In the heart of Paris is the Place de la Concorde, and in the heart of the Place de la Concorde is Cleopatra’s Needle, also referred to as the Obelisk of Luxor—which is its more accurate name since the obelisk is from Luxor and has nothing to do with Cleopatra, since it is over 1000 years older than Cleopatra. The 3,300-year-old obelisk was placed in Paris to mark the spot where the guillotine stood during the French Revolution. A lot of heads rolled here, and the obelisk with its red granite column and flashy gilded hieroglyphics, makes sure that visitors at least look at this spot, even if we don’t acknowledge the countless lives that were taken here. While it’s a little odd for an Egyptian obelisk to serve as a prominent marker for such a defining moment in French history, the obelisk was a gift to France from Egypt in 1829 and perhaps represents the global respect paid to this capital of fashion, art, and culture. Still, the obelisk’s hieroglyphics praise the reign of Pharaoh Ramses II, not France. So, it’s still a little odd to see the obelisk in the heart of Paris. I like it, though!
TIP: Place de la Concorde is the prime spot to get a good feel for the layout of Paris’ main tourist destinations. If you imagine the square as the center of a clock, and make West your 12 o’clock point, you will be facing the grand Avenue de Champs Elysees with the Arc de Triomphe at its end point. At your 2 o’clock point is the American Embassy behind a patch of trees (if you have emergency or passport issues, go there). At your 3 o’clock point are two identical stone buildings. (The west building is Hotel Crillon where you can eat a very French & very expensive dinner or lunch for between 80 and 120 Euro PER PERSON—if you want to splurge. Reservations required. And, the east building is the French Naval Ministry). Between Hotel Crillon & the Naval Ministry is the church of the Madeleine. At your 5 o’clock is the starting point of the covered arcade of shops and cafes that line the Rue de Rivoli (Eat at Angelina’s or, at the very least, drink their famous hot chocolate). At your 6 o’clock are the Tuileries Gardens with the Louvre Palaces behind them. (Notre Dame & Sainte Chappelle are not in view, but they are 2 miles directly behind the Louvre if you walk along the river.) At your 7 o’clock in the corner of the Tuileries and along the river is the Orangerie Museum where Monet’s Waterlilies are. (The D’Orsay Museum is not in view, but it is the building with twin giant clocks across the river from the Orangerie, ½ mile away). At your 9 o’clock point is the Concorde Bridge which you would use to reach the National Assembly buildings that are at your 10 o’clock point. (Behind the National Assembly is the golden dome of the Infideles church where Napoleon is buried and sharing a street with the church is the Rodin Museum). Finally, at the 11 o’clock point is the Eiffel Tower. In short, the Place de la Concorde is a fantastic orientation point to visit on the first day of your trip in order to get a strong grasp of the layout of most of Paris’ main sights. You will not get lost in Paris if you use the Place de la Concorde as your central reference point.
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