building materials, which garnered great criticism from historians/purists, Le Duc did manage to preserve the town, which lies 56 miles Southeast of the Toulouse, France.

Notre Dame de Paris, Metro: Cite
Sainte-Chapelle, 2 Blvd. du Palais, Metro:Cite
Carcassone, Languedoc region of France

9. Charles Garnier (1825-1898)
In 1861, the first stone was laid for the foundation of the Opera de Paris, designed by Charles Garnier. A student at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and then a draughtsman working under Viollet-le-Duc, Garnier's design for the opera house was submitted as part of a competition for the coveted commission. At the time, Baron Haussman was fully underway with his "modernization" of Paris, demolishing ancient streets and edifices, and constructing grand boulevards. The new opera house, inaugurated in 1875, was set like a jewel upon the Place de l'Opera.

There were several setbacks in construction, including the discovery of an underground lake beneath the site, which necessitated months of draining before going forward with development. Then there was the Franco-Prussian War and political upheavels which halted the project at various stages of development.

The Opera Garnier epitomizes the style of Naploeon III, whose regime it was built under. It's elaborate façade of stone, marble and bronze, with sculptures and columns and cupola, hint at the glorious, sumptuous interior. The marble Grand Staircase is indeed, grand.

The auditorium, gold-leafed and velvet-draped, is accentuated by a 6-ton chandelier and a ceiling painted by Marc Chagall.

Although the opera company has moved to the Opera Bastille, the Palais Garnier remains home to the ballet company.

Monte Carlo also lays claim to Garnier's architectural genius. He is responsible for the design of the casino, the opera house and the Grand Hotel de Paris, all representing the style of Belle Epoque, opulent and perfectly suited to the locale.

Opera de Paris Garnier, Place de l'Opera, Metro: Opera

10. Hector Guimard (1867-1942)
Hector Guimard studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and was influenced by the architect, Viollet-le-Duc, in the development of his very innovative and modern style known as Art Nouveau. A sense of movement and fluidity applied to the use of stone, wood and iron was indeed novel. After designing the apartment complex in the 16th arrondisement called Castel Beranger (completed 1898), Guimard's career exploded.

The residence he built for himself and his wife, Hotel Guimard (1909)is an exceptionally brilliant example of his work.

At the turn of the 20th century, the underground subway system, the Paris Metro was being developed. Guimard designed 141 entrances to the stations, constructed of pre-fabricated cast iron and glass.

The Port Dauphine entrance, with original canopy intact, is a real beauty. The Abbesses station in Montmartre is also quite stunning.

Castel Beranger, 14 Rue La Fontaine, Metro: Michel-Ange Auteuil
Hotel Guimard, 122 Ave Mozart Metro: Michel-Ange Auteuil
Porte Dauphine Metro Station, 16th Arrondisement
Abbesses Metro Station, 18th Arrondisement

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