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Guest Speak-Paris Rhetoric-I

Guest Speak-Paris Rhetoric-I

Paris offers a huge Cultural, Intellectual and Artistic choice so rich that it entails its own contradictions and rhetoric.


Le Rocher de l'Hermitage



We will focus on the values which have made Paris the cultural centre of Europe and, at the same time, the most inclined to live on its past. I will present the historical background of the sites mentioned below.


Le Marais

The Old and the Modern

The old Paris where the nobles and bourgeois of France resided and had their private Hotel-residence, ex: Hotel du Vieux Saule, le Musée Carnavalet, Musée Picasso etc. Underneath the basement of the Marais lies the old prison of La Bastille liberated on 14th July 1789. In 1983, the construction of the modern opera started upon the decision of Mitterrand and his architect Carlos Ott. Within a few years, the modern opera de la Bastille sprung out of its basement and was inaugurated on July 14th, 1989- the bicentennial anniversary of upsurge at the Bastille. Since then, it has produced the most famous opera of Aida, Norma* etc. Peter Brook characterised it as a place where all the cultures become universal for at least a few moments. Within a few metres, the famous Centre Beaubourg based on an open architecture was constructed at the behest of the President Pompidou.


Place des Vosges

A confrontation of ‘Les Miserables’ and the Royal Splendour.

Henri IV made of this place the Place Royale with houses mounted on the arcades. There are altogether 36 Pavilions , 9 on each side of the place with homogeneous and regular architecture. However, out of the 36 Pavilions , two (the king’s and the queen’s) were built up higher to mark the sign of the royal blood from that of the lesser nobility.

Louis XIII extended this place and his Prime Minister Richelieu lived at No. 21 from 1615 to 1627. In 1800, Napoleon renamed it Place des Vosges in gratitude to the people of Vosges who paid their taxes.


Victor Hugo in Jersey

It was here that the famous French playwright, poet, artist, statesman and activist Victor Hugo had made his abode. During 1832-1848, he moved to Hotel Rohan-Guéménée. It is said that he conceived majority of his work 'Les Miserables' (published in 1862) during his stay at Rohan. In 'Les Miserables', Hugo treated social injustice by depicting a Jean Valjean committing minor crimes to save innocent people. He had already written the controversial 'Hernani'- rather the famous 'Bataille d’Hernani'- in 1830, where the two lovers poisoned one another.

He followed it up with 'The Hunchback of Notre-Dame' in 1831 with Quasimodo- the bell-ringer of the Towers of Notre Dame. It was Hugo’s campaign to restore the towers falling into ruins. Hugo was admitted to the Académie Française in 1841. Hugo turned revolutionary in 1848 to overthrow the Monarchy, he was elected as the member of the Constitutional and Legislative assembly. He promoted the abolition of death penalty. When power was seized by Napoleon III in 1851, Hugo flew to Jersey and Guernsey, from where he returned in 1876. He died in 1885. He was given a national funeral. Hugo was buried in the Pantheon and later transferred under the Arc de Triomphe*.



Île de la Cité

A Roman legacy of 1st Century BC**

It is made of small streets and the eight bridges leading to it.

Ile-de-la-Cité and Ile St. Louis are two separate natural islands both located on the river Seine in Paris. They were originally inhabited by Celtic tribes until the arrival of Julius Caesar. The Roman conquest of Gaul left them both deserted for many years. It is said that the Celtic tribe Parisii gave Paris its name. As a legacy of Julius Caesar, both the areas have a heavy Roman influence and heritages.

Ile-de-la-cité is situated at the centre of Paris, south of the Ile St Louis. In 52 BC, the Roman empire decided to take control of the city and renamed it Lutecia after the famous battle against the Gaul. The city was born at the emplacement of the street St. Jacques, that has kept the line and layout of the old commercial road to this day. The development of this city was considerably helped by its geographical situation: it was situated at the intersection of a waterway and one of the most commercial roads between North and South Occidental Europe.

Ile St. Louis was originally composed of two islands, which were ultimately united in the 17th century. Ile St. Louis used to have pastures and be known for cows and wood storage but now it is an area of mass selling and urbanisation. Just after the roman occupation, the city was still a modest one where the cultural influences of Romans and Gaul were mixed. At the end of the 1st century, the construction, the trade, the artisanal activities took off that led to an economic boom.


Notre Dame de Paris:

It was built on the ruins of an old Basilica. Its construction started in 1200 and lasted over the 13th century. Of Gothic style, it is worthwhile to walk up the twisted gargoyles to the towering bells. Gargoyles are demon creatures , half-beast, half-man. They are the decorative motifs of the gutters of Notre dame. Gargoyles served as drainpipes allowing rainwater from top of the cathedral to be directed through their mouths over to the public or visitors. Superstitions may believe that they frighten the evil spirits as well.

Just opposite Notre Dame is the Palais de Justice- formerly the seat of government in the 13th century- hosting the Saint Chapelle of Saint Louis. It was converted to a prison during the revolution. Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and revolutionaries were kept prisoners here.

Notre Dame


Latin Quarter

Latin privileged over French

Use of Latin in the middle ages gave it the name of Latin Quarter. It also consists of a Roman-designed area with Aqueducts, Theatres, Thermal baths and main roads. Musée Cluny is still the ruins of a thermal bath.

Latin quarter owes its international fame to Robert de Sorbon who built the first school for the poor (1253). The quarter encloses an old Church of St. Germain and the oldest Café Procop (1686) where revolutionaries met. Painter Eugene Delacroix had his workshop at the famous Place Furstenberg surrounded by Henri IV’s architecture.

To be continued...



About the Author

Dr.Armoogum Sawmy

Dr. Armoogum Sawmy holds MBA from CCIP European School of Business. He also holds a Doctorate in Social Sciences from EHESS, Paris. He has worked as a Sales Manager for a multinational corporate for over 22 years. He has been working as an international consultant for institutions such as UNESCO. Dr. Sawmy has explored the archaeological sites of ancient cultures and does research on cultural anthropology. He is also a visiting professor at various prestigious business schools in France and in India. In personal life, he is inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Raman Maharishi and Swami Vivekananda.

Dr.Sawmy may be reached through This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or his website.



*Author's notes:

  • Norma is an Italian opera of the 19th century composed by Vincenzo Bellini. It was played at Opera Garnier some 45 years ago interpreted by famous Soprano Singer Maria Callas. I was lucky to have been able to buy a ticket for that show on that day.
  • Victor Hugo died on 22nd May 1885, the body lay in his apartment on what is now Avenue Victor Hugo. On 31st May, the Catafalque was transferred to underneath Triumph Arch and exposed to the public up to the 1st June. On 2nd June the coffin was carried down to Pantheon where he was buried .



'The Hermitage Rock, St. Helier, Jersey in an imaginary landscape' by Victor Hugo ' 1855. 'Le Rocher de l'Ermitage dans un paysage imaginaire'. Plume, encre de Chine, fusain et gouache.

'Portrait of Cosette' by Artist Emile Bayard (1837-1891) from the original edition of 'Les Miserables' (1862)

Victor Hugo Among the Rocks on Jersey (1853-55) photographed by Charles Hugo, his son

'Notre Dame' Illustration by the Artist Alfred Barbou from the original edition of 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1831)

Dr. Armoogum Sawmy (c) Lalitha Badrinath



Many thanks to Mrs. & Mr.Badrinath of GRFI for their kind co-operation.


Editor's note:

This is the first in the series of the article 'Paris Rhetoric' presented by Dr. Sawmy where he gives briefs on the history and the culture associated with some of the most famous sites and monuments of Paris.

**Read more on Tracing the origins of Paris