The eternal glamour of the Champs-Elysees
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When visiting Paris, a piece of life
experience will be lost to you if you do not take the slow stroll down the
Champs-Elysees. Parisians have always regarded their special street as their
‘Plus Belle Avenue du Monde’. And so it is. For most of us, the Champs-Elysees
is a form of virtual fantasy. We can look but never touch. We can’t really
afford to contribute to it, but we can feel it and be part of it for half an
afternoon. I sometimes take the air along this concourse to admire a grand
nation state. I never feel like an
intruder and feel that part of it is mine in a way, as a devoted Francophile.
The Champs-Elysees is a wide avenue of
affluence, light, inspiration and all that perhaps could be. The route is the
Princess of Paris and runs between the Place de la Concorde and the Arc de
Triumph in the distant eighth arrondissement. It is the grandest component of
the 10 kilometre long ‘Axe Historique’ or ‘Triumphant Route’. It blends
perfectly with the apparently dead straight line of iconic architecture from
the Royal Palaces to the Grande Arch so far away in the La Defense district.
The Champs-Elysees means Elysian Fields,
the paradise for dead heroes in Greek mythology. It was originally laid out by
Andre le Notre in 1667 as an extension of the Jardin des Tuileries. Prior to
its inception, the route was just an area of suburban fields and kitchen
gardens. Louis XIV found the inspiration to get it all going and it has become
the iconic symbol of Parisian grace and urban sophistication.
The Champs-Elysees today is filled with
luxury shops and one or two very polished modern fast food outlets. There are a
number of upmarket theatres, cinemas, restaurants and places of other culture.
It has changed a bit from the way that it was in previous decades. It has been
evolved to meet more contemporary tastes to suit current Parisians and
visitors. Earlier it was an island of highly regarded culture and exclusive
artistic inspiration available only to the few.
The Champs-Elysees is home to an annual
Bastille Day military parade held each year on 14th July. The parade
is always a symbol of the current military strength of the French nation. It is
also a reminder of the historic liberation of French society that emerged from
the Revolution that ended over two hundred years ago.
The Tour de France is a gruelling national cycle
race reminding the world of a strong sporting culture held by the French
nation. This always ends along the Champs-Elysees in glamorous style with a
very honourable final non contest. All of the riders provide a vibrant scene as
they allow the overall winning rider from the multiple previous stages to cross
the line first. Top level cycle racing and France are synonymous.
The route is also home to the Jardin des
Champs-Elysees or urban park. This is a sort of extension to the Tuileries
gardens just beyond the eastern edge of the street. The garden is a place for
contemplation of the beauty and peace of City life. Grand architectural
features of the Avenue Foch and the Course-la-Reine can be savoured in this
At the western end of the avenue rests the
Arc du Triumph. Close up, this is such a
massive, prominent and imposing architectural feature. It was inaugurated to
mark the victory of Napoleon at the battle of Austerlizt in 1818. Sadly for him,
it was not completed until after his death. Twelve major Parisian thoroughfares
radiate from the Arc which rests on what was once called the Place de Etoile,
the place of the star. It is now called the Place Charles de Gaulle. The Arc de
Triumph provides the resting place for the Unknown Soldier from French
conflicts in the two World Wars. Official marches through and under the Arc du
Triumph have always been prohibited as an appropriate mark of respect to the
memorial. The invading German army on the 14th June 1940 even respected
this French imposition. They strutted around the walls of the Arc rather than
through it on the occasion of Adolf Hitler’s only visit to the City.
There is a great statue of Napoleon astride
his horse in place close to the threshold of the Avenue des Champs-Elysees.
This was constructed in 1852.
The Champs-Elysees is a prominent component
of the Historic Axis or Triumphal Way in central Paris. The Avenue occupies almost
a kilometre of the total length of the axis which is about ten times as long.
Visitors taking the walk along the Avenue
des Champs-Elysees will feel a particular sense of greatness and Gallic history
as they observe the street life around them. They will feel a distinct quality
of our human society and a perception of all that is so fine about modern day
European achievement. To fully enjoy the Champs-Elysees requires a particular
affluence and taste. We are all human beings though and can claim we are all
really a part of it. The Avenue is a celebration of humanity in itself.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Kirker Holidays.
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