France is well known for its history and culture, and the monuments to represent them. Here are 10 inspirational illustrations of some of France’s most famous landmarks:
1 - Palace of Versailles, Versailles
The Palace of Versailles is probably the most significant symbol of French opulence. Listed as a World Heritage Site for 40 years, the original plans for this palace were developed by Le Vau, Louis XIV's architect. His successors then gradually added to its magnificence until the French Revolution in 1789. With more than 2300 rooms, a spectacular geometric garden, and an iconic Hall of Mirrors, there is no doubt why this place was once called "the most beautiful house ever".
2 - Eiffel Tower, Paris
France's most famous monument. Once the tallest building in the world, it was conceived by Gustave Eiffel to celebrate the French Revolution's centennial during the Exposition Universelle in 1889. What most people ignore is that the Eiffel Tower was meant to be a temporary structure demolished twenty years after its construction. However, with the development of radio communication, it quickly became a strategic asset for the French military, and the city of Paris decided to keep it. It has since been ranked as the most-visited paid monument in the world, with over a quarter of a billion visitors. The observation deck at its top is the highest in the European Union. The tower also houses two restaurants, one of which has a Michelin star.
3 - Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris
The cathedral of Our Lady of Paris, better known as Notre-Dame, is one of the symbols of Paris' reputation as the "City of Love". Its colorful rose-tinted windows, wooden rib-vaulted ceiling, and impressive gargoyles make it a masterpiece of gothic architecture. The cathedral was the primary setting of Victor Hugo's novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, later turned in popular culture into a Disney film. It is currently being restored after being nearly destroyed in a fire in 2019.
4 - Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, Paris
Overlooking the rest of Paris at 130 m altitude, the Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur is a monument of French resilience. Built right after France’s defeat in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, its purpose was to instill a sense of "national moral resurgence". Located on the hill of Montmartre, which in ancient French signifies "Mount of Martyrs", its tall structure is visible from almost anywhere in Paris.
5 - Arc de Triomphe, Paris
Napoleon's Arc de Triomphe, or Triumphal Arch in English, was built over a period of 57 years to commemorate the victories of the Grande Armée. It echoes the roman triumphal arcs, which served the same purpose. Nowadays, visitors can access the roof and have an amazing view of Paris' monuments and skyline. It also has many replicas worldwide, from New York to Bucharest to New Delhi.
6 - Mont-Saint-Michel, Normandy
The Abbey at Mont-Saint-Michel is the most visited monument in France outside of the Parisian region. Dating back to the 6th century, Mont-Saint-Michel's town, abbey, and fortification are hotly contested between Brittany and Normandy. Both claim ownership of the wonder. Built in a marsh, it is a tidal island, accessible by land only at certain times of the day - although a bridge now permanently links it to the mainland.
7 - Notre-Dame de la Garde, Marseille
The basilica is Marseille’s most visited site. It was built on the foundations of an ancient fort at the highest natural point in Marseille, which overlooks the old port. Locally known as ‘La Bonne Mère’ (the good mother), its interior is colorful with lots of mosaics and stained glass windows. Meticulously restored from 2001 to 2008, it is today an inspirational sight for all of Marseille.
8 - Château de Chambord, Loire Valley
The Loire Valley is home to France's most beautiful castles, and the Château de Chambord is probably the most famous one. Originally built as a hunting lodge, it gradually became the most recognizable castle in France thanks to its sumptuous design that symbolizes the Renaissance. It is speculated that Leonardo Da Vinci participated in the chateau's design, notably for its enigmatic staircase.
9 - Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg, Alsace
The Haut-Kœnigsbourg is a medieval castle in France’s eastern region of Alsace. For a long time, the French ignored it due to high animosity with Germany. Indeed, the castle was built with heavy Germanic influence and restored by the german empire when it had annexed Alsace before the First World War. Now one of the most visited sites in the country, it is much appreciated by French and foreigners alike.
10 - Carcassonne, Occitanie
The medieval fortified city of Carcassonne, located in Southern France, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Exceptionally preserved and restored, it is a fantastic representation of the architecture and organization of a medieval fortress town. Carcassonne is the perfect destination for history lovers looking to get soaked in the medieval atmosphere while enjoying a sunny day in Southern France.
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