The Hidden Pearls of Paris
Paris is the most visited city in the world, possessing around 3800 monuments that 42 million tourists see every year. For the Eiffel Tower alone, there are 7 million visitors per year. Of course, not all of them come from the other side of the world to stare in awe at the titanic symbol of France, but it would be fair to say that a large majority are international. Versailles, the biggest and arguably most famous château in France, is rumoured to have up to 3 million visitors per year. Not as many as the Eiffel Tower, granted, but still an astonishing amount. But one must remember that Paris is not limited to these attractions. The Eiffel Tower is Paris, but the reciprocal cannot be said; Paris is much more, and people tend to forget that. Below are a few examples of wonderful places in Paris that don't get as much recognition as they deserve.
When you're in Paris, no-one can blame you for not visiting every single monument. You have to make a decision. The Louvre has to be on the list, and you have to go to at least the Sacré Coeur or Notre Dame. But still, there are some places that you may be forgetting. The Panthéon, for instance? The impressive mausoleum is home to the French "grands hommes", the figures that made France as powerful as it is today, the men who defined its culture through their ideas. Within its walls rests the likes of Victor Hugo, Pierre and Marie Curie, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Jean Moulin. Yet, even the French seem to forget the colossal monument which serves to recreate the collective memory of their nation.
Otherwise, how about the Catacombs? Did you even know that the French capital had an estimated 300km of sepulchral tunnels running underneath it? The Catacombs barely manage a quarter of a million visits per year, and most of those even come from the French themselves. The "city of the dead" holds the bones of over 6 million dead and serves as an intriguing repère in the history of Paris, when the cemeteries were overcrowded. The only solution found in the 12th century was the establishment of a mass burial ground for those who were incapable of paying for the climbing prices of a church burial. The immensity of the Catacombs can be explained in the following way: there are more dead residents in the Catacombs then there are living residents in Denmark (population of about 5.6 million). Therefore, the Catacombs of Paris are frighteningly amazing, but still receive 28 times less visitors than the Eiffel Tower.
Forgotten Cities - Saint-Germain-en-Laye
"Forgotten" is a slight exageration, but such an adjective may nonetheless be used. Let's take the example of Saint-Germain. A small city on the outskirts of Paris, it is nonetheless a part of Paris as from a historical point of view, it holds a very important role. Louis XIV, France's most famous king, was born in the Château-Neuf (greatly demolished during the Revolution, now converted into the hotel Henry IV) of Saint-Germain-en-Laye when Mazarin and Anne of Austria were forced to flee from Paris. The Royal Court was thereafter based in the Château Vieux (now simply called the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye) until 1982 and was therefore at the heart of France for half a century.
Despite being a prosperous city, it is not a tourist attraction. It is not one of the wonders of Paris, whereas in theory it holds great importance and deserves further recognition. The Château spawns from the 12th Century, and is a fine piece of architecure. It's gardens, designed by the revered André Le Notre, are a mastepiece and are used to host a number of events all year round. Le Notre can be considered as one of France's most famous landscape architect's, responsible for the luxurious gardens in Saint-Cloud, Chantilly and the extension of the Tuileries gardens, on top of the design and construction of the Versailles gardens.
The city is a host to a number of museums as well as celebrities as Saint-Germain-en-Laye is home to France's famous football club Paris Saint Germain, based at the Camps des Loges. We should also point out that Saint Germain has another castle, the Château d'Hennemont, built in 1906, and it was used by the Germans and later the Americans during the Second World War. Despite all this, people still see it as a quiet, peaceful town of the suburbs whereas it has the potential to be much more.
It's not the only area to be forgotten - next to the sheer size of central Paris, places like Vincennes and Fontainebleau have trouble to be spotted. It is important to remember that they are still a part of Paris; they add to its history, and its culture.
Houses of famous figures
This may be a slightly surprising addition but it is nonetheless, from a personal point of view, an extremely intriguing one. Paris was once home to a host of famous writers including Emile Zola, Alexandre Dumas, and even Leo Tolstoy near the end of his life. Now, the city allows people to visit the houses of these exceptional authors. It's like visiting Newton's house in the United Kingdom, in a way. However, once again these places are not subject to great flows of tourism. What people don't realise is the excitement that one experiences whilst inside one of these legendary places.
The example of Alexandre Dumas' home serves perfectly. Not only is the house itself quite extraordinary, to walk inside and see the original manuscripts and letters of the writer himself is awe-inspiring. It can serve as a "locus amoenus" to current writers but also as an inspiration to any other visitors. Dumas' house also provides the opportunity to take a tour of the vast gardens, and the mini-castle where Dumas kept his animals. A unique and wonderful destination, it is however ignored by the world. When I visited it, I didn't need to wait in any line to gain access to it's interior, and I certainly didn't struggle to move as one would in the Louvre or the Arc de Triomphe.
In the end, you could walk around Paris and find a building with an extraordinary history behind it. These are but a few examples to show the raw beauty and diversity that Paris actually holds. Of course its most famous attractions are breath-taking, but they shouldn't make people forget about the rest of a truly magical city.
Would you have any further examples of places that are "under-visited", even outside Paris?