Pet Cemetery

Just outside Paris, in the suburb of Asnières-sur-Seine, you can find what is said to be the oldest pet cemetery in the world, officially called “Le Cimetière des Chiens” (The Dog Cemetery), but where since 1899 some 40-50.000 not only dogs, but also cats, horses, rabbits, a monkey, a lion, even a fish… are buried.

The place is quite beautiful, situated along the Seine River, on what once was an island. The entrance is imposing in art nouveau style.

You find some monuments and some monumental graves. Close to the entrance is a monument dedicated to the Saint Bernard dogs in general, and more particularly to “Barry”, supposed to have saved the lives of 40 people. (“Barry” himself can be found stuffed and on display at the Swiss Natural History Museum in Bern.)

There are a number of really serious-looking tombs, but some of them reflect a lot of imagination and – of course – love. You can e.g. find some toys, including worn out tennis balls. Some dogs have been heroes during wars, some are known as "actors"... On many graves you can read "To my only friend".

The most famous dog buried here is probably “Rin Tin Tin”. He was found, in bad shape, by an American soldier during WWI, who brought him to the States. Darryl Zanuck heard about the story and made “Rin Tin Tin” to a movie star during the 1920’s. Some successful films starring “Rin Tin Tin” were even said to have saved Warner Bros. from bankruptcy and he has got his star on Hollywood Boulevard (Walk of Fame). “Rin Tin Tin” obviously died in the arms of Jean Harlow, in 1932, and his remains were returned to his homeland. “Rin Tin Tin’s” sons, grandsons… later starred in other films and especially in a long lasting television series.

Recently, there was news about an expensive diamond encrusted dog collar, which had been stolen from the grave of a poodle, named “Tipsy”. The grave now looks fine again, but obviously the collar has not yet been found.

I was a bit confused when I found this tomb. (Well, I wasn’t born in 1999.)


More about the "Invalides" - bis

As I stated in my previous post about the “Invalides”, its history is much dominated by Louis XIV, who decided on its construction, and by Napoleon … and I indicated that I would revert to the Napoleon part.

As I already I mentioned in the previous post, Napoleon was of course guilty of creating a high number of invalids, wounded soldiers, who were taken care of here and he paid regular visits to the "Invalides" to see them.

Napoleon is present in the major courtyard by the statue which once stood on top of the Vendôme Column (see previous post). In the meantime it had spent a few years on the bottom of the Seine River.

As we know, Napoleon spent his last years (1815-21) on the Saint Helena Island in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean, where he was also interred. Louis Philippe (French King 1830-48) decided in 1840 that his remains should be brought back to Paris. Arriving by a sailing vessel to Cherbourg, the coffin was transferred to a steamer, then again to a smaller vessel and brought on the Seine to Courbevoie, a Paris suburb, and finally in great pomp to the Invalides, December 15, 1840. (The Saint Helena tomb can now be seen in an inner courtyard at the Invalides.)

It took until 1861, until his final place of rest, as we can see it today, designed by Ludivico Visconti (the film director was of the same family), was ready. A lower level was created in what used to be the Royal Chapel, under the dome (see again previous post). Some other imminent war personalities - Foch, Vauban... have their tombs on the upper level.

On the entrance portal leading down to the tomb you can read “I wish that my ashes lie on the banks of the Seine, amidst the French people that I so loved”. 

The tomb is in red porphyry, on a granite base and circled by a crown of laurels and inscriptions.

You can down there also find another statue of Napoleon and, in front of it, the tomb of his son, Napoleon II, who died at the age of 21 and “reigned” for all together two weeks – in 1814 and 1815 – at the age of three or four. His ashes were brought here 100 years after those of his father, in 1940 … on the order of Hitler.

Talking about the son Napoleon II; his mother was Marie-Louise of Austria, Napoleon’s second wife. Napoleon never had any children with his first wife, Josephine…, but he had – at least – two, acknowledged, illegitimate sons, one with a short time mistress (Eléonore Denuelle de la Plaigne), Charles Léon, or Count Léon (1806-81) and one with a long-time beloved mistress, Marie Walewska, of whom there is a painting in one of the Invalides rooms. Their son, Alexandre Walewski (1810-68) later became the French Minister  of Foreign Affairs and Minister of State. He in his turn had an illegitimate, but again recognized, son with a famous actress, also called Alexandre, who in his turn had a son, André Walewski (1871-1954). André created a taxi company in 1905, which now is the leading Paris taxi company, known as G7, and he and his taxis played an important role in the “Taxis de la Marne” operation, when Paris’ taxis transported troops from Paris to the war front in 1914 (WWI). (I included a "love letter" from Napoleon to Marie.)
Today, the "Invalides" is occupied by a war museum, by different defense related administrations ... and still by about hundred wounded or retired soldiers. 


More about the "Invalides".

Sometimes I feel a need to add something about places I have already posted about. This is the case with the Invalides on which I made a post some four years ago.

The history of the place is very much dominated by Louis XIV, who decided to build it, and by Napoleon who came here regularly (and was quite directly responsible for the high number of occupants during a couple of years) and has his tomb here. We can find their monograms on the impressive marble floor.

As I have still rather much to say about the place, I will make two posts, the first one concentrating on the Louis XIV part.

First something about the building as such: It was thus built under Louis XIV’s reign as a hospital and a home for aged and unwell soldiers (with space for 4.000 of them). It was finished in 1676, including a chapel for the soldiers, known as “Saint Louis des Invalides”. A "Royal Chapel", under the dome, was finished only in 1708.

Other architects were involved, but there is always a special mention for Jules-Hardouin Mansart (also very present at Versailles, creator of Place Vendôme, Place des Victoires, the SaintRoch Church… and a number of other edifices), who designed the Royal Chapel.

One amazing feature, which you can't imagine when you just look up on it, concerns the dome of the "Royal Chapel". It can be explained by a model; the upper levels of windows cannot be seen - they are just there to give light to the dome.

Another “detail”: One of the superintendents of the works was Louvois (François Michel Le Tellier de Louvois), an eminent minister of Louis XIV, who died before the end of the works (in 1691). He wanted to be buried at the Invalides, but some intrigues made that finally he wasn’t. But… somehow his presence was arranged. One of the bull’s eyes shows a wolf… and the pronunciation in French of Louvois and “loup voit”, meaning “wolf sees” is the same.

It’s normal to find the presence of Louis XIV, the “Sun King” emblem can be seen all over the place. I had the pleasure to get into one of the more prestigious rooms, with a splendid view through the windows. One version of the perhaps most well-known painting of the King (other versions at the Louvre, at Versailles…) by Hyacinthe Rigaud (1701) could be seen on one of the walls.

Some views of the "Saint Louis Chapel". I will show more from the "Royal Chapel" in a next post, as it's now where you can find Napoleon's tomb. 

Under the chapel  you can find (but not easy to visit) the “Caveau des Gouverneurs”. This is the place where most of the military governors of the Invalides and a number of prominent militaries are buried. … and also Rouget de Lisle, who wrote the “Marseillaise”.

There are several sun-dials around; this is perhaps the more spectacular one. I will not try to explain exactly how to read it, only that it’s split in two, one for the morning hours (from 1770) - “Sub umbra quiescent” (Under the shade they rest) and one for the afternoon hours (from 1785) – “Sub luce gaudent” (Under the light they rejoice.) Did people get up late?

There will thus be a second post, more related to Napoleon.


A different type of restaurant

I hardly ever recommend eating and drinking places on my blog, but I think I can make an exception. This one is to be found in the caves under the Madeleine Church (see previous post and possibly this one). You enter by the modest little door on the right side of the church. The local parish, helped by some un-paid ladies, offers lunch weekdays from 11.45 to 14.00, open to everybody. The place has a clear charm; you are served at table with gentle smiles. There is a nice choice of entries, main dishes, deserts (or cheese) and for all this you are charged 8€… and you get a small bottle of wine for 0.50€! At your first visit you pay an annual subscription of 5€.


Close to Notre Dame

If you visit Notre Dame (see previous posts), I have already recommended that you take a look from the back side, which I feel offers a much better view of the once criticized, today mostly admired, gothic architecture. (The description of “gothic” was given as a pejorative description of this type of architecture during the Renaissance; referring to “Goths”, East Germanic “vandals” with Scandinavian origins - my birth town is called Gothenburg / Göteborg - who played an important role in the fall of the Roman Empire.)

Thanks to the arriving spring, yesterday I could see the Notre Dame spire behind the first  magnolias bursting out.

But, the real purpose with this post is to recommend a walk in the little adjacent area on “Ile de la Cité”, where a lot has been rebuilt, but where you still find some old buildings, some narrow streets, some nice back yards, some old attractive looking restaurants …

If we compare the plan from 1739 with today, we can see that a lot of buildings, especially those in front of Notre Dame have disappeared, some already destroyed by Napoleon during the preparations for his coronation as Emperor. The old hospital, Hôtel Dieu, to the right of Notre Dame has been demolished and is replaced by a new one to the left (see previous post)

On this view from 1550 we can see the great number of churches… Now only Notre Dame remains.

Referring to the top picture, where we can read “Rue de la Colombe”, maybe a short story about the origin of this name. Where we now see a restaurant, possibly one of the oldest eating places in Paris (which in the 1950’s / 60’s was a famous cabaret and later for some years could announce 3 Michelin stars / macaroons) a couple of doves had built their nest in a building which collapsed in 1223. The female dove and her brood were trapped under the stones, but the male escaped and for several weeks he fed them. The people living in the area were very touched, managed to free all the birds and this became a place of worship… until forbidden by the Archbishop as “pagan”.

In the same street a different cobblestone design indicates where once stood a 4th century Gallo-Roman wall.

No doubt that we are close to Notre Dame.

Some of the streets are still narrow.

A mixture of really old and some a bit more recent; the really old looking one has been “arranged” in the 1960’s. The little green sign indicates the level the flood of the Seine reached in 1910.

Pushing some doors…

One of Paris’ smallest “parks” (jardinet).

Some restaurants, shops…

At the extreme end of the island, Ile de la Cité, you can find a Memorial to the Martyrs of the Deportation – photos of the interior not allowed.

... and also in "my" park (Square des Batignolles) there are some nice spring signs.