Rue Royale, between Place de la Concorde and the temple-like façade of the Madeleine Church, which reminds one of an ancient Roman temple, is totally devoted to the luxurious lifestyle. This begins at Maxim’s, that renowned restaurant, once frequented by the demimonde, with a belle époque interior and private booths, in which definitely more went on than just eating dessert.
There is plenty to discover in the shop windows round about. In Rue Royale the large French porcelain manufacturers such as Bernardaud, present their current tablewear collections. Besides these you can view true works of art in silver and crystal at Christofle, Baccarat or Lalique.
In the next side street, Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré " or Rue Saint-Honoré a truly legendary fashion district begins. In Faubourg Saint-Honoré some of the world’s most famous fahion houses are to be found, ranging from Chanel, Cardin and Lagerfeld through Inès de la Fressange, Lanvin and Scherrer to Givenchy, Hermès and Versace. About 500 meters farther on you will see the Élysée Palace to the left. In the 18th century palace the French President has his official residence, under stringent security.
Those who frequent the elegant shops around here also expect a special ambience for a cup of coffee. The top address is Ladurée, a coffee shop in the Rue Royale with a long tradition and fin de siècle décor.
Place de la Madeleine
On Place de la Madeleine the best delicatessen shops of the city can be found: Fauchon (with café and restaurant) and Hédiard as well as some very exclusive specialty shops, such as Caviar Kaspia and the Maison de la Truffe. A distinguished gourmet address is also the star-rated restaurant Lucas Carton.
The commissioner of the Church of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine would surely also have appreciated this luxury. In the mid-18th century none other than the Marquess of Pompadour, the mistress of King Louis XV, planned to have a church erected just on this site. However only after the Austrian campaign of the Grande Armée under Napoleon I was anything built here, and then not a church, but, first a secular temple of honor, begun in 1809, in memory of the campaign. Finally in 1842 it was dedicated in the Napoleonic manner, but in accordance with the original idea of Madame de Pompadour, as the Church of Saint Mary Magdalen.
The philospher Walter Benjamin once called Paris “the capital city of the 19th century.” And indeed after the revolution of 1789 a completely new life view with different political and cultural attitudes, tendencies and styles began to develop here. The Grands Boulevards, from the Place de la Madeleine to the Opera and on to the Place de la Republique became the showplace of self-confident propserity – an expression of the self-assured feeling of free citizens. In the 19th century in house No. 15 on Boulevard de la Madeleine Marie Duplessies, who was the mistress of Franz Liszt and Alexandre Dumas (among others) lived out these ideas. She was the inspiration of the latter for his novel “The Lady of the Camelias” (1848), on which Verdi’s opera “La Traviata” was based.
In the former Chanson Concert Hall on the Boulevard des Capucines Edith Piaf once used to perform. Now just a few meters away in the Olympia, great French singers like Patricia Kaas keep this tradition alive.
The Café de la Paix at the Place de l’Opéra has retained its original décor from the 19th century. Also the lobby of the Grand Hôtel (entrance in Rue Scribe 2) where the Café de la Paix is located worth a visit. This first luxury hotel in the world started, in 1862, the concept of “living while traveling”, for until the middle of the 19th century hotels were simple establishments in which even aristocrats could seldom find comfortable accommodation.
The continuation of the Boulevard des Capucines is formed by the Boulevard des Italiens. This is the the most popular section of the “old” Grands Boulevards with many restaurants and cafés, bank headquarters and cineplexes. The bank building at No. 20 is especially interesting. Above the first floor, which used to be a café, there is a beautifully carved frieze showing hunting scenes.
The Opéra Garnier, constructed between 1852 and 1875, is the epitome of the love of splendour which prevailed during the Second Empire. A tour of the interior (daily from 10 am to 4:30 pm) will make this clear. More than a third of the interior consists of function rooms: staircase, salons and galleries are solely intended to reflect the magnificence of the Second Empire and are devoted to the pastime of seeing and being seen.
The Opéra was not opened until 1875 – Napoleon III, who was taken prisoner by the Prussians at Sedan in 1870, was thus not able to perform this ceremony – for due to lack of finances and construction problems the work progressed slowly. An underground stream caused the excavated site to continually fill up with water and in the end it was decided to solve the problem by the construction of an artifical underground lake. The lake and the many corridors and halls inspired Gaston Leroux’s famous novel The Phamtom of the Opera (1910) which has been filmed several times and became the basis for a world-famous musical.
The present-day ceiling décor of the auditorium is of more modern origin than the rest of the building. Marc Chagall painted the most famous figures from the history of opera in bright colors on a large plastic screen whichwas then hung below the original ceiling paintings.
Galeries Lafayette and Printemps – Beware, Shopping Ecstasy!
Directly behind the Opéra on the Boulevard Haussmann are the most wellknown department stores in Paris. They are veritable temples of the consumer society, built at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries in a period in which the pursuit of luxury was an essential part of life – at least for those who could afford it. Galeries Lafayette (and Printemps, which is next door, both have huge domes reminiscent of the belle epoque churches; the selection of high-class goods is overwhelming.
Place Vendôme: Jewelers’ Square
Luxury is today still the predominant feature of the Rue de la Paix which connects Place de l’Opéra with Place Vendôme. The highpoint of these streets is without doubt the valuables in the shop windows of Cartier, where the heavy iron shutters are not rolled up until almost 11 a.m. Neither here, nor on the exhibits of the rival establishments which are situated side by side in the nearby Place Vendôme) – Van Cleef & Arpels, Chaumet, Boucheron will you find price tags. Not so at Armani, who has rented not one but two boutiques on Place Vendôme, the best possible neighborhood. And of course the first hotel of the square is here – the Ritz, opened in 1898 by the Swiss, César Ritz, once the home of Coco Chanel and one of Ernest Hemingway’s favourite bars, which was later named for him. Since the British King Edward VII stayed at the Ritz, prominent people are continually coming and going here. It was from the Ritz that Lady Diana left for what was to be her last journey.
In the center of Place Vendôme, commissioned by the Sun-King, Louis XIV, stands the 44-meter-high Napoleonic Column of Victory. The column was modeled on the antique Trajan column in Rome. It is decorated with bronze reliefs, made from melted down Austrian canons, which had been captured. The reliefs relate the story of the Austrian Campaign of the Grande Armée and the heroic deeds of the man who stands, clothed in a Roman toga, at the top of the column – the Emperor Napoleon I.
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