What should you do while visiting this fabled city? Climb the Eiffel Tower, peruse great art at the Louvre, stroll along the Seine? Absolutely.
But in addition to the above, there is one more place you shouldn’t miss, the Musée d’Orsay.
What is The Musée d’Orsay?
The Musée d’Orsay was voted the best museum in the world by Trip Advisor’s Traveler’s Choice Award in 2018.
It is a marvel of Beaux-Arts beauty that houses the world’s largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art.
With works from 1848-1914, the Musée d’Orsay bridges the gap between the works of the Louvre which span a mind-boggling 25 centuries, from the 6th century BC to the end of the 19th century, and the Museum of Modern Art, whose works span from 1905 to the present day.
From Train Station to Art Museum
The building was originally a train station called Gare d’Orsay. It was designed to get visitors to the site of the Universal Exhibition of 1900.
The Gare d’Orsay sat on the left bank of the Seine, across from the Tuileries and kitty-corner from the Louvre. Because of this auspicious location, the exterior was designed to blend in with the existing architecture.
By 1939 the station had become obsolete because of changes in train design. The building was used for various functions including as a mail center during WWII, a theater, and an auction house. Eventually, it was decided that it would become an art museum.
The museum was inaugurated on Dec 1, 1986. Thankfully the beautiful Beaux-Arts style was preserved.
The Louvre vs. Musée d’Orsay
I have been fortunate to visit the Louvre three times and hope to visit it again. I believe that anyone visiting Paris should experience the Louvre at least once. As the world’s largest art museum with a collection that spans many centuries, you are sure to find something that interests you. But as much as I love visiting the Louvre, I enjoy the Musée d’Orsay more. This is why:
1. It is not intimidating. You can find your way around quite easily and take in a large part of the collection in one day.
Musée d’Orsay has 181,000 sq ft. (almost 17,000 sq. m.) of exhibition space while the Louvre has over 4 times as much. Because of its size, I have always felt a little lost at the Louvre.
To see all 35,000 items on display in the Louvre you would have to walk 9 miles. The Musée d’Orsay displays about 3,000 items at a time.
2. It is not as crowded as the Louvre even though it has over 3 million visitors per year, pandemics notwithstanding. The Louvre has over 10 million visitors per year. We visited Musée d’Orsay on a free day and we didn’t experience the cattle car feeling of the Louvre.
3. I can’t get enough of that gorgeous building.
A Few Pieces From the Collection
This is not the most well-known Starry Night, the one with 2/3 of the canvas filled with flowing and swirling stars and sky. That one can be seen in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Here is more information about these two paintings and the song Vincent by Don McLean.
When Steve and I began our full-time travels in 2018 the first two cities we visited were Barcelona and Paris. Talk about setting the bar high.
Between these two cities, three places ruined us for all others: La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona Versailles (near Paris) Cemetery Montmartre in Paris
You can read about why we think Cemetery Montmartre is the coolest cemetery in Paris here.
But right now it is my pleasure to share our impressions of The Palace and Estate of Versailles with you.
The Versailles We All Know
In 2005 I visited Paris with my daughter Stephanie as part of a school trip. One of the activities was a tour of the Palace of Versailles.
Our tour included the Palace and the Palace Gardens. We marveled at the over-the-top elegance including the hall of mirrors, heard the stories about people using the corners in the palace as restrooms during its heyday, and saw where Marie Antoinette gave birth in front of an audience. Here is an interesting article about royal birthing practices.
Then we spent some time in the palace’s gardens before heading back to Paris.
I came away from that experience amazed by the opulence and overwhelmed by the crowds. Little did I know that I had just scratched the surface of Versailles.
Estate of Versailles includes the Palace, the gardens, the park, the Trianon estate, and several buildings in town. It covers over 800 hectares or almost 2,000 acres.
A Second Look
Flash forward thirteen years to 2018. Steve and I spent a month in Paris as part of our new life as full-time travelers. We first visited Versailles as part of a bicycle tour on a dismal June day.
As we entered the grounds we were surrounded by open fields full a sheep!
We then proceeded to ride through the grounds where we visited the Trianon Estate, viewed several gardens, and enjoyed lunch on the patio at La Flottille.
At the end of our bicycle tour, we saw the Palace of Versailles. It was just as glorious as I remembered and it left a lasting impression on Steve. Every time we have visited a palace or grand home since then he says: “It’s not Versailles”. Indeed, not too many places can match the grandeur and mystique of this amazing building.
A Third Visit
Our tour through the palace during our bicycle tour had been rushed so we decided to go back on our own another day.
After we braved the crowds in the palace once more we spent the rest of the day exploring the grounds. Even after two days of visiting I feel as if we barely got to know it. We hope to one day return to the town of Versailles for an extended time and spend several days exploring the estate.
A (Very) Brief History of Versailles
This phenomenal place began as a simple hunting lodge for King Louis XIII. A small chateau was built on the site in 1624.
The construction of the palace began in 1661 under Louis XIV. The palace and its elaborate gardens were completed in 1710.
In 1687 King Louis XIV had the Grand Trianon Palace built on the palace grounds.
King Louis XV added the Petite Trianon Palace to the grounds in 1768.
In 1783, during the reign of Louis XVI the Queen’s Hamlet (Hameau de la Reine) was built.
The Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I between Germany and the Allies was signed in the Palace of Versaille in 1919.
The Trianon Estate
This section of the estate consists of 3 main areas described below: The Grand Trianon, The Petit Trianon, and The Queen’s Hamlet. The estate grew from the time of Louis XIII through Louis XVI. I find it hard to keep the Louis straight. I wish they had been more original when naming their heirs.
The Grand Trianon
This beautiful creation of pink marble and a type of rock called porphyry is located in the northwest corner of the estate. It was built in 1687 at the request of Louis XIV of France, who was known as The Sun King. He had it built as a place to escape the structures of life in the Palace of Versailles and spend time with his favorite mistress, Marquise de Montespan.
The Palace has two wings which each house a royal apartment. They are connected by a colonnade called The Peristyle.
The furnishings were lost during the French Revolution. They were replaced during the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte. Those are mostly what you will see in the palace.
This page on the en.chateauversailles.fr website is full of fascinating information about this palace.
The Grand Trianon Palace in history:
On June 4, 1920, the Trianon Treaty was signed here. The treaty formally ended World War I between most of the Allies of World War I and the Kingdom of Hungary. The result was that Hungary lost 70% of its land and all of its seaports. It remains a source of sorrow and anger for Hungarians a century later. Learn more about that in the article Hungary: Why is the Trianon Treaty So Controversial? from Kafkadesk.
From 1963 – 1966 the Grand Trianon was restored for use by President Charles de Gaulle.
The Petit Trianon
In the mid-1700s King Louis XV decided to build a chateau in the middle of his gardens. The three-story neoclassical building was completed in 1768. When Louis XV died in 1774 Louis XVI ascended the throne. He gifted the Petit Trianon to his wife, Marie-Antoinette.
The young queen used the Petit Trianon to escape the formality and demands of royal life. It is reported that she was in the garden in October of 1789 when first told of the armed crowd that would force the royal family to Paris during the early part of the French Revolution.
For one year, from 1794-1795, the furniture, artwork, and other valuables were auctioned off.
During the revolution the building was used as a hostel and a tavern, causing it to fall into disrepair. The building was restored by Napoleon I to be used by his sister and by the Empress Marie-Louise.
A century after The Grand Trianon Palace was built, a model village was added to the Trianon Estate. This village of small, rustic buildings formed a crescent around an artificial lake. It included a working farm that was used for the royal children’s education.
The buildings were not built for longevity and suffered from the weather during the French Revolution. From 1810-1812 Napoleon had most of them restored. A few were beyond repair and were demolished.
The hamlet underwent various restoration projects in the 20th century as well. One done in the 1930s was made possible by a donation from John D. Rockefeller.
In 2006 the farm was reconstructed and is currently home to many animals who are looked after by the Foundation for Animal Welfare.
Here is more information about this wonderful hamlet.
And There is Even More!
Did you know that the gardens on the estate boast over 200 statues, making it the largest open-air sculpture museum in the world?
There is also an orangery featuring orange, lemon, pomegranate, palm, and oleander trees. Some of the trees are more than 200 years old. They are housed in the Orangery during the winter and displayed outside in the summer.
As if that weren’t enough, you can visit the Gallery of Coaches in the Great Sables. Here you will marvel at the intricacy of the horse-drawn carriages of the past.
Whoo, That’s a Lot to See
All this information can be overwhelming. One thing is certain, the Estate of Versailles will provide days worth of exploration.
While researching this article I found out how little I know about Versaille’s complex and fascinating history. I have done my best to be accurate. If you find something that is incorrect, kindly let me know. Thank you.
Safe and happy traveling, Linda
One Last Thing
While researching this article I discovered a fundraising campaign on the Chateau de Versailles website to replace funds lost because of reduced attendance during the pandemic. If you love Versailles and can afford to help here is the information.
When Steve and I started traveling in 2018 the first two cities we spent a long time in were Barcelona and Paris. Talk about setting the bar high.
Between these two cities there were three places that spoiled us for all others: La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona Versailles near Paris Cemetery Montmartre in Paris
Every time we visit a house of worship, a palace, or a cemetery we can’t help comparing it to these three places.
It is my pleasure to share our impressions of Paris’s Cemetery Montmartre with you. Hopefully you will be inspired to visit it if you haven’t already.
A Fascinating Yet Gruesome Start
The problems caused by overcrowding in Paris’s main cemetery, Cimitiere des Innocents, reached a head in 1780 when a wall of a mass grave collapsed, sending corpses tumbling into an adjacent basement. This was the last straw for Cimitiere des Innocents. This cemetery in Paris’s 1st arrondissement had been a concern because of the vast amount of bodies buried there so close to the populous. The city could no longer continue to add to the body count that had been growing for at least six centuries.
Like something out of a horror movie, the remains from Cimitiere des Innocents were eventually relocated. For two years carts covered with black veils would journey through the streets of Paris at night, accompanied by chanting priests. The new resting place was an abandoned quarry in the 14th arrondissement which is now known as The Catacombs.
When the gruesome work was done, Cimitiere des Innocents was destroyed.
Four New Cemeteries Are Born
During this time dozens of parish graveyards, but the city leaders saw the need for more cemeteries in which to bury the newly dead. They also wanted them to be placed far from the city center.
To fill this need, four cemeteries were founded outside the city limits. Montmartre to the north, Montparnasse to the south, Pere Lachaise to the east, and Passy to the west.
The first of the four new cemeteries to open was Pere Lachaise in 1804. In the approximately 25 years from the closure of the Cimitiere des Innocents until the opening of Pere Lachaise Cemetery, the dead were buried in the existing cemeteries.
Montmartre: Not the Most Celebrated Parisian Cemetery
Many lists of the best cemeteries to visit include Pere Lachaise. It has many famous residents including:
Frederic Chopin – Composer, pianist Jim Morrison – lead singer for The Doors Edith Piaf – singer, songwriter, actress Oscar Wilde – writer
Pere Lachaise is more than double the size of any other cemetery in Paris and about four times the size of Cemetery Montmartre.
It is definitely worth a visit but after visiting both Steve and I preferred Montmartre for three reasons:
First, Montmartre is set on many levels because it is built on an abandoned gypsum quarry. This makes for a more interesting walk and provides more exciting vistas than the flatter Pere Lachaise.
Second, Montmartre is the artistic neighborhood of the same name. Therefore, many of the people buried here were active in the arts, resulting in some unique monuments.
Third, Montmartre is part of its neighborhood. The vibrance of the area (and how can you not love Montmartre?) can be felt since the cemetery is literally in the thick of things.
Cemetery Montmartre History and Facts
Cemetery Montmartre was established in an abandoned gypsum quarry that had been used as a mass grave during the French Revolution. The fact that it was a big hole in the ground accounts for its unique topography.
The cemetery opened January 1, 1825 in Paris’s 18th arrondissement.
Its official name is the Cimetiere du Nord.
Its original name was Cimetière des Grandes Carrieres or the Cemetery of the Large Quarries. Why do things always sound more elegant in French?
Cemetery Montmartre covers over 25 acres (10.48 hectares) and is the third-largest in Paris. Pere Lachaise is the largest, and Montparnasse is the second largest.
The Cemetery has always had just one entrance. It is at 20 Avenue Rachel under Rue Caulaincourt.
In 1888 a bridge, the Pont de Caulaincourt, was built over the cemetery. The original plan was to relocated the burial sites that were under the bridge. Some families objected so the bridge was built over some sites.
Here is an interesting article that explains more of the history of the bridge over the cemetery.
Who’s Buried in Cemetery Montmartre
I knew that the artist Edger Degas was buried in Cemetery Montmartre and I kept this in mind as I strolled past numerous tombs. At one point I passed one the said Famille de Gas. I thought to myself, what an unfortunate last name (thinking of the English “gas”, not the French).
I finally resorted to looking up Degas’s grave using Find a Grave. Famille de Gas WAS Degas’s gravesite.
The French novelist, playwright, and journalist was originally buried in Montmartre. Five years later his remains were relocated to the Pantheon, the mausoleum where many great French leaders, scientists, writers, and artists are interred.
Being from the U.S. I had never heard of Dalida, but her compelling memorial made me want to learn more.
Dalida was the professional name of a famous French singer from 1956 to 1987. She was very successful in Europe even though she did not release her music to the U.S. or U.K. markets.
She faced many struggles in her personal life including the suicides of several people with whom she was close. She committed suicide in 1987 at the age of 54.
The next time you find yourself in Paris be sure to visit Cemetery Montmartre at 20 Avenue Rachel, 75018.
So Many Cemeteries, So Little Time
During the past few years, we have visited cemeteries in several cities. Of all of cemeteries we have seen so far, Cemetery Montmartre continues to hold a special place in our hearts. But the world is big and there is so much more to see.
Have you been to Cemetery Montmartre? Did you fall in love with it too?
Which cemeteries around the world have you visited and have any of them spoiled you for all others?
Safe and Happy Traveling, Linda
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