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Take a Tour of Victor Hugo’s Paris

As a film version of his Les Misérables hits theaters, consider traveling in the French writer’s footsteps

  • By Nina Fedrizzi
  • Smithsonian.com, December 24, 2012
It was at the La Comédie-Française where Hugo brought his controversial new play, “Hernani,” that became a spark plug for Paris’s greater societal and political tensions (Wiki Commons/Frank Scherschel/Getty)

It was at the La Comédie-Française where Hugo brought his controversial new play, “Hernani,” that became a spark plug for Paris’s greater societal and political tensions (Wiki Commons/Frank Scherschel/Getty)

Legend has it that Victor Hugo, the prolific French scribbler whose body of published work amounts to seven novels, 18 volumes of poetry and 21 plays, also holds the record for the world’s shortest correspondence. In 1862, while in exile on the British Isle of Guernsey for speaking out against Napoleon III, Hugo telegrammed his publisher “?” demanding the reaction to the release of his latest novel, Les Misérables. The reply: “!”

Take a Tour of Victor Hugo's ParisThis crimson-draped drawing room is where Victor Hugo solidified his position as the father of French Romanticism. The now museum used to be Hôtel de Rohan-Guéménée where Hugo lived from 1832 to 1848.Photograph by Flickr user Hotels Paris Rive GauchePhotos from: "Take a Tour of Victor Hugo's Paris" »

Take a Tour of Victor Hugo’s Paris
This crimson-draped drawing room is where Victor Hugo solidified his position as the father of French Romanticism. The now museum used to be Hôtel de Rohan-Guéménée where Hugo lived from 1832 to 1848.
Photograph by Flickr user Hotels Paris Rive Gauche
Photos from: “Take a Tour of Victor Hugo’s Paris” »

A century and a half later, “!” is still an apt description of Hugo’s epic masterpiece, which is still spawning numerous iterations on the page, stage and screen. In fact, many modern admirers may only be familiar with the iconic, 1980 musical production of the story created by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg. It is this stage version of Les Misérables that will be brought to life again this month in director Tom Hooper’s film starring Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, the redeemed convict who prevails in the face of repeated persecution, and Anne Hathaway as the downtrodden single-mother, Fantine. Amanda Seyfried will play Valjean’s adopted daughter, Cosette.

“The story is, in many ways, a love affair with Paris,” says Kathryn Grossman, a French professor at Pennsylvania State University who has authored four books on Hugo and Les Misérables. She notes that at the time of its release, Les Mis was both a call to arms for the French people and a lamentation of the “old Paris” that Hugo loved.

The controversial urban planner, Baron Haussmann, razed much of Hugo’s old Paris in the mid-19th century while the writer was in exile. The labyrinth of narrow, interweaving streets and hidden neighborhoods, relics of the medieval age, was leveled into the broad, sidewalk-bordered avenues that define modern Paris. This was both an effort to quell the city’s rampant congestion and the disease it fostered, and to prevent the building of revolution barricades. Today, though, it is still possible for travelers to find echoes of the Paris that Hugo once knew, from the house where he lived and the places he frequented, to the subterranean abyss that haunts the pages of the author’s most enduring novel.

Maison de Victor Hugo

The first stop for any Hugophile in Paris is undoubtedly the writer’s home-turned-museum on the second floor of the Hôtel de Rohan-Guéménée, where he lived from 1832 to 1848 with his wife Adèle and their four children. It was in this apartment, in the crimson-draped drawing room, that Hugo solidified his position as the father of French Romanticism. It is also the place where he wrote two collections of poetry, plays such as “Ruy Blas” and “Les Burgraves,” and a portion of Les Misérables. He started Les Mis in 1845 and worked for 17 years, spending the entire last year at Guernsey making corrections—eight hours a day—to the manuscript.

The museum is divided to illustrate the three sections of Hugo’s life: before, during and after exile. It contains hundreds of his drawings and is decorated with artifacts collected by the writer during his travels. The China Room exhibition, which represents his exile in Guernsey, was designed by Hugo for his mistress, Juliette Drouet, and is scattered with romantic allusions to her.

6 Place des Vosges 75004 Paris Tel: 01 42 72 10 16 Metro: Bastille, Saint-Paul ou Chemin Vert

Hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm; closed on Mondays and public holidays

Admission: Free for permanent collections

Church of Saint Paul – Saint Louis

Located in the Marais neighborhood, this Baroque church serves as the setting for Cosette and Marius’s nuptials in Les Mis. After the wedding, Hugo writes, “People halted in the Rue Saint-Antoine, in front of Saint-Paul, to gaze through the windows of the carriage at the orange-flowers quivering on Cosette’s head.” The Jesuits constructed Saint Paul-Saint Louis from 1627 to 1641, and the church’s 180-foot dome, intricate carvings and shadowy corners appear much as they did 200 years ago. Hugo was a parishioner of the church and donated the shell-shaped holy water fonts on either side of the entrance. Like Cosette, Hugo’s daughter Léopoldine was married in Saint-Paul in 1843.

99 Rue Saint-Antoine 75004 Paris Metro: Saint-Paul

Jardin du Luxembourg

Paris’s second largest park is one of the most beloved spots in the city, for locals and visitors alike. Just south of Luxembourg Palace, where the French Senate meets, the garden was created in the early 1600s by Marie de Medici and modeled after parks in her native Florence. Hugo was just one of many writers to appreciate Luxembourg’s charms: Baudelaire, Sartre, Balzac and Hemingway were also frequent guests. In Les Mis, Luxembourg’s tree-lined alleyways and private nooks offer the perfect place for Marius to observe Valjean and Cosette on their daily trips to the park, and later to catch Cosette’s attention for the first time, “one day, when the air was warm, the Luxembourg was inundated with light and shade… [and] the sparrows were giving vent to little twitters in the depths of the chestnut trees.”

Rue de Médicis Rue de Vaugirard 75006 Paris Tel: 01 42 64 33 99 Metro: Odéon

Hours: Opens between 7:15 a.m. and 8:15 a.m. and closes between 2:45 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., depending on the season

La Comédie-Française

Louis XIV established the world’s longest-running national theater in 1680 with a royal decree signed at Versailles. In 1830, Hugo—by then a driving literary force in Paris—set out to bring Romanticism to the steadfastly conservative Comédie-Française with his controversial new play, Hernani. While the critics organized to boo the play off the stage, Hugo found himself at the head of a young Romantic army, literally. His supporters arrived opening night dressed in eccentric outfits, ate and relieved themselves in the theater, and rose to meet their bourgeois dissenters with applause, jeers and fisticuffs. The ‘Battle of Hernani,’ as the melee was later known, played out 39 times, and it became a spark plug for Paris’s greater societal and political tensions. Today, visitors to the company’s three theaters can enjoy tamer shows by some of its most famous playwrights, Jean-Baptiste Molière and Jean Racine, and even Hugo’s “Hernani,” which will run through February 2013.

Salle Richelieu (company’s main theater) 2 Rue de Richelieu 75001 Paris Tel: 33 825 10 16 80 Metro: Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre

Le Grand Véfour

One of Hugo’s favorite spots to eat was the Grand Véfour in the Palais-Royal, which first opened its doors (as the Café de Chartres) in 1784. Though the menu has changed, the restaurant’s gilded frames, neoclassical paintings and mirrored walls are original. During the 19th century, the Véfour served as a hangout for the literary elite; Hugo and his friends even ate there before the “Battle of Hernani.” The writer’s order was always the same: vermicelli noodles, mutton and white beans. Today, the Michelin-starred restaurant, helmed by Chef Guy Martin, is known for rich French dishes such as duck liver ravioli and Prince Rainier III pigeon. Reserve a seat at the “Hugo table” near the window, with its courtyard view.

17 Rue de Beaujolais 75001 Paris Tel: 33 1 42 96 56 27 Metro: Pyramides, Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre

Notre-Dame Cathedral

The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1831), Hugo’s great tale about a disfigured bell ringer and a 12th-century cathedral, made him the most famous writer in Europe. Hugo was a frequent visitor to the church, and at its heart, Hunchback is a story about preservation; when the book was published, most Parisians­—when they thought of it at all—saw Notre-Dame as a shabby, moth-eaten antiquity. The novel’spopularity drew thousands of tourists to the grand edifice on the Îsle de la Cité, a natural island in the Seine, and it was finally restored in 1844. Today, visitors still flock for a chance to view the cathedral’s Gothic bell towers, flying buttresses and rosace stained-glass windows. Notre Dame offers free, hour-long tours each day, with information on its history, architecture and more.

6 Parvis Notre-Dame, Place Jean-Paul II 75004 Paris Metro: Cité or Saint-Michel

Hours: Mon-Fri, 8 a.m. to 6:45 p.m.; Sat-Sun, 8 a.m. to 7:15 p.m.

Musée des Égouts de Paris (Paris Sewer Museum)

Paris’s underworld features heavily in Les Misérables, most famously its sewers, which once branched for a hundred miles beneath the city’s cobbled streets. It is here that Jean Valjean escapes in one of the book’s most dramatic scenes, fleeing the barricade with a wounded Marius on his back. “An abrupt fall into a cavern; a disappearance into the secret trapdoor of Paris; to quit that street where death was on every side, for that sort of sepulchre where there was life, was a strange instant,” writes Hugo. Baron Haussmann’s overhaul left few stones unturned, including the black, squalid sewer tunnels of Hugo’s day. But, visitors to the city can still catch a glimpse of Paris’ underground at the Musée des Égouts, which offers hour-long tours chronicling the sewer system’s modern development—no hazmat suit required.

Face au 93 Quai d’Orsay 75007 Paris Tel: 33 1 53 68 27 81 Metro: Alma-Marceau

Hours: Mon-Wed, Sat-Sun 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (October-April), 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (May-September), Closed Thursday and Friday.

Admission: adult/child €4.30/3.50

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Hippolyte Teterger Watch and Chatelaine

Watch and ChatelaineSource: metmuseum.org

Watchmaker: Hippolyte Téterger

                    Date:
                    ca. 1870–78
                    Culture:
                    French (Paris)
                    Medium:
                    Gold, platinum and diamonds
                    Dimensions:
                    overall: 6-1/2 x 2-3/8 in.  (16.5 x 6.0 cm); diam.  of watch:  1-1/4 in. (3.2 cm)
                    Classification:
                    Horology
                    Credit Line:
                    Gift of Cele H. and William B. Rubin, 1959
                    Accession Number:
                    59.43 a-c

                    Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

  • Signature: [1]  Téterger/ 31 RUE ST AUGUSTIN/ Paris (inner back plate of watch, script and print) [2]  HIPPTE TETERGER/H.T. DÉPOSE (stamped on back of chatelaine)
    Marking: [1]  chimera (mark for gold watches and clocks imported into France, 1838-1893) [2]  small crab (mark for gold and silver imported from countries with customs conventions, 1864 to present) Location of marks: 1:  on inside of inner back plate of watch 2:  on tongue of chatelaine

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Most Romantic Places in Paris

Source: www.travelchannel.comBy: Kwin Mosby

Visiting Paris? Take your significant other to one of the city’s most romantic spots, including the Eiffel Tower, The Wall of “I Love You’s,” Luxembourg Gardens or Île Saint Louis on the Seine.

Arc de Triomphe

Photography by Thinkstock

Montmartre Montmartre is set on a hill in northern Paris. It’s a great spot to take your significant other for break-taking views of the city. Wander through the narrow, winding streets lined with small cafes and shops. Salvador Dali, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh were just a few well-renowned artists who had studios or worked in the Parisian neighborhood.

Click Here to View 16 Photo www.travelchannel.com

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Palais de L’Ile – Annecy, France

Photograph by Aaron Black / Aurora Photos

No, you’re not in Venice. Travel to the town of Annecy, in southern France, and you’ll discover Thiou, a canal along which stands a centuries-old castle: Palais de I’Isle (or Island Palace). Built in 1132 as the fortified home of the Lord of Annecy, the residence later saw many other uses: a courthouse, a mint and even a jail from the Middle Ages until 1865, then briefly again during WW II. Today, it’s home to a local history museum. Source: www.travelchannel.com

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Top Ten Paris Museums

Source: goparis.about.com By , About.com Guide

Although some people argue that Paris has been trumped by New York or Berlin in the realm of artistic vibrancy, it’s still a place where the arts are revered and new talent is rigorously spotlighted, and top Paris museums generally strive to both preserve artistic legacy and expose the public to exciting contemporary artists. Housing some of the globe’s most important and rich collections, these top ten Paris museums are outstanding for their breadth, accessibility to all and historic importance.

The Louvre1

The Apollo Gallery at the Louvre Museum in Paris is one of the more sumptuous rooms.2©2007 Musee du Louvre/Angele Dequier

To learn the Louvre3 in and out, you might need a lifetime. Still, one has to start somewhere. The site of the world’s largest and most diverse collection of pre-20th century painting, sculpture, and decorative objects, The Louvre is generally considered Paris’ most important museum. Not forgetting the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo, bask in the works of Vermeer, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and countless others. The palace itself is testament to a rich history spanning from the medieval period to the present. The adjacent Tuileries gardens are perfect for a stroll pre-or post-visit.

Read Further:

National Museum of Modern Art at the Centre Pompidou10

The National Museum of Modern Art at the Centre Pompidou.11©2007 Courtney Traub.

Inaugurated in 1977 as part of the the bold postmodern venture that marked the opening of the Centre Georges Pompidou12, the National Museum of Modern Art (MNAM) houses one of the world’s most prestigious collections of 20th-century art.

Hosting nearly 50,000 works of painting, sculpture, architecture, and other media, the permanent collection at the National Museum of Modern Art is freshly curated every year to reflect new acquisitions. Two floors cover major 20th-century movements, from Cubism to Surrealism and Pop Art. The temporary collections are nearly always worth a visit, too.

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Musée d’Orsay16

A view of the main floor at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.17©2003 Alexander Franke

Walk over the bridge from the Louvre to the Musée d’Orsay18— and see the bridge between classical and modern art. Housing the world’s most important collection of impressionist and post-impressionist painting, the Musée d’Orsay’s light, airy rooms whir you through three floors of modern wonders, from Degas’ ethereal dancers to Monet’s water lilies, all the way to Gaugin’s leafy jungles. Major works by Van Gogh, Delacroix, Manet, and others await you, too.

Read Further:

Petit Palais22

The Petit Palais in Paris features masterpieces by Cezanne, Monet and others.23©2006 Claude Cf. Some rights reserved under the Creative Commons License.

The completely-renovated Petit Palais24, situated near the prestigious Champs-Elysées, houses 1300 works from the antiquity through the early 20th century, featuring masterpieces by Courbet, Cezanne, Monet, and Delacroix. Admission to the permanent collection is free for all, while temporary collections are free for visitors under the age of 13.

Also See:

Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris28

The Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris is housed in the Palais de Tokyo.292009 Karl Blackwell. Some rights reserved under the Creative Commons license.

Contemporary art buffs are behooved to pay a visit to the city of Paris’ museum of modern art30, created in 1961 and housed in the distinctive Palais de Tokyo, itself opened during the 1937 Universal Exposition. Featuring over 8,000 works spanning all major trends in 20th and 21st century arts, the Museum of Modern Art of Paris hosts a constant stream of exciting temporary exhibits, more recently exploring the works of photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson and American artist Elaine Sturtevant. The terrace outside the palace affords a striking and head-on view of the Eiffel Tower31.

Cluny Museum – National Medieval Museum33

The Lady and the Unicorn is a 15th century tapestry housed at the Musee Cluny in Paris.34©2006 La Cade Photo de Got. Some rights reserved under the Creative Commons License.

This museum dedicated to the medieval period– exploring both art and daily life in the “Moyen Age”– is one of the city’s best, but is often overlooked. Housed in the striking Hotel de Cluny35, a late 15th century Abbey, the museum is built above Gallo-Roman thermal baths built between the 1st and 3rd centuries– parts of which can be visited. The permanent collection’s “crown jewel” is a 15th century tapestry, The Lady and the Unicorn36, much revered for its sumptuous colors and enigmatic allegorical symbolism. The grounds also include a garden meant to mimic medieval aromatic and medicinal gardens, providing a pleasant place to read or slowly stroll.

Rodin Museum38

Auguste Rodin, "Fugit Amor", detail, before 1887.39Image courtesy of the Rodin Museum.

This museum consecrated to French sculptor Auguste Rodin 40is one of Paris’ finest, and offers a multifaceted look at Rodin’s complex body of work, in addition to works from his brilliant student Camille Claudel, among others. In addition to iconic works such “The Thinker”, the museum hosts an extensive sculpture garden that’s a true pleasure to stoll, or think (as it were) in.

See More: Musée Rodin Visitor’s Guide41

Musée Carnavalet – Museum of Paris History43

The Musee Carnavalet in Paris includes ornate gardens.44©2009 IZ Mendoza. Some rights reserved under the Creative Commons License.

Anyone wishing to understand Paris’ multi-tiered, complex history would do well to pay a visit to the Carnavalet Museum. Housed within the walls of two Renaissance-era mansions, the Hotel de Carnavalet and the Hotel Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau (built in the 16th and 17th centuries, respectively), the Carnavalet Museum’s permanent collection traces the history of Paris across over 100 rooms. This exhibit is free of charge to all visitors, and arguably tops the list of Paris’ free museums45. The museum also hosts a series of temporary exhibits highlighting various periods or aspects of the Parisian heritage.

See more about the Carnavalet in this video about the Marais neighborhood in Paris46.

Musée du Luxembourg48

A retrospective on Matisse at the Musee du Luxembourg in 2005.49Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Situated on the stately grounds of the Luxembourg Gardens, this museum is one of Europe’s oldest, and was opened in 1750 as France’s first state-run collection of paintings. It hosts a a small number of temporary exhibits per year, but these are almost always highly anticipated and popular with the general public. Exhibits in recent years have focused on artists including Modigliani and Vlaminck.

Musee Jacquemart-André50

St-George and the Dragon by Paolo Uccello, at the Jacquemart-Andre museum.512009 NCaballe. Some rights reserved under the Creative Commons license.

This is another lesser-known gem in the Paris arts scene that focuses on masterpieces in 18th century painting. Housed in a 19th century private mansion, the Jacquemart-Andre museum52 was founded by art collector Edouard André and focuses on works from French painters including Jean Marc Nattier, Elizabeth Vigée-Lebrun, Fragonard or Jacques-Louis David.

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