Friday, 14 September 2012

Paris off the beaten track: Two ancient Triumphal Arches

Paris is full of major must see monuments, sights, and museums. However, hidden within the small side streets of Paris and down some of the less traveled boulevards there are some hidden gems; secret sights that are off the beaten track but are well worth visiting. Not only will they give you some photos of Paris that are different from your friends and family, but they will also give you an insight into the real Paris of today, and the Paris of yesterday.

This weekend's off the beaten track site is two triumphal arches. Right down the road from each other in the 10th arrondissement these two ancient triumphal arches feel like they have been cast aside and forgotten as the town has grown up around them.

Both arches were built by the order of Louis XIV to replace gates (in French: portes) in the original (and now demolished) city walls of Paris. They both celebrate the victories of Louis XIV on the Rhine (over Germany) and in what is modern day Burgundy.

The first arch, is right outside the Strasbourg-Saint-Denis metro station: Porte Saint-Denis.

Porte Saint-Denis as seen from
Rue de Faubourg Saint-Denis

The Porte Saint-Denis, built in 1672, is on the intersection of Rue saint-Denis which turns into Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, and Boulevard de Bonne-Nouvelle which turns into Boulevard Saint-Denis. Porte Saint-Denis has a large central arch and used to have two smaller arches on each side to allow pedestrian traffic. These have now been sealed up.

The Porte Saint-Denis was the gate that the kings of France would use to return to Paris from religious services at the Basilica of Saint-Denis. Napoleon's troops also passed through the arch, entering the city in 1816 after his victorious campaign. The last sovereign to have passed through the arch was Queen Victoria when she visited Paris for the Universal Exposition in 1855.

The front face of the Porte Saint-Denis

The front face (facing North) has figures picturing the Rhine and Holland. The rear face (facing South) contains a sculpture of the passage of the Rhine.

Porte Saint-Denis looking to the North

On the top of the arch is inscribed the words: LVDOVICO MAGNO which can be translated as "Louis the Great".

Looking at the Porte Saint-Denis towards the North

One thing to note about the area directly around the Porte Saint-Denis is that it is the beginning of one of Paris' red light districts. Down the Rue Saint-Denis there is a lot of prostitution and adult themed shops, particularly further down. There is sometimes some of this activity across the road from the Porte but the area itself is perfectly safe and you are very very unlikely to have any trouble however, it is good to be aware.

Porte Saint Martin

If you walk 5 minutes down the road, away from the Opera House and away from Rue Saint Denis, staying on Boulevard Saint Denis (this is towards the Socitie General with its distinctive black and red square logo you will come to the second triumphal arch: Porte Saint Martin

Porte Saint Martin carvings.

The Porte Saint-Martin was built in 1674 the gate was designed by Pierre Bullet, who was a student of Francois Blondel who designed the nearby Porte Saint-Denis, at the command of Louis XIV. The gate was built on the site of one of the gates of the original, and now dismantled, Paris city walls. The arch celebrates the victories of Louis XIV on the Rhine and in modern day Burgundy.

Porte Saint Martin looking North
The monument is a triumphal arch made out of limestone and marble. The front (North) and back (South) have carved reliefs on them. The front on the left depicts the Capture of Limbourg portrayed by a woman setting next to a lion. The right side depicts the defeat of the Germans. Louis the XIV, depicted as the Greek God Mars, is portayed with the shield of France pushing back a German eagle. On the back (to the South), the left side depicts the breaking of the triple alliance with Louis XIV portrayed as Hercules and on the right side, the capture of Besancon where Louis XIV is dressed as the Greek God Fame and is standing in front of an olive tree retrieving keys from a woman.

How to get there: The Porte Saint-Martin and the Porte Saint-Denis can be accessed by taking the metro to the "Strasbourg Saint-Denis" station. This station is on the 4, 8, and 9 metro lines.

For other activities that are off the beaten track and to get a taste of the real France, explore options for day trips from Paris using public transport on

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